The system that is used to score and judge an MMA match is the same as that for boxing. In fact the very same commissions that have regulated boxing for decades also handle the burgeoning sport of MMA. Unfortunately, this “one size fits all” approach to scoring has led to a number of controversies. Some of the controversies, like that of the UFC 167 ruling for GSP vs Hendricks, remind many seasoned MMA and boxing fans of the darker times in combat sports.
Yes, there were legitimate controversies and even moments of corruption in the boxing world, however it remains to be seen if that is truly the case in MMA.
Much blame has been placed squarely on the Nevada State Athletic Commission four the UFC 167 ruling and Dana White has made statements indicating the UFC has no control over what judges are used to score an MMA fight. This may be true on paper, but the fact is the UFC (being the largest MMA promotion in the world) is undoubtedly an authority in the fiel,d and does have enough influence to compel the Boxing Associations and the Athletic Commissions to take a serious look at their rules, regulations, processes and procedures.
This is a good thing, as the UFC can only benefit from an improved perception of the judging and scoring standards in MMA. So what are some changes the UFC could suggest to make significant strides in achieving that goal?
1. Revising the Ten Point System.
The Ten Point system used for Scoring and Judging an MMA match is very similar to that of Boxing. However we aren’t dealing with a Boxing match anymore. There are many, many more factors at play in an MMA match. The ground game alone takes many of those rules and turns them on their head. The concept of takedowns, their definition, how much weight they should hold in scoring and what is considered a successful takedown needs to be clarified. Additionally the concept of significant strikes landed needs to be made clearer. (We saw GSP’s face take a lot of strikes that to the audience appeared significant, however the judges did not seem to agree with that perception. Why is there a discrepancy?) If the rules are revised to a point where interpretation is less of a factor then you can put almost anyone in to judge a match. So long as they understand the mechanics of a fight and can keep score then they should be effective. Now wait, some of you may argue this point and say, no way, you need experience. Well that would be true if the guidelines, rules and definitions are so nonspecific that it requires experience to interpret them. But let’s take a look at a system that’s been in place for hundreds of years that requires no experience to be effective. A jury trial. In a court of law, the jury is composed of people from all walks of life. They are not elite law makers with degrees and doctorates. They are not experts in the field of study relevant to the case, but rather they are presented evidence with very specific guidelines and restrictions upon which they must make a ruling. In that system there is ONE judge to intervene should the jury fail to resolve a dispute or is unable to come to a ruling.
How would this play out in an MMA match? Well for one, you could give more authority to the Referee of the fight. Such that he/she could moderate the event and also have some say in any matters of dispute among the judges. The judges could then function much as a jury does in a court of law and they would simply facilitate a ruling. Obviously this is a very rough sketch of a system that could work, however before you can even get there you must make the Ten Point System completely idiot proof. And to all the nay sayers who might claim it cannot be done. Remember those words have been recanted by many prominent individuals to so called “heretics” of their time and when a revolutionary idea has finally taken hold the picture of truth looks very different.
2. Redefine the Roles and Responsibilities of those involved in Refereeing, Judging, and Commenting on a fight.
While two of the changes mentioned here were covered in the first suggestion (Referee’s role and Judges) one that has yet to be addressed is that of the official commentator. First, let’s all agree that individuals like Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg are entertaining to listen to while watching a UFC match, but they are not official judges, nor are they looking at the fight from that perspective. The issue here is that their commentary can often sway perception during a fight and should there be a discrepancy with the ruling of the judges then you have the potential for a controversy. It must be made clear to the audience that these commentators are offering opinion for entertainment, however it is unlikely that simply communicating that and maintaining the broadcast format as it is will be successful in managing perception. Perhaps the commentators should be allowed to interact with the judges? They have access to replay material, multiple camera angles and other data that could prove quite useful in scoring a match. Why don’t these parties communicate and ensure everyone is on the same page? This should be looked at.
3. Improve the access of multiple camera angles and video feeds (including replay material) to the Judges and Referee.
It’s often mentioned during a UFC fight that the audience and commentators are able to look at a replay from a very accurate angle yet the officiators of the fight do not have access to this material. Why? It makes no sense, the video feeds can be sent right to their desk at the fight. It should be very easy for them to look back a few moments and ensure their scoring is absolutely accurate. The technology is there to provide this to the judges and referees , perhaps it’s time they start using it.
4. Add technology to the gloves and other contact points on the body!
What the hell does that mean? Well this gets a little complex but there are wireless technologies that can be implemented which require no battery power. These technologies can be used to embed motion and pressure sensors in the gloves to monitor movement, angle, direction, speed, contact and impact force. Is it expensive? It can be. And they would need to retrofit their usual setup with a broadcasting wireless power source to ensure the gloves would function. We may be a few years from anything like this becoming a reality. However imagine the ability to count significant strikes landed by having all that data right at your fingertips. The same could be done for the feet and knees with non-obtrusive elastic adhesive padding. Yet one major factor preventing this from being a reality today is that of the durability of readily available materials for knees, elbows and feet that are also non-obtrusive to the fighter. It’s unlikely the adhesive padding used today would withstand the force, pressure and friction of even one round in an MMA fight. But if you look towards the future, meta-materials could be used to make this a very realistic option.
Before you dismiss this option completely as science fiction consider this. If you take a look at your iPhone or Android smartphone the display, cellular and wifi radios often consume the greatest amount of power. This requires a relatively massive battery. However if you were to merely introduce a low power bluetooth wireless transmitter with a range of 100 feet or greater, a small power source (if wireless power is not an option) a motion sensor, pressure sensor and gyroscope the power requirements would be minimal. These are very, very small and could easily be embedded in a glove today. The only downside would be a bit of additional weight and potential wear and tear on the components, along with increased manufacturing costs and maintenance. Yet, the improvement to scoring metrics and even the potential benefits for research to improve striking techniques would be invaluable to fighters and coaches.
5. Provide an option for overtime in a very close match.
If we are going on the premise that the current rules are evolved from Boxing rules, then why not allow for the possibility of additional rounds when a match is very close. Boxing matches typically go Ten rounds, yet MMA fights have far fewer. Who can guess what the outcome of the fight with GSP and Hendricks would have looked like if you had added another 5 minute round to that fight. Things might have looked very, very differently. Hopefully the judges and audience would also be in synch with their conclusions, or perhaps there would have been a submission or TKO. As Dana White always says, “Anything is Possible in the Octagon”. Well that may be true, but if you pull the fighters out of the Octagon before their steam runs out, then you’ve just significantly limited possibilities.