Judging in MMA
Have you ever watched a fi ght and wondered at the end how the winner got the decision? Many fans are unclear of the scoring criteria in mixed martial arts. Judging in the sport is still in its infancy, but the rules have been in place for a few years now. The criteria for judging is set by the athletic commission overseeing the event. In the United States, the state athletic commissions follow the same format for judging fi ghts.
Judging in MMA has been a learning process throughout the years. When the rules were originally instituted, judges were not thoroughly educated in MMA. Many of the judges had come over from boxing, and judged fi ghts based on striking and what fi ghter had top control when on the ground. Now that mixed martial arts has become popular, the education level of the judges has increased steadily.
Each sanctioned MMA fi ght has three judges that declare a winner in fi ghts that go to a decision. MMA is based on a ten point system, and is scored by each individual round. The round winner, according to each judge, will receive ten points and the loser will receive nine or fewer depending on the level of dominance by the round winner. The only way a round can be scored 10-10 is if neither fi ghter is the clear winner.
ways to win
There are several ways a fi ght can be judged. If all three judges score the fi ght for the same fi ghter, then it is ruled a unanimous decision. When two of the judges score the bout for one fi ghter, and the other judge scores it for the opposing fi ghter, it is considered a split decision. There is a third possibility for a decision. When one of the judges rules the fi ght a draw and the other two judges score it for one of the fi ghters, it is considered a majority decision.
Another type of decision are draws. There are three types of draws. There are unanimous draws, majority draws, and split draws. Unanimous draws are similar to unanimous decisions in that all three judges have to score the bout the same, except in this case, all the scorecards would be ruled a draw. A majority draw is where two judges score the bout a draw, and the other scores it for one of the fi ghters. A split draw would be where all three judges score the fi ght differently, but the score total results in a draw.
The main components for scoring under the unifi ed rules are effective striking, effective grappling, control of the fi ghting area, aggressiveness, and defense. According to the New Jersey State Athletic Commission, effective striking is defi ned by determining the total number of legal heavy strikes landed by a contestant. Effective grappling is judged by considering the number of successful executions of takedowns and reversals. However, takedowns aren’t the only deciding factor in effective grappling. Creating threatening submission attempts is another factor.
DIFFERING POINTS OF VIEW
There are many aspects in judging held under heavy scrutiny. Some fans do not agree with the unifi ed rules. In fact, there are judges that don’t agree with the ten point must system. “No, I don’t agree,” said veteran MMA referee Cecil Peoples. “Not at all. That was fi ne for boxing. But this is mixed martial arts. There has to be a happy medium.”
While some fans are big believers in the PRIDE rules from Japan, Peoples doesn’t necessarily think they are the answer either. “ I don’t necessarily agree with the PRIDE rules. There has to be a happy medium between the unifi ed rules and PRIDE rules. When Ricco Rodriguez fought [Antonio Rodrigo] Nogueira, I certainly thought that Rodriguez won that fi ght, but by PRIDE rules he lost, because their main criteria is attempts to end the fi ght and extent of damage. By [the unifi ed rules], he won the fi ght, but by PRIDE rules, he lost the fi ght,” explained Peoples.
who really won?
Over the course of mixed martial arts’ short history, there have been some very controversial decisions. Fights like Bas Rutten vs. Kevin Randleman, Ricco Rodriguez vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and most recently, Michael Bisping vs. Matt Hamill. Many fans were up in arms about the decision to that was given to Bisping.
One of the two judges who scored the fi ght for Bisping was Cecil Peoples. Peoples gave his account of why he scored the fi ght the way he did. “I’ve never gone back and watched another fi ght that I’ve judged, except for this fi ght. The thing that people don’t see is that they have three judges in three different places. This isn’t called the Ultimate Takedown Fighting Championship. It’s the Ultimate Fighting Championship. So, Bisping gets taken down, but Hamill does nothing when he takes him down. He swung at him a couple times and lets him up and they move around. But you have to do something when you take them down. The camera was to Hamill’s back and you can see him striking Bisping, but what you didn’t see was Bisping striking him back and striking him harder. At that angle, you didn’t see that. Jeff [Mullen] and I did and that’s why we scored it that way.”
Another gray area of judging is how 10-8 rounds are scored as opposed to 10-9 rounds. We’ve seen some instances where a 10-8 round is warranted, such as when former UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell fought Jeremy Horn. Liddell had Horn badly hurt in the second round, knocking him down. A round like that was considered 10-8. However, in the Tito Ortiz-Forrest Griffi n fi ght, Ortiz dominated Griffi n the fi rst round, but was scored 10-9. According to the unifi ed rules, a 10-8 round is scored when a contestant overwhelmingly dominates by striking or grappling. This level of judging is still under speculation due to the dynamic nature of the sport.
While the judging system isn’t perfect, it’s what in place for the foreseeable future. As the judges gain experience and education in mixed martial arts, the sport’s legitimacy will move forward to the next level and questionable judging will be sure to decrease.