For much of my small-time career as a MMA writer, one of the main focuses of my work has revolved around trying to put a spotlight on the judging processes within the world of mixed martial arts. Instead of suffering through ridiculous decisions such as the Mike Easton vs. Chase Beebe debacle or seeing insanely bad split decisions like that of the Yves Jabouin vs. Rafael Assuncao bout from WEC 43, one of my main goals was to try to converse with some of the top commissions in the country to outline the processes in which judges are brought up to a professional level and allowed to work these popular promotional cards.
In a previous article, I talked with the NJSACB's Nick Lembo regarding the state of New Jersey's process in maintaining a competent stable of judges while also bringing up new judges. One of the main focuses involved the training of applicants. What do they look for in a fight? Do they take in account a fighter's offense from the back? Interestingly enough, New Jersey seems to be one of the few states in the United States with an extensive program for applicants to work through in order to become professional judges. I was satisfied with Lembo's answers to my questions, but I wanted to know more about commissions across the country.
My focus for this piece was to talk about the Nevada State Athletic Commission's own judging process for applicants and how these judges were trained in order to understand MMA. Keith Kizer kindly took some time out of his schedule to reply to my emails regarding their process, and it is surprisingly similar to that of the NJSACB.
The NSAC, like the NJSACB, has its own "shadowing" program for applicants. New applicants "shadow" judge amateur bouts alongside professional judges in order to gain experience and knowledge about scoring a MMA bout. All the professional judges are easily accessible to answer questions from those applicants in order to gain a better understanding, and Keith Kizer himself scrutinizes the applicants' judging cards in order to assess their performances.
Kizer also stated that a review process is also in place, and that poor judging can result in some judges being dropped from judging professional events. One of the main differences between New Jersey and Nevada is the criteria for judges. New Jersey requires some sort of martial arts background while Kizer simply stated that "Judges can come from various walks of life, but need a "judging background" to do the pro events. Judging the amateurs and attending judges’ training events is important.". As long as applicants prove that they are competent and get their experience through the process, those applicants can become professional judges.
Like New Jersey, Nevada also encourages judges to attend any seminars available to increase their knowledge. These would include sessions involving training on jiu-jitsu holds and specific technical parts of a MMA fight in order to score bouts correctly.
Initially, I was a bit hesitant about applicants not being required to have a mixed martial arts background. This would obviously allow boxing-only judges to convert to MMA judges within the state, but there is a system in place for those judges to prove they are competent enough to judge fights correctly.
Now, this isn't to say that the system can't have flaws. Obviously, poor judging can happen at any point, but the real solution is dropping those poor performing judges from the stable of professional judges. Luckily, this is in place in Nevada currently. Obviously, there have been some questionable decisions in Nevada over the past few years, and the main gripe has been the value of the takedowns versus working off the back. With any system, problems are going to arise, but the NSAC's process is easily one of the best in the country when we consider states like Texas and Virginia in the mix.