Without a doubt, there’s no subject in the sport of MMA that is as hotly-debated as judging. After nearly every event, controversy arises due to disagreements with scoring or officiating.

Unfortunately, many of the underlying issues that cause these debates cannot be fixed overnight. Recently, The MMA Corner reached out to Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) certified trainer, referee and judge, Rob Hinds, to discuss a variety of topics, including the current state of officiating and what can be done to correct it.

“The sport has already evolved past most of the officials and a lot of the athletic commissions,” Hinds explained. “It’s time to at least catch up.”

Perhaps the biggest problem with the sport is a lack of consistency from fight to fight, and even round to round.

“Judges seem to be on a different page,” said Hinds. “Whether they’re up to speed on the current training, or they’ve been a judge for a long time, there’s just a lot of inconsistency. What’s being assessed per round, per judge seems to be quite different.”

This has never been more prevalent than recently, as a number of high-profile fights have generated widespread discord amongst fans, fighters and even the promoters.

Hinds in the judge's seat (Thomas Rozdzynski/Thrumyeye Photography)

“Being active, throwing more strikes, getting a takedown; none of these things are in the judging criteria,” stated Hinds. ” The biggest misconception about judging is what is supposed to be assessed, and in what order. People say ‘he stole that round at the end with a takedown’ — that doesn’t exist in judging.”

Elaborating further, Hinds detailed the importance of the prioritized criteria.

“It’s actually really simple; people are making this a lot more complicated than it really is,” Hinds declared. “Judges don’t judge fights, they judge rounds. It’s about looking at the right things, in the right order. Things like aggression and cage control are further down the list than effective striking and effective grappling.”

The inconsistencies in judging have led to many people criticizing the 10-point must system. Hinds, on the other hand, doesn’t believe that the system is contributing to the problems.

“People are confused about what the 10-point must system really is,” said Hinds. “It is only the numerical scoring of a round. Whatever system you have, 10- point must, 20-point must, half-point; it is only the scoring of a round. People say it’s a boxing system, but the criteria and rules are specific to MMA. That’s what the focus needs to be on, not the points per round. The judging criteria needs to be taught to all of the judges. The system itself is only saying who won and who lost.”

When asked about how to handle poor-performing judges, Hinds did admit one of the limitations in MMA judging.

“It’s subjective, but there definitely should be consequences,” proclaimed Hinds. “It’s not the numerical score; it’s the explanation of the score for those rounds. If they explain the score based on the judging criteria, there really is no right or wrong.”

Despite all of Hinds’ efforts to spread the up-to-date information about judging criteria, it ultimately is up to the athletic commissions to ensure that officials are properly trained.

“There’s not enough things in place to correct the issues,” declared Hinds. “The ABC is a great organization; however, they are just a recommending body. Their role is to recommend rules and regulations. It’s up to each athletic commission to adopt them and enforce them. If every state does things differently, we’re never going to have consistency.”

Hinds believes that there are ways to resolve the majority of the current dilemmas. However, many of the athletic commissions do not have the resources — or the will — to face the issues head on.

Hinds (R) raises the arm of Sean Sherk following his victory at UFC 119 (Combat Consulting)

“Athletic commissions need to step up and require proper training for their officials, both old and new,” said Hinds. “You don’t want officials to develop those same habits that the sport has already evolved past. It’s really not the judges’ or the referees’ fault. A big problem is that people doing the training don’t always know what they’re doing. Several athletic commissions have told me that they do in-house training once a year, and it’s usually just someone who works for the commission that reads off a list of what’s expected.”

Another roadblock for increasing the quality of MMA officials is pay, or the lack thereof.

“Unless you do a major promotion, where they are willing to pay more money, officials get paid dirt and there’s no (pay) scale,” revealed Hinds. “You could be Herb Dean or Joe Blow — working your first event — you both get paid the same amount of money.”

Further hindering the development of a new crop of educated officials is the amount of time and devotion it takes to work through the ranks.

“These days, everyone wants a fast track to become an MMA official,” explained Hinds. “People don’t want to put the time in. They need training on what is really supposed to happen as an official, but many are trying to shortcut the process. People take my classes and they think that they’re ready to judge the UFC tomorrow. You don’t take one class in med school and get to go into surgery the next day.”

Many have speculated that the end-all solution to judging is former fighters stepping into the judge’s chair. However, that may pose an entirely different set of circumstances.

“It’s a conflict of interest because fighters are very biased,” said Hinds. “Judges and referees are supposed to be 100 percent unbiased. When fighters watch each other fight they always say, ‘I would have done this or I would’ve done that.’ If you take that sort of thinking into judging, you’re doing a disservice to the athletes because you are going in with a bias or strategy in your mind.”

Hinds is not opposed to former fighters becoming officials, but he does not see any reason why it’s a necessity. In fact, he feels that anyone can become an MMA official.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or what walk of life you come from, if you’re truly educated on the technical aspect of the fighting game — the combination of the different martial arts — and you are knowledgeable about the judging criteria, you can be a judge or referee.”

For those unfamiliar with Hinds, since 1994 he has refereed over 4,000 fights and judged more than 650. Many of these have been on the big stage with the UFC, Bellator, the International Fight League and promotions in the greater-Chicago area. Additionally, Hinds has competed both professionally and as an amateur in numerous forms of martial arts. He runs Combat Consulting, LLC and offers ABC-approved referee and judge training for all levels. You can reach him on Twitter at @hindsmmareferee

Top Photo: Hinds prepares to referee a bout in the UFC’s Octagon (Combat Consulting)

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