By: Mitchell Stucky
Think about how you feel after Bruce Buffer announces a split decision. Think about the chances that the two judges that happened to agree also agreed with you. Think very seriously about the emotions that run through your body after you watch a fight for 15 to 25 minutes only to have the judges disagree on the outcome. If those emotions that you’re feeling range anywhere from negative to psychotic rage, you may want to stop reading this article now because the future of MMA may alarm you.
If you have decided to keep reading, you are about to find out what 2013 has in store for you as a fight fan in terms of the dreaded split decision. And the results are anything but exciting.
No one in the fight game knows better about split decisions than Leonard Garcia: when I spoke with Mr. Garcia last he said that recalling a split decision on his record presented an endless list of what ifs without answers. A split decision leaves a fighter with a lifetime to wonder whether or not a simple takedown or defended takedown would have gotten him/her to his/her win bonus (politically correct because I don’t want to be arm-barred into oblivion by the new Women’s Bantamweight Champ).
Hearing the judges decide without agreement, as a fan, does not change our lives. It does not leave us with years of regret and not knowing whether we could have done something differently to change the outcome of the fight. What it does is leave us to be bewildered and type vigorously into Twitter or an MMA forum voicing our displeasure.
Oftentimes, one of those disgruntled fight fans on Twitter happens to be UFC President Dana White: in regards to Saturday night’s split decision of Diego Sanchez over Takanori Gomi, Dana tweeted, “How the *expletive* did Diego win that fight!? Crazy *expletive.*” The numbers show that we should either expect more tweets like that from Dana or expect him to instantly become apathetic to the outcomes of UFC fights.
The latter doesn’t seem likely.
The UFC put on more events and more total fights in 2012 than any year in its history – even without the storied UFC 151 that never was, it put on 30 events totaling 327 fights. The mantra of “never leave it in the hands of the judges” did not seem to work in 2012 as roughly 46% of the fights ended in decision. 46% of the time two fighters stepped in to the cage, they allowed three people sitting cageside being paid by the commission, not the UFC, decide whether or not they should be given a win bonus. While that figure seems staggering, it is not all that surprising considering the world’s best fighters compete against one another under the Zuffa umbrella. It seems fighters in 2013 prefer to let the judges decide as 57% of the fights this year have been left to the judges. That wouldn’t be such a bad idea if all three judges could agree with some regularity.
Of the 149 decisions in 2012, only 31 of them were split decisions. It’s only the beginning of March here in 2013 and we already have 13 split decisions: to put this into perspective, you had to wait until the end of June to see the thirteenth split decision in 2012. According to last year’s time table, we’re a little early.
In 2012, judges had to decide on a total of 75 fights before they reached 13 split decisions. Here in 2013, judges have only decided on 39 fights before reaching lucky number 13. One out of every three times the judges have to make a decision, one out of the three of them disagrees with the other two. In fact, there has not been an event this year that hasn’t had at least one split decision on the card.
There are two ways we can project the split decisions for the year. The first is as follows: each year, the UFC increases its number of events and, subsequently, fights quite substantially. Let’s assume that the UFC increases its 30 events of last year to 32 events – that would put the total number of fights in 2013 at a reasonable figure of 350 altogether, which sounds awesome as fight fans. Consider, however, the finish rate this year so far and we have a projected 200 decisions, and consider again that a third of the decisions this year end in split decision and we are looking at a potential 67 times where one fighter is left to wonder what he could have done just a little bit differently for the rest of his life.
I assure you Leonard Garcia will not be fighting 67 times this year.
The second way to project the split decisions using last year’s data is to use the percent growth. As mentioned previously, we have had 69 total fights this year and 13 have resulted in split decisions: in 2012, after 69 fights we had a total of four split decisions, which leaves us with a 225% growth in split decisions. If we take the 31 split decisions over the course of 2012 and factor in the 225% growth, we have a projected 70 fights ending where either judge’s guess is as good as the others.
Sitting between 67 and 70 split decisions does not sound awfully exciting for a year sure to show us more fights than we have ever seen before. Is now a better time to change the sport than ever before? Probably, but what are our options? Do we make the judges sit around the Octagon as opposed to next to each other? Do we give them instant replay? Do we force them to go to seminars designed to educate them on the sport which are currently offered by John McCarthy and Herb Dean? Do we force them to wear headphones so that they cannot hear a fighter’s coach screaming about all of the things he’s doing right (I’m looking at you Greg Jackson)? Do we bound their hands and tape their eye lids open so that they can’t possibly miss a moment of action?
Is electroshock therapy an option? Do we have them sit closer to Joe Rogan as he is usually pretty spot on with his post-fight scores? Do we combine the judges and Joe Rogan in some type of Fear Factor experiment of drinking some mixture of cockroaches, bat droppings, and cow blood every time they make an inexplicable mark on their cards? Sorry, that’s for those of you now bordering on the psychotic rage spectrum.
Just as a fighter has countless questions after a dumbfounding decision from the commission’s best, we as fans are left with just as many questions we cannot seem to answer. Split decisions are bound to happen, but the rate thus far in 2013 is unbelievable and spells danger going forward.
Consider what a split decision really is: it is one judge telling the other two that he saw something completely different than they did. Remember one judge giving Melvin Guillard all three rounds against Jamie Varner while the other two judges gave all three rounds to Varner? Now imagine that judge is on a card with the judge that gave Frankie Edgar four rounds to one against Benson Henderson – this is how we get decisions like Sanchez over Gomi or Leonard Garcia over Nam Phan. Imagine if those two judges worked any Frankie Edgar fight together: Frankie might be the champion across three divisions at this point.
These split decision judges can be the difference between a fighter vying for a title shot or dropping several spots in the new UFC rankings. They can change a career in an instant without even a unanimous agreement among the three of them.
It seems as if judges are more excited than we are as fans to see a third round stoppage like Mark Hunt over Stefan Struve. At this point, judges don’t want you to leave it in their hands because it’s as if they can’t collectively agree on anything.
Shouldn’t a fighter feel comfortable letting three people decide a fight? Sure – that’s what the judging system was designed for some 20 years ago – but is it a smart career move to make? Probably not. All I know is that if I were a trainer preparing my guy for his next fight, I would watch less tape of the opponent and more tape of the judges.
The numbers show that we should either expect more tenacious tweets from Dana or expect him to instantly become apathetic to the outcomes of UFC fights. The latter doesn’t seem likely.