I’ve previously advocated a system that is basically identical to the one Nelson "Doc" Hamilton suggested earlier this year when the Association of Boxing Commissioners was looking at MMA rules and regulations in hopes of creating uniformity and making improvements.
Instead of the current implementation, this suggested system would include half-points. If a round is even, it should be scored 10-10. If it’s a close round and someone squeaked it out, go 10-9.5. A 10-9 round would be when there is no doubt who won the round, but the round winner didn’t hurt the other fighter to the point a judge would go 10-8.
There's two issues I have with this line of thinking. First, a similar "system" could be implemented with a more liberal use of the current ten-point scoring. Deducting a point for knockdowns provides boxing with a built-in way to liberalize round scores. For a variety of reasons, that concept cannot be ported over to MMA. Instead, judges should not be afraid to score decisive rounds 10-8 (and current 10-8 rounds as 10-7).
Second, if we can't trust judges to use the current scoring system, what makes us think that adding more data points will make things any better? If adding half-points to score system make it more efficient, surely adding the ability to score fractional tenths of point would make it even better. Yet, I find it highly unlikely that fans would trust judges to try and differentiate between a 10-9.9 and 10-9.8 round.
We can also look at the fight that caused the article to be written (Machida vs. Shogun at UFC 104), and we'll find that Meltzer's system would, in all likelihood, have resulted in the bout being scored a draw. Assume the following scorecards for the three judges under the modified ten-point must system (score listed for Machida first):
All three judges would have scored the fight a 48.5-48.5 draw.
Meltzer then his this to say about the "perfect" scoring system:
The best system is the one UFC had from late 1995 to early 2000, where at the end of the fight, the judge wrote down the name of the winner on a piece of paper.
Although that system resulted in the Bas Rutten win over Kevin Randleman for the heavyweight title in 1999, perhaps the one title-fight decision in UFC history worse than Machida vs. Rua, it was probably the only eye-rolling decision of that era. There were close fights that could have gone either way. But UFC judging in that era, even though the sport was in its infancy, was far superior to that of boxing or kickboxing during those same years.
Undoubtedly there are flaws. For example, late rounds are going to mean more than early rounds. And the mentality of having to convincingly beat the champion to win a title would come more into play because you don’t have the numbers, in theory, eliminating that.
What often happens in three-round fights is that there are two very close rounds that could go either way, and then a third round where one fighter dominates. In the old system, similar to the system still used in Japan, that fighter would be the clear winner. In the current system, with a little bit of bad luck, that fighter could lose. There have been numerous fights I’ve scored in 10-point must where, after adding up my scores, the deserving winner ended up the loser.
What Meltzer fails to take into consideration is that the UFC put on a mere eighteen fight cards in the period between the use of judges and the implementation of the ten point must system (the first Ultimate Ultimate through UFC 20). For comparison, the UFC will have put on twenty cards this year alone. A deeper look at the number reveals that only 29 of 139 fights (20.9%) even went to a decision during that period. Meltzer is clearly romanticizing a time period in which the mere probability of close, controversial decisions was limited at best.
Oddly, Meltzer stumbles upon the only true "solution" at the end of the piece:
My feeling on judging overall is that the right guy wins most of the time. It’ll never be perfect because there is no such thing, particularly in a sport where the offense is as diverse as MMA.
The most "objective" solution to this mess would be to either award draws to all fights that go to the final bell or eliminate time constraints altogether. Both methods would eliminate the clutter of judging and provide fighters with a very simple goal: finish the fight.
But the beauty of its simplicity is countered by the magnitude of its impracticality. MMA would never survive as a virtual death sport, and no sane person would feel satisfied with Brock Lesnar, for instance, leaving with a draw after his fight with Heath Herring.
Simply, the ten-point must system is a fine way of judging fights for MMA. It's certainly not perfect, and if a method can be conjured that proves more effective, we should not be shy in its implementation. But without a proper alternative in place, we should instead focus our attention on the judges, athletic commissions, and their methods of education instead of attempting to replace a practice that has proven its effectiveness over the last decade-plus.