written by Matt Culley / edited by Kyle Antonelli
This past weekend the world watched as Jon “Bones” Jones defended his title against a tough, young challenger in Dominick Reyes. Although some fans were upset over the decision going in favor of Jones, the one thing we all can agree on is the fact that the majority of judging across the sport of MMA is lacking the knowledge, experience, and in some cases focus to properly judge a multifaceted combative sport like Mixed Martial Arts. As commentators Joe Rogan and Dominick Cruz observed one judge clearly not even watching the fight, the score cards at UFC 247 reflected a clear disconnect between the judging staff and the athletic endeavor happening inside the Octagon.
The sport of MMA continues to grow and claim a spot among the elite mainstream sports in our culture, and as the sport’s popularity evolves, the judging will need to evolve along with it. A baseline knowledge of experience in multiple facets of MMA should be a mandatory prerequisite. This doesn’t mean that all judges need to be retired professional fighters, but actual experience training and even competing across multiple martial arts, or training the unique sport of MMA, will bring with it a better understanding and intimate insight into the reality of fighting and the intricacies of MMA. Each position brings with it an abundance of violent possibilities, each deserving of assessment by a knowledgeable, well-trained judge.
In order to develop a knowledgeable and competent pool of judges, the MMA community must move beyond the scattered state-by-state system that we have come to accept. We must also leave behind inherited and unproven methods adopted from the boxing world. MMA needs to move towards creating a truly unified rule set, updated scoring system and judging protocol, and a certified training system for MMA judges. Utilizing an open scoring format is one immediate fix that could help to remedy certain judging issues, or at least help to expose them, and will surely add to the level of overall excitement of each individual match. Fans knowing the score after each round brings MMA another step closer to other sports mainstream sports that rely so heavily on scoreboards. Boxing has not embraced this model, but MMA should break from the past and continue to develop.
The sport of MMA, and specifically the UFC, continue to inch closer to attaining the full mainstream status of the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL. As they do, we’ll hopefully see more focus placed on gaining control over the education and certification of referees and judges, to create a more professional system befitting the athletes who step in the cage and put their wellbeing on the line. Until that happens, as the old saying goes: “Don’t leave it in the hands of the judges.”
*Update: The Kansas Athletic Commission has announced they will offer promotions the option of utilizing “open scoring”, and Invicta FC will be the first promotion to test this new system at their Phoenix Series 3 on March 6.*