MMA and Claude Monet… The Art Of Judging Mixed Martial Arts

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Posted by Josh Boyd

There has been a lot of talking, crying, complaining, ranting, and whining about the judging system in MMA. The general consensus is that the current system is horribly flawed and although almost everyone has a different idea of what to change, everyone agrees that something must change.

As a fan, I hate when fights go to decision. Not because all fights that do are bad fights, because there are many great fights that have gone to decision. The problem is that once a fight goes into the judge’s hands, anything can happen – and I mean anything! Like most fans of MMA, there have been a ton of decisions that I have disagreed with, but there have been a ton I thought were right on the money!  So, how can it be fixed? Well, this is where my opinion probably differs from many. Where I agree that there can be and should be improvements. The judges could at least be highly educated about MMA specifically not just boxing, wrestling or a particular discipline of martial art.

However, beyond that, I’m not so sure that it can be “fixed”. They are called “judges” for a reason. What they do is “judge”.  Think about this. The sport is called mixed martial arts, right? “Art” by definition is completely subjective. What is amazing to one person is an offensive waste of space to another. While MMA is not watercolor painting or freeform dance, there are some similarities. There are different styles, strategies and techniques and what works in one situation will be an epic fail in another. This is what makes the sport so exciting. This is also the part that requires judging.  How do you give value to one thing over another?

For example, are submission attempts or submission escapes worth more? If a fighter is showing aggression and keeping busy attempting subs, does that trump the skill and business it takes to escape them? Should one’s effort be rewarded over someone else’s success? What is more valuable: the number of strikes thrown or the effectiveness of strikes? Who is to say that the cumulative effect of multiple body shots is less effective or impressive than a few strategic elbows that open a cut on a fighter’s forehead? Quantity or Quality?  What about takedowns? If a fighter is able to take another fighter to the mat, but is unable to do anything significant once he gets his opponent there, should his takedown skills be rewarded even if they are obviously his only skills? What if the fighter on his back is striking or attempting submissions?How about takedown defense? Who do you give the edge to when a fighter is showing aggression with multiple takedown attempts, but his opponent shuts him down time and time again with a great sprawl? Offense or Deffense?

What if a fighter pushes forward for three whole rounds keeping his opponent on their heels? Sounds good, but what if while on their heels, the opponent is delivering devastating defensive strikes? Aggression or strategy?My point is that there are a million different scenarios. It is called “mixed” martial arts for a reason, scoring one technique/style over another every time gives an undo advantage to one discipline/style over another. If that happens, the sport, the art, will stop developing. Fighters will begin to focus only on the rigid expectations of the scorecard. Any incentive for development and innovation will stop. We can already see these trends with the current system with fighters utilizing the “lay and pray” strategy.

Other than making sure that MMA judges are qualified (have a good understanding of the sport and grasp the guidelines laid out), there is probably little else that we can expect to be done. Fighters will simply have to do their best to finish fights and we will have to do our best to live with the decisions handed down by the judges. Otherwise, I guess the alternative is to do what my wife suggests and declare all fights that go the distance, “To be continued!”