Of all the problems with judging in MMA, the most glaring and easily fixable is the letter of the judging criteria in the Unified Rules. Try to explain what is written to a new or casual fan. I dare you.
"Well, see, there's five criteria. Striking, grappling, fighting area control, aggression, and defense. Judges need to look at those criteria in that order. BUT if a round spends more time on the ground, grappling takes precedence to striking. What constitutes effective grappling? Lemme see here...'successful execution of takedowns and reversals.' Blah blah blah..."
Tweaking and clarifying the judging criteria is an exercise in futility. So, I went ahead and rewrote the rules. (They're after the break.) Here's what I've done:
1. Removed fighting area control, aggression, and defense from the criteria - I'd like to quote this bit from Bad Left Hook in regards to "ring generalship" in boxing:
This is for the boxer who was able to force the other fighter into fighting their fight. This is sort of a BS catch-all, like when people talk about 'intangibles' in other sports. There really isn't a good way of measuring ring generalship, so a lot of folks just ignore it. Unfortunately, I feel like some judges use this as an excuse to score a round a certain way when there really isn't a defensible way of scoring the round the way they score it.
In my opinion, all three of these points are unnecessary and superfluous. If a fighter is striking or grappling effectively, there's a good chance they're also controlling the fighting area, fighting aggressively, and/or preventing their opponent from doing the same.
In addition, what does it matter if I'm coming forward or moving backwards, if I'm hitting you with clean and damaging strikes? It can actually create an interesting contradiction, with Lyoto Machida being a prime example. A judge may view him lacking aggression, constantly moving away from his opponent. But you can turn it around and argue that he's controlling the fighting area, making his opponent chase him around the cage.
2. Consolidated effective striking and grappling into effective offense - Most fans of MMA agree that the ultimate goal of a fighter is to finish the fight. That necessitates that we should reward fighters only for actions that directly lead to a stoppage. Grappling advances have been removed as effective offense (but not removed from the criteria, more on that in a bit). Instead, we only look at two things: clean strikes and threatening submission attempts (defined in the rewritten rules). Takedowns and guard passing are tools for putting yourself in position to deliver effective offense, but they are only a means to an end.
3. Introduced positional control - Positional control only comes into play if a fighter exhibited dominant grappling position (defined in the rules as maintaining "side control, back control, or mount") for the majority of the round. In addition, a fighter may only win the round via positional control if neither fighter separates him or herself from the other with regards to effective offense. I inserted this clause into the rules as I believe there is some value in being able to hold down an opponent for an extended period of time.
4. Clarified the ten-point must system - Not too many changes. I've liberalized the scoring, and provided examples of the qualities associated with each scoring option.
By streamlining the entire criteria to just look at "effective offense," we've made a judge's job that much easier. They no longer must try to balance five separate criteria, each vague in their own right. And for the fighters, we've made their job simpler (or at least, clearer): attack your opponent and avoid being attacked. It's the absolute essence of MMA, and now it is reflected in its bylaws.
I also made a slight change to rules regarding the actual judges as well.
Finally, I want to point out that this is a first draft. I believe it is superior to the current judging criteria, but there are still points that could be clarified further. I'm sure there are also potential holes that haven't crossed my mind.
On to the rules...13:46-24A.13 Judging
(a) All bouts will be evaluated by three or five judges.
(b) When applicable, judging stations should be equipped with television monitors. Judges are permitted to watch the monitors during the bout. Between round replays will not be shown to officials for the purpose of judging.
(c) The 10-Point Must System will be the standard system of scoring a bout. Under the 10-Point Must Scoring System, 10 points must be awarded to the winner of the round and nine points or less must be awarded to the loser, except for an even round, which is scored (10-10).
(d) Judges shall evaluate mixed martial arts contests by effective offense and, in lieu of a distinction in effective offense, positional control.
(e) Effective offense includes clean, effective strikes and threatening submission attempts. A threatening submission attempt is any grappling hold in which the threatened fighter must use counter grappling measures to prevent being submitted.
(f) Positional control should only be utilized in the absence of separation in effective offense and when more than half the round was contested with at least one fighter on the ground. A fighter may be given a round for positional control if he or she maintained dominant position (defined as side control, back control, or mount) for a majority of the round.
(g) The following objective scoring criteria shall be utilized by the judges when scoring a round;
(1) A 10-10 round is awarded when neither fighter has done enough to separate his or her performance from his or her opponent. If a judge does not feel confident scoring a round for either contestant, a judge should score the round 10-10.
(2) A 10-9 round is any round in which a fighter demonstrates a basic, but clear level of superiority. A 10-9 round may be characterized by a greater amount of effective strikes landed, a knockdown, or threatening submission attempts.
(3) A 10-8 round is any round in which a fighter demonstrates a significant level of superiority. The round winner will typically have put himself in position to finish the bout during the round. A 10-8 round may be characterized by multiple knockdowns, a knockdown followed by effective ground strikes, multiple near submissions, or a lopsided amount of effective strikes landed.
(4) A 10-7 round is any round in which a fighter put himself in position to finish the bout multiple times.
(5) A 10-6 round is any round in which a fighter was in position to finish the bout for a majority of the round and the round loser had limited to no offensive outbursts.
(h) For the purposes of grappling, the guard (defined as a grappling position in which a grounded fighter, on his back, has both legs in between in between his and his opponent's hips) should be considered a neutral position. A fighter striking from his or her opponent's guard should be given more credit than a fighter striking from his or her back.