The 16th installment of Zuffa LLC’s The Ultimate Fighter reality show pits two teams of welterweights against each other in the quest for the ultimate prize, a six-figure UFC contract. For this season, the coaches for the two teams are Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson.

The current season of TUF has proved to produce a few unusual headaches for UFC President Dana White.

Coach Nelson has been radiating his usual whiny, complaining attitude, but it’s even more magnified with the spotlight on him as one of the coaches. Nelson has been a pill, to say the least, but there is another stressor that has caused White a whole new level of anxiety with the show.

Both episodes six and seven ended by controversial decisions that pushed White over the edge, causing him to direct his rants at the judges.

In episode seven, the fight between Michael Hill and Matt Secor went to a third round, meaning the judging was a tie at that point, and rightfully so, with Hill winning round one and Secor definitively taking round two.

In round three, Hill came out looking strong with a takedown, but Secor quickly turned the fight to his favor. After a takedown of his own, Secor secured a dominant position for most of the third round, and easily won the round and the fight.

After the fight ended, White got the decision from the judges, and before he could read the result, it was obvious he was not happy. The judges gave Hill the fight in a completely blindsiding split decision.

White lashed out immediately following the episode, first stating that the opening round was the worst in TUF history, and continuing on to provide a good slamming of the judging.

Since TUF takes place in Las Vegas, the judging is under the jurisdiction of the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC). Even though the fights are sanctioned under the NSAC, the match-ups that take place during the season are exhibitions that are scheduled for two rounds with a third-round tie-breaker, if needed. The fights do not actually count on the fighters’ professional records.

So, who are the judges? Well, let’s take a look at that.

The typical fans, and even some of the fighters, camps, sponsors, and other associates of the sport, don’t really understand how this works. But, most of the decision-making for boxing and MMA officials, outside of the world title fights, lies in the hands of one individual.

Keith Kizer has been the Executive Director of the NSAC since 2006. While Kizer wears many hats in his extremely busy position, one of his duties is choosing who the judges are for all NSAC-sanctioned MMA events, including TUF.

“I decide based on a roster,” said Kizer in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “The commission decides every year who to license or who to re-license. If we have somebody leave and we need to replace that person, or we just all of a sudden have more events than we expected, we may need to add somebody mid-stream, but that’s usually not the case. We usually do that on an annual basis.

“As the bouts come up throughout the year, I will decide whom to put in, not just for each card, but for each specific fight. The only exception being the world title fights, in which case, I would make a list of officials to be considered from, and I would make a recommendation, and the commission would be the final say in that matter.”

That being said, the judges aren’t exactly brought in as fanboys off the street. It takes a solid background and references to make it to the big show.

“What I normally do is the same for boxing as it is for MMA,” explained Kizer. “Occasionally, we’ll bring people in from out of state. With boxing, that’s pretty much for bigger title fights, but for MMA, we still use quite a few people from other places that have been here for a while.

“When we add someone new, which we’ve done a couple times lately the last couple years as judges, they’ll go work the amateurs for years. I basically talk with the different people who run the amateur programs like the ISKA, ISCF, or Kick International, and I’ll say, ‘Who’s been your best judge or best couple judges?’ or ‘Who’s been your best referee?’ when we’re looking to add someone to do smaller shows initially, of course. So, somebody might say, ‘This guy’s been great as a judge.’ In fact, the last judge I added—Mark Smith—all three amateur organizations had mentioned that he had been the best judge. So, we had him come and he worked the smaller MMA shows, and now he’s actually gotten to the stage where he’s working undercards for the UFC.”

The process begins to paint a much clearer picture of the judges. The NSAC goes through a rigorous screening process that forces the judges to spend years working their way up the ranks to make it to the large events, such as the UFC.

For this current season of TUF, there are some very familiar faces on the judging roster.

Kizer explained, “From Vegas, you’ve got [Glenn] Trowbridge, [Adalaide] Bird, [Patricia Morse] Jarman, [Junichiro] Kamijo. We also use, from California, [Cecil] Peoples and [Lester] Griffin. And then, from Oregon, we’ve got Dave Hagen. Oh, and Tony Weeks from Vegas as well. So, actually there are eight. Five from Vegas, two from California and one from the Northwest.”

It would be really difficult to believe that with names like Bird, Weeks and Trowbridge on the roster, that the judges don’t know what they’re talking about, as White has intimated. And, it’s not like these folks are out there making a killing on judging these fights.

According to Kizer, the judges for the preliminary-fights show at the beginning of the season make what they would for a full UFC event, which is around $600 to $700. For a standard TUF show, they make around $300.

Kizer also pointed out an important aspect of the process for choosing the judges they use.

“When I do talk to the people who run those shows and find out who’s been doing the best as far as the actual judging goes, or refereeing or the timekeeping, I find out how their character is,” he said. “They’re not asking for stuff they shouldn’t be asking for. They’re not coming in late or doing anything that could be construed as unprofessional or unethical.”

Looking at the big picture in regard to the judges, it starts to make Dana White look a little overly dramatic with this season of TUF. It is starting to appear that his frustrations are more with the fighting than they are with the judges. After a non-aggressive fight, one that should end in the first two rounds, goes to a three-round decision, White is already extremely aggravated, and the judging is coming into play at the wrong time.

In the case of Hill and Secor, White had every right to be upset that the fight started with the worst round in TUF history. He tells people time and time again to not let the fight go to the judges. This is part incredibly smart marketing, but it’s also one of the things that White did not like about boxing, which is where his experiences were prior to MMA.

The most frustrating part of the judging is that it doesn’t always end up as obviously as one might expect. However, as Kizer stated, these judges are not just scrubs off the street. They are highly vetted, highly respected individuals that have trained eyes and are good at what they do. And, furthermore, Kizer involves himself when necessary.

“I’m at a lot of these events myself, and if there’s any strangeness or controversy, I’ll usually try to get a copy of the event,” Kizer stated. “Whether it’s the judging or refereeing, or it’s just the fighters themselves, I’ll get a copy of the DVD to look at it myself.”

Whether or not Kizer viewed the DVD from episode seven, as well as the identity of the judges , is really irrelevant. The wrong choice was made, but neither of the fighters did anything to keep it out of the hands of the judges.

While the TUF judging has been taking a beating, it’s not for a lack of quality. The judges have been around the block quite a few times and are respected individuals doing what they love for a modest payout, at best.

The real issue with the current season of TUF is not the judging, but the lack of finishes. Until that changes, White will continue to be upset, fighters will continue to be disappointed, and Roy Nelson’s complaining will only seem more annoying than it already does.

Photo: Joey Rivera (R) battles Sam Alvey (Al Powers/Zuffa, LLC)

About The Author

Dan Kuhl
Interview Coordinator