No matter how you dice it, Ben Henderson vs. Josh Thomson will always be a highly debated decision. But still, the question remains: What is a controversial decision? Nobody will argue that either man had a dominant fight but the census thus far has Thomson winning the fight 48-47 or 49-46 due to his positional control in multiple rounds. Looking back at the stats, it may not be as simple of a decision as most make it out to be.
In rounds 2,3,4, and 5 Henderson held a sizable advantage in the striking department. In round 2 Henderson outlanded Thomson by 11 strikes (18-7), in round 3 he outlanded Thomson by a whopping 28 strikes (30-2), in round 4 he outstruck Thomson by 33 strikes (41-8), and in Round 5 he outlanded Thomson by 8 strikes (17-9). What does this all mean? It’s simple. The judging criteria of MMA needs to be simplified and more defined. Here are some changes that need to happen now:
1. Redefine 10-10, 10-9, 10-8, and 10-7 Rounds.
When there is a fight that is as close as Henderson vs. Thomson, a judge’s best friend could be a 10-10 round. In almost every round it seemed that Thomson was the better grappler and Henderson was the better striker. If each competitor’s skill set leads to a deadlock, judges need to utilize a 10-10 round instead of scoring for the discipline they favor. It seems pretty obvious that the judges who scored the fight for Henderson favored “effective striking and aggression” but failed to see Thomson’s positional advantage as a threat to Henderson. If judges scored 10-10 rounds more often, close fights would be scored as draws or have scores reflecting how close it was. For example, many fans cried foul when Ben Henderson was given a 49-46 score. Yes, the score makes it seem like he blew Thomson out of the water but it is definitely feasible that Henderson edged four rounds in a judge’s eye. If a judge had used a 10-10 round, the fight could have been scored a draw or 49-48 which more accurately reflects the competitiveness of the bout. At the end of the day, judges need to be taught what exactly dictates a 10-10,10-9,10-8, and 10-7 round. They also need to get away from the idea that every round must end in a 10-9. If the judging fails to change, mixed martial arts may suffer a similar fate to boxing.
2. What Scores Higher: Effective Striking, Grappling, Aggression, or Cage Control
Another question facing MMA judges is how to score striking, grappling, aggression, and cage control alongside each other. An athletic commission needs to step in and show each judge how to score each of these fairly. Effective striking and grappling need to be scored higher than aggression and cage control. A good example of this would be the first fight between Leonard Garcia and Nam Phan. Garcia spent most of the fight whiffing with haymakers while Phan stayed composed and consistently hit his opponent. Garcia ended up defeating Phan on the scorecards to the chagrin of many MMA fans and media members. It seemed as if the judges cageside put more value into Garcia’s aggressiveness as opposed to Phan’s effective striking. This has to stop. These mistakes are few and far between but need to be addressed the moment they happen.
The real issue comes when one fighter excels in effective striking while another excels in effective grappling. It’s impossible to say that one discipline is more
worthy than the other but the first thing a judge needs to look at is overall danger. If a fighter takes their opponent’s back but fails to threaten with any submissions it should be scored less than multiple effective punching combinations. On the other side of the coin, if a fighter has success with striking but nearly gets submitted, s/he should lose the round. If both fighters have success but don’t pull away with the round, judges need to utilize the aforementioned 10- 10 round.
3. Bring In Former Fighters & Judges Who Actively Train
This is a simple change that all commissions need to do their best to implement. Judges for all future events need to have either fought in MMA or trained in the sport. Thankfully, one of the judges for this weekend’s UFC 169 is former UFC competitor Ricardo Almeida. This is a breath of fresh air as Almedia knows what it is like to be inside the cage. He knows what effective offense is and how much danger each position entails. If commissions can get former fighters, or even people who train in MMA (much like California did for UFC on Fox 9), to judge fights, the quality of judging can only improve.
If there was one takeaway from UFC on Fox 10, it was that the judging criteria needs to be improved. Judging will improve if commissions can follow through on the simple three-step program I have listed above.
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