I am cornering my team in an MMA event, and I look at the judges and think: These people cannot possibly be qualified. Two of the judges are men who are older than dirt and the other is a woman with a bouffant hairdo. Give me a freaking break. I tell my fighters not to leave it in the judges’ hands. These judges have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. How can they possibly know what to look for when judging an MMA fight?
This is a scene that repeats itself every weekend across the country. I periodically ask judges, “What is your combative sports background?” Most have never trained MMA, but instead they take some sort of weekend seminar to learn the ins and outs of the game. I have wrestled since age 5, boxed and trained Muay Thai for 25 years, and done BJJ for 17 years, and I still learn something new every day. How can a weekend seminar or a white belt in some nondescript martial art qualify someone to judge a fight? The answer is easy—it doesn’t. The sport of MMA is too technical and complicated for people like this to be judging or refereeing. I have nothing personal against any of these people, but I do consider it an insult that they are deciding fighters’ fates.
The futures of young fighters are put in the hands of some very unqualified people, and that does not sit well with me. Boxing has gotten a bad name because of shady judges’ decisions. Is the sport of boxing corrupt? Maybe, but more likely it has a lot to do with unqualified judges who know nothing about boxing and are deciding a fight. Now, many of those same judges are involved in the sport of MMA.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some very good refs and judges, but they are few and far between. One athletic commission—which will remain anonymous—hired one of their judges though shady circumstances. The head of the athletic commission was friends with a guy who owned an insurance company. They formed an alliance so promoters in that state had to acquire insurance through the friend’s insurance company. I can’t prove it, but I’m betting the commissioner was probably getting kickbacks from the deal. That’s bad enough, but for some odd reason, the wife of the insurance owner was suddenly judging fights in that state. It’s this kind of stuff that warrants a punch in the face. I wouldn’t hit the wife, but the other two would be as good as sleeping if I had my way.
An easy way around all of the backroom, shady deals is simply to have stringent rules and guidelines that qualify someone as a refor a judge. Should they have five years of BJJ and striking? Some guidelines need to be in place to ensure the refs and judges actually know the details of the sport they are being paid to take part in.
Trainer and former fighter Matt Hume agrees that there is a problem. “How can a judge—qualified or not—confidently score a fight when there are no definitive guidelines?” he says. “What scores more points, a take down or a punch? A kick or a punch? Is the bottom man always losing if he’s getting hit, but attacking with submission attempts?”
These issues also have to be defined and figured out. Someone like Matt Hume would be a great person to head up a sanctioning body that determines national standards for judging and reffing qualifications/guidelines. If MMA is going to avoid the corruption that plagues boxing, we need national standards.
Know Your Role
Refs have an even more important role in a fight than judges.Refs cannot only decide the fate of a fighter’s career, but they can also save a fighter’s health and life. I have seen a new phase that refs have been going through when a fighter is caught in a choke. The ref will grab a fighter’s arm and lift it to see if the athlete is asleep. What the hell is this? Who teaches someone to do this?
It’s like watching a WWE match, and suddenly Hulk Hogan starts counting down with his finger when he is going to escape the choke. Fighters that are unconscious will have a variety of reactions: some will go stiff, some will convulse, and some will go limp. Lifting a fighter’s arm and letting it go tells me nothing. Instead, simply ask a fighter to blink his eyes, ask if he’s awake, or watch his breathing. Fighters can go unconscious with their eyes open, and many refs are also fooled by this. It’s not hard to figure it out if you have been around the sport for a while. I can tell when a fighter is asleep from my living room TV before many refs know.
A ref who has not competed is usually completely out of his element. It’s very hard to understand the process of someone moving from position to submission unless you have done it. When this sort of transition takes place, it is important that the ref already know what’s coming and the danger involved. Being grandfathered in due to sheer experience should not automatically qualify you as a ref.
The Perfect Union
A fighters’ union would be a great step in helping determine the requirements and guidelines that referees and judges should have to meet and follow. Many of the people in control of MMA in their states know very little about it. At the end of the day, what is it going to take for the promoters, fighters, and fans to get qualified refs and judges? I’m guessing a lot of hell raising and articles like this are a good start.
It’s a complicated situation with a lot of politics involved, but I have never been politically correct. I speak my mind, because in a situation like this, I couldn’t care less what someone who works for a commission thinks of me. If they care about the athletes, they will read this with an open mind. If we are going to improve the status and further legitimacy of MMA, change needs to happen. We owe it to the athletes.