Judging Criteria Needs Clarification, Critics Need Education Too

Education is needed to fix judging issues in MMA

There were multiple reasons why I signed up for “Big” John McCarthy’s COMMAND course for judging a couple months back, but chief among them was to be able to speak intelligently from a point of experience, knowledge and understanding when judging gets called into question as it so often does in this sport.

Basically, I wanted to make sure I stayed as far away from talking out of my ass as possible, with more than the experience of watching thousands of fights to back up my views and opinions.

The UFC 127 main event draw between Jon Fitch and B.J. Penn has once again opened the floodgates of criticism in regards to both who sits cage side and how they fill out their scorecards, as well as reminding everyone what a sad but true cliche “don’t leave it in the hands of the judges” has become in this sport.

When it comes to who’s judging fights, it’s not the UFC’s responsibility to work with the commissions to train new judges or even the commissions’ to go out, recruit and train new judges; you want to see better judging, become a judge and give these guys better options than the cast of characters who are notoriously bad.

Unfortunately, the selection process takes place in a shallow talent pool located next to C. Montgomery Burns’ nuclear power plant, so instead of just complaining when “Blinky the Three-Eyed Fish” turns up at a judge’s table, how about working to help clean up the mess that caused the problem in the first place?

Do we need better training amongst judges? Absolutely.

Are there any commissions or organizations that are going to actively recruit new officials and foot the sizeable bill to have them all trained? Absolutely not; it would be nice, but it’s an unrealistic expectation.

If we’re going to go down this road, than the first thing that needs to happen is determining a standardized training program for prospective judges and have a certification for the position. Neither of those things can be implemented overnight and without due diligence, so don’t expect the winds of change to carry out the old and bring in the new any time soon.

Which brings us back to the UFC 127 main event and the criteria used to score the fight.

A lot of people have said that Fitch’s performance in third is the epitome of a 10-8 round, and while I don’t take issue with that score, I think Gray Maynard might.

If Fitch’s performance in round three on Saturday night is as crystal-clear a 10-8 rounds there can be in the sport, which many are suggesting it was, than Maynard’s opening round performance against Frankie Edgar at UFC 125 had to be a 10-7, if not a 10-6. “The Bully” dropped Edgar a couple of times and had the champ on rubber legs for the duration of the round, dominating the action and being on the verge of finishing the fight for seemingly the entire round.

I’m not disagreeing with awarding Fitch a 10-8 round (I did) or giving Maynard a 10-8 for the first against Edgar (I did); I’m just pointing out that two drastically different looking rounds earned the same score from countless observers.

Fitch wasn’t in that same position as Maynard on Saturday night; at no point was Penn in danger of being finished, unlike Edgar. While both are certainly worthy of the 10-8 scores they received, they’re also very different rounds, and therein lies the bigger issue.

We’ll get there in a minute or two; I’m not done with Fitch and Penn just quite yet.

Another of the questions being raised in the wake of another main event draw is how to score the middle stanza, the agreed upon swing round in this fight.

Watching the round live and subsequently looking back on it again today, I scored it 10-9 Penn, though I know a lot of people would disagree with me.

I don’t need a FightMetric report telling me that Fitch landed more significant strikes in the round or that he neutralized Penn’s dominant position; the fact that Penn scored a takedown and earned said dominant position, as well as threatening with a submission, outweighs anything Fitch was able to put forth in the round.

Fitch being able to flip over into Penn’s full guard after “The Prodigy” was on his back does not negate Penn’s positional advantage in any way; back mount is a significantly more threatening and dangerous position than full guard, and should be scored that way.

Back mount is the worst position you can be in during a fight, while flipping into someone’s full guard happens all the time. Though it’s fair to give Fitch credit from getting Penn off his back, it cannot carry the same weight as having had his back taken in the first place; gaining dominant position is more significant than getting back to full guard, where both fighters have the ability to work offensively.