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ABC to vote on revised MMA judging criteria, including change in 10-8 round language

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E. Casey Leydon, MMA Fighting

A revised version of MMA's judging criteria will be voted on at the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) convention next month, MMA Fighting has learned.

Earlier this year, the ABC's MMA rules and regulations committee unanimously passed new scoring language, including the adaptation of a more liberal definition of a 10-8 round, according to committee chairman Sean Wheelock. The proposed criteria will be voted on by the ABC's general body at its annual convention Aug. 1 in Las Vegas. If voted into MMA's unified rules by the ABC, the proposed changes would go into effect Jan. 1, 2017.

The proposed new criteria will have judges evaluate the damage, dominance and duration of a round. If a round contains two of those three characteristics, a 10-8 must be considered. If a round has all three, then a 10-8 — or even a 10-7 — must be the score. A 10-7 score calls for "overwhelming dominance" and "significant damage" with a referee stoppage warranted.

The listened definition of those three characteristics are below:

Damage -€” A judge shall assess if a fighter damages their opponent significantly in the round, even though they may not have dominated the action. Damage includes visible evidence such as swellings and lacerations. Damage shall also be assessed when a fighter's actions, using striking and/or grappling, lead to a diminishing of their opponents' energy, confidence, abilities and spirit.  All of these come as a direct result of damage. When a fighter is damaged with strikes, by lack of control and/or ability, this can create defining moments in the round and shall be assessed with great value.

Dominance -€” As MMA is an offensive based sport, dominance of a round can be seen in striking when the losing fighter is forced to continually defend, with no counters or reaction taken when openings present themselves.  Dominance in the grappling phase can be seen by fighters taking dominant positions in the fight and utilizing those positions to attempt fight ending submissions or attacks.  Merely holding a dominant position(s) shall not be a primary factor in assessing dominance. What the fighter does with those positions is what must be assessed.

Duration -€” Duration is defined by the time spent by one fighter effectively attacking and controlling their opponent, while the opponent offers little to no offensive output.  A judge shall assess duration by recognizing the relative time in a round when one fighter takes and maintains full control of the effective offense. This can be assessed both standing and grounded.

"In many cases, unless someone is getting destroyed and the referee is about to step in, judges are not giving a 10-8," Wheelock said.

A March UFC fight in Australia between Hector Lombard and Neil Magny points to this. Lombard nearly finished Magny in the first round and had all three characteristics — damage, dominance and duration. He was still only given a 10-9 by the three judges. In the second round, Magny probably should have stopped Lombard with literally hundreds of unanswered punches to the head on the ground. All three of those characteristics were met easily. Referee Steve Perceval chose to let it go on and the judges only gave Magny a 10-9. Wheelock believes that should have been a 10-7 since Perceval could have — and should have — stepped in to stop it on multiple occasions.

Proposed MMA judging criteria

The proposed new language would also clearly underscore the current order in which rounds are supposed to be scored, beginning with effective striking and grappling. Only if those two things are equal does a judge consider aggression and cage control, respectively, in that order. The proper scoring order is a common misconception in MMA. Aggression and cage control are merely tiebreakers, not primary scoring methods.

"Effective Aggressiveness and Fighting Area Control are back up plans, should the effect of striking/grappling be 100% equal for both competitors," the proposed language states.

The descriptions of effective striking and grappling are also given further clarity in the proposed language with the addition of the word "damage" as a highlight. The current scoring language has been criticized for leaving much open to interpretation.

Wheelock, a former Bellator play-by-play man who serves on the Kansas athletic commission, believes these types of changes are needed in MMA, a sport that has changed immensely since the unified rules were written in 2001. Wheelock's committee consists of legendary fighters like Randy Couture and Matt Hughes as well as referees like John McCarthy and Rob Hinds and ringside physician Dr. David Watson. The committee makes recommendations that will then be voted on by the ABC general body.

"The sport has radically changed in every conceivable way since April 2001," Wheelock said. "It's shocking how different the sport is. If the sport has changed so much since 2001, why haven't the rules and scoring and officiating changed with it? Where is the evolution? We're trying to evolve."

Now, it'll be up to the ABC general body to turn these proposed changes into legitimate rules.

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