Judging Reform Needs to Happen, And It Needs to Happen Now

Judging reform needed now more than ever

Hearing Mike Williams announce the judges had come to a unanimous decision in the main event of Bellator 41 had me hopeful. Then Joe Warren was declared the winner and I knew the topic of one of the pieces I would spend my Sunday writing.

We’ve been down this road many times, but just because we’ve covered how atrocious judging in mixed martial arts can be at times doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to talk about it. This epidemic is not something that should be glossed over or left alone, looked at as a “well what are you going to do?” situation that is impossible to resolve.

Each bad decision should be met with the same amount of criticism and scrutiny, whether it comes from the UFC Octagon, the staggering heat of Bellator’s cage in Yuma, Arizona or some bush league show in Costa Rica where Ferrid Kheder gets gifted a win over Hermes Franca. The inexcusable mistakes of incompetent officials must be brought to light if we ever want to see them come to an end.

None of the three officials scoring the bout between Warren and Marcos Galvao should be allowed to determine the outcome of a fight again, at least not without undergoing some kind of training and testing course first. The fact that none of the three gave Galvao the victory when just about everyone else in attendance and watching at home is alarming enough, but that one of the three gave Warren all three rounds is appalling.

If Warren unquestionably won the third round – and he did – then Galvao did the same in the second, where he controlled the action by stuffing takedowns, planting knees and uppercuts into the featherweight champion’s chin as he wandered in for clinches and takedowns. That leaves the opening frame as the deciding factor, and from what I saw, it was unquestionably Galvao’s round.

Warren is a notoriously slow starter and Galvao took advantage of that in the first, stuffing lazy takedown attempts and efforts to clinch by punishing Warren at every turn. He landed on top in a failed throw attempt, scrambled to his feet whenever he was brought to the ground and delivered far more punishment than he absorbed; this was, in my opinion, an easy round to score for Galvao.

Sadly, despite my opinion being shared by the Bellator announce team and just about everyone else, the three judges saw it differently. Perhaps more troubling than the decision itself is that we’ll never know how these officials arrived at their verdicts, which brings the integrity of the officials into question.

I’m not accusing anyone of anything shady; I believe these three officials all believe Warren won that fight. What I am saying is that all three of them should have to explain their scores to the Arizona State Boxing and MMA Commission before they’re allowed to serve as officials again.

When I went through “Big” John McCarthy’s COMMAND course for judges a few months back, one of the exams involved scoring a five-round fight no one in the room had seen before. It was a close affair – closer than Warren-Galvao that’s for sure – and though I awarded the decision to “the wrong guy,” I was afforded the opportunity to justify my scorecard.

Going through the fight minute-by-minute in the three close rounds, McCarthy and I picked apart the scoring elements, measured out who was ahead and why and came to see where the other one was coming from; I saw why Fighter A should have came out ahead, and he saw how I had Fighter B winning a narrow decision.

That’s what these officials need to do.

Mistakes happen.

While sitting down to go over the fight isn’t going to correct the injustice done on Saturday night in Arizona, it could prevent it from happening again in the future. These officials need to sit down with whoever put them in their positions and pour over the replay of the fight, pointing out where Warren won the first round, hearing the dissenting opinions and learning from their mistakes.

On a larger scale, this outcomes once again underscores the need to have some type of testing and certification program in place for becoming an MMA official.

Though these programs exist, no commission to the best of my knowledge has taken the steps necessary to make passing one of these course mandatory for sitting cageside and impacting the careers of the athletes in the cage. Why this hasn’t happened is beyond me, and something I promise to investigate further.

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