The three most recent UFC events were all marred by controversy. Many felt Mauricio Rua, Brandon Vera and Tito Ortiz were robbed of their wins because of the judges. The overall level of wariness clouding the officiating of Mixed Martial Arts has been a matter of discussion for some time.
In the beginning of MMA’s rather short history, common aspects of the game today did not exist: there were no judges nor rounds &- or even a time limit, for that matter.
Things changed in 1995 when timed rounds and judges were introduced, and Dan Severn became the first fighter to ever win a decision in the UFC.
Presumably from a lack of interest on the part of Athletic Commissions at the time, no scoring system was established, so they simply followed the lead of boxing and instituted a ten-point must system. This means that one fighter wins the round, receiving ten points and the loser receives nine or less &- with the bar usually set at eight, but New Jersey allows for a minimum of seven points.
From then on, it seemed to be smooth sailing; all that was required was a change in the judging criteria since boxing dealt solely with hand-striking and MMA encompassed many more possibilities for attacks, and therefore had many more ways in which a fighter could be declared a winner. The basis for evaluation of a round was then scored on the four basic areas of a fight: Clean strikes, effective grappling, octagon control and effective aggressiveness.
While the list seems short, it in fact carries a lot of specifics, detailing what constitutes each of the areas of evaluation.
With a worthy scoring system in place that has outlined details of how the judging of each area is to be carried out, the blame for controversial decisions falls upon the judges.
Of course, to err is human, but the recent contests that have succumbed to review based on controversy suggests the incompetence is more than simple mistakes.
At UFC 100, the opening bout on the main card was seen by many as a robbery, with Yoshihiro Akiyama coming away with a split-decision over Alan Belcher. The match was a constant press by Belcher, forcing Akiyama into exchanges and even coming close to pulling off one of the most difficult submissions &- the gogoplata. Despite his efforts, two of the judges scored in favour of Akiyama. But Belcher’s loss was not what had everyone up in arms &- Akiyama displayed abilities to stave him off fairly well, and while his strikes were fewer, it can be argued that they were cleaner. What was truly upsetting was the scoring of the second round. Regardless of the overall outcome, the second round was a clear victory for Belcher, and it was awarded to Akiyama.
With the rather complex submission attempts and his strict adherence to the styles of Muay Thai, it appeared that the judges had no clue as to what he was doing, or attempting to do.
Needless to say, knowledgeable judges are necessary. It’s easy enough for a judge to say, “That’s striking,” and “Yeah, that’s definitely grappling.” But do they really understand the exchanges taking place? One can assume that not all of them do; an extensive knowledge of every martial art that finds its way into the cage should be a must.
But two positive aspects may be drawn out of these recent events: the determination of fans to voice their opinions on the judge’s scorecards, and the stiff competition.
It is clear that the fans care; they are involving themselves in discussions of judging and making their displeasure known to the entire MMA community. And while the three consecutive main events that were surrounded in controversy still have people up in arms, the fact that they all came to a decision helps validate the level of competition. None of the fights were one-sided affairs with a marketable fighter collecting wins to polish his resume; they all featured toe-to-toe action with both fighters giving their all &- and who can’t respect that?