“Don’t leave it in the hands of the judges.”

It’s one of the most overused sayings in MMA, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Nearly every UFC fight card has at least one close bout and while the judges get it right most of the time, there other times when they get it, oh, so very wrong.

While there are clear guidelines for judging a fight, how judges perceive the action in the cage can be vastly different. It’s the nature of the best. Anytime you ask someone to interpret and score what they see there are going to be some variances. But often when a bad decision takes place when the judges’ scores are read, it’s almost like everyone involved watched a completely different fight.

Granted, if a fighter wants to be assured a victory, they need to finish the fight. But that isn’t always possible. Close fights are going to happen and as the athletes continue to evolve their skill sets, fights are going to become more difficult to judge. That’s why something needs to change now.

The controversial split decision win that Beneil Dariush scored over Michael Johnson at UFC Fight Night 73 this past Saturday is just the latest example – in a long line of questionable decisions – of the judging flaws in MMA today. Even though the Daruish decision wasn’t the worst decision in MMA history, it was pretty bad. If the sport of MMA is going to continue to grow at its current pace, then its biggest flaw – judging – needs to be addressed.

Comprehensive Takedown Scoring

Fighters know that even if they are losing the striking game, they can steal rounds in the judges’ eyes by securing takedowns. While a takedown is an effective weapon in a fight, too much weight is given to scoring a takedown; especially when the other fighter is able to stand right back up.

Takedowns are important, but ultimately a takedown should only be judged and scored based on what a fighter is able to do with it. Judges should ask themselves, “What was accomplished as a result of that takedown?”

Think about how strikes are scored. There are strikes that score, but don’t really do any damage and then there are significant strikes that actually do damage. Takedowns can be viewed in the exact same fashion. Either a fighter simply scored a takedown and did nothing with it, or, the fighter scored a takedown that either lead to significant ground and pound or an advanced grappling position.

While the takedowns themselves need to be reevaluated, so to do takedowns defended. Significant weight needs to be given to the act of defending a takedown. If a fighter is 1 for 4 on takedown attempts in a round, that fighter often wins the round. Why? The other fighter was able to defend 3 of the 4 takedown attempts; where is the reward for that?

Improving how takedowns are perceived and scored would go a long way towards improving judging overall.

Improved Scoring from the Bottom

The next facet of scoring that needs to be addressed is activity from the bottom. Depending on a fighters skill set, being on the bottom can be an advantageous position for them. But in the eyes of judges, the fighter on the top is the fighter in control regardless of what is actually happening in the fight.

In most cases, the fighter on top does have an advantage, but that isn’t always the case. There are many fighters out there with extremely active and dangerous guards who lose rounds because judges don’t give them the proper credit for the work that they do off of their backs.

If the fighter on the bottom is just looking to defend and maintain full guard then they should not be scored favorably. But if a fighter is being active off of their back and looking for submissions and/or sweeps they should be scored accordingly.

Like it or not, the ground game is an important part of MMA, but yet it seems like MMA judges still don’t understand what they are watching when a fight hits the ground. That is a major problem in and of itself that the sanctioning bodies – State Athletic Commissions – need to address with continuing education for the judges.

Judge the Whole Fight

But at the end of the day, the biggest flaw in MMA judging today is the antiquated 10-point scoring system; where rounds are individually scored and a winner is decided based on who won more rounds. This system was adapted from boxing – where fights rung between six and 12 rounds – but in MMA, the standard bout only lasts 3 rounds. Even in championship MMA fights the fighters only fight a maximum of five rounds.

Because of the smaller sample size judging, a MMA fight based on the sum of its parts simply doesn’t make that much sense. MMA fights should be judged as a whole. Many Asia MMA promotions utilize this form of judging and it has greatly reduced the number of questionable decisions.

By eliminating the 10-point system, judges would be forced to evaluate the whole of the fight. Fighters would no longer be able to steal rounds – and victories – with late takedowns that don’t result in any actual damage.

Also, a byproduct of scoring a fight as a whole would be an increase in finishes and attempted finishes. Fighters have learned to fight within the 10-point system and as such, they look to simply win rounds rather than finish the fight. When a fight is being scored based on the whole of the fight, fighters are forced to be more active and aggressive.

About The Author

RJ Gardner
Content Coordinator

RJ Gardner is a rabid sports fan and a long time MMA enthusiast. After watching UFC 1 at ripe old age of 11 RJ was hooked and his passion for the sport has continued to blossom over the years. RJ has been covering MMA since 2007 and has had work featured on Bleacher Report, SI.com, CBSSports.com and UFC.com. RJ is also a Petroleum Transportation Operations Manager during the day.