Is It Time for a Do Over for MMA Judges and Referees?

2539887795_78a1c90041_mediumTomas Rios thinks so:

It’s an understandably difficult situation, but we’ve reached a tipping point as the level of incompetence displayed by both judges and referees now goes far beyond what we should expect or tolerate.

Just look at this past weekend’s TUF 9 finale card. Both Gleison Tibau and Edgar Garcia fell victim to the not altogether shocking ineptitude of supposedly professional judges. Throw in a rash of bad calls made by big-name referees and relative unknowns alike, and we’re at a crossroads where the UFC has to choose between letting this go on unabated or using its connections to the Nevada State Athletic Commission to fix this and fix it now. After all, having former NSAC Executive Director Marc Ratner working for the UFC should only help to effect change with the sanctioning bodies.

He also argues that there is a simple solution:

Thankfully the solution is patently obvious and I’m hardly the first to suggest it: The UFC, being the only promotion with the stateside pull to get things done, needs to sit down with the sanctioning bodies and work out a rigorous certification program for both judges and referees.


For example, prospective referees should go through an extensive training camp with the sport’s best existing referees in order to prove they have the skills necessary to get the job done. Beyond that, all new referees should go through a probationary period during which they officiate only small-scale sanctioned events before being considered for full licensing and the opportunity to preside over the sport’s biggest fights. That would give the sanctioning bodies the opportunity to separate the wheat from the chaff, limiting the current crop of subpar officials from making more big-stakes bad calls and potentially ruining someone’s career.

Beyond that, a review system must be implemented to ensure that the referees who are licensed are kept fully accountable. In the current system, even the worst calls net only an apology and some public humiliation for whoever is responsible.

Keep the same criteria for judges, and the system will become a well-oiled machine capable of handling the split-second decision-making demanded of referees and the reasoned analysis judges must make within moments of the closing bell. This is the only option for staving off the gradual decline we’ve seen from the sport’s officials.

Rios is being too optimistic here. While more training for MMA judges and referees would no doubt be beneficial, there is no amount of training that can give a referee the kind of in-ring instincts to adequately protect fighters if they do not have good instincts to begin with. Alertness, acuity and the kind of in-ring persona that allows a referee like Big John McCarthy to ALWAYS be in control in the cage are not things that can be taught.

This isn't even to mention the fact that Rios is conflating the problems we saw this weekend with MMA judging with problems we've seen in the past with MMA referees. His grand plan doesn't mention anything about modifying or clarifying the scoring system for judges. Of course, more training for judges will help, but if the scoring system remains inherently vague and subjective, it will make very little difference.

Fundamentally, the 10 point must system is a bolt-on from boxing that has little if anything to do with MMA. It has many defenders, but I personally believe that the Japanese judging criteria is a better fit for MMA -- in theory if not always in execution.

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