Judging was once again in the spotlight following UFC Vegas 16, and more specifically, the scoring of a veteran UFC judge.
A 29-28 scorecard for John Allan over Roman Dolidze put Chris Lee in the minority of judges for the second time in less than one month and spurred immediate criticism from MMA observers including UFC President Dana White.
“I don’t know how that guy could score that fight that way,” White said afterward. “I had a 51-year-old schoolteacher from Massachusetts that I grew up with who was watching the fights. A 51-year-old woman that I went to school with in kindergarten text me tonight and go, ‘I don’t know sh*t about fights, but who judged that fight?’ I swear to god, that’s the truth. That’s how scary that is.
“Yeah, it’s not good. It’s something the commission needs to stay on top of, and they need to single out and call out people that continually make bad calls. They’re going to f*ck somebody’s life up. They really are.”
Judges Mike Bell and Dave Hagen gave Dolidze the fight via scores of 30-27 and 29-28, bringing the Georgian fighter the split decision. Dolidze expressed confusion at the score against him and gratitude the immediate fight went his way.
Lee’s scorecards came into stark focus this past month when he awarded Paul Felder a 48-47 score over Rafael dos Anjos in a fight he appeared to be decisively losing at UFC Vegas 14. The two remaining judges, Derek Cleary and Sal D’Amato, gave dos Anjos every round, 50-45.
Felder, who was on broadcast team for UFC Vegas 16, expressed confusion over the score in Dolidze vs. Allan and added he believed he didn’t beat dos Anjos.
Former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz incorrectly said Lee was a holdover from boxing; Lee is one of the longest-serving MMA officials in modern MMA and has judged dozens of high-profile fights in the UFC and Bellator.
According to MMADecisions.com, Lee has been the dissenting judge in eight fights in the UFC and Bellator in 2020 – three more than in 2019 and 2018, when he dissented in five each.
In jurisdictions with state athletic commissions, the UFC does not select officials to oversee fights. But in Nevada, which regulated Saturday’s event at UFC APEX in Las Vegas, the promotion and its fighters have the right to object to certain officials when they are proposed by Nevada Athletic Commission executive director Bob Bennett.
To become licensed as a judge in Nevada, applicants need to do the following: pass a background check and an annual eye exam; “have the ability to critically analyze and effectively score a professional contest of unarmed combat by interpreting and applying the applicable rules for the event”; arrive one hour before events and stay afterward for a debriefing; and be under “a continuing duty to maintain suitability to be licensed as a judge,” among other requirements.
Lee has consistently attended digital training sessions for referees and judges held by the California State Athletic Commission, whose executive director Andy Foster frequently defends the performance of officials and believes MMA judging is drastically improved from its early days.
Nevada judges have frequently drawn the ire of fight fans after big events. UFC commentator Joe Rogan echoed Cruz’s opinion that they were boxing holdouts who didn’t understand the sport and didn’t train, which drew a forceful rebuttal from several longtime regulators. In boxing, controversial judge Adalaide Byrd was stood down by the Nevada Commission after awarding a 118-110 score to Canelo Alvarez over Gennady Golovkin in 2017.
Byrd has since returned to judging events in the state.