Without trying to beat a dead horse on the issue regarding judging, the discussion revolving around the current MMA judging model is definitely an intriguing debate. After The Ultimate Fighter Season 9 Finale's debatable decisions on both the main card and undercard, many fans have realized that some changes need to be made. Kid Nate made the argument that the Japanese judging system might be a better fit for MMA while Joe Rogan seemed to side a bit with its application as well.
The PRIDE-style of judging is normally what is referred to as the Japanese judging criteria, and Sengoku's old judging system was modeled after PRIDE's attempt to have a meaningful criteria to score fights. Most hardcore fans will tell you that it truly came down to who was closer to finishing a fight, but damage has been a piece of the criteria that many have left out of the equation. Damage was a substantial part of the PRIDE system of judging a battle as it added to the notion that fighter A was closer to finishing fighter B.
Is PRIDE-style judging criteria the answer to all of our problems with controversial decisions in the sport? No, it isn't. First and foremost, the potential for fights within that framework to become lackluster in the opening rounds increases. If a fighter truly knows that he isn't a finisher, it may be better for them to remain purely defensive in an attempt to save conditioning for the more weighted third round of the fight. It's a huge risk if your opponent is equally conditioned to go full throttle for three rounds, but I'd rather have fighters trying to win opening rounds rather than having an entire stable of fighters fighting in the same manner. I'm also heavily against having any type of notion of a "weighted" round. If one round becomes so heavily weighted, why not just fight one round?
Secondly, the damage criteria from PRIDE doesn't sit well with me when judging fights. This was pretty evident in the Hardy vs. Davis war at UFC 99. While many would argue Davis won the matchup, it's hard to argue against the possibility of judges seeing Hardy win the matchup. One of the key problems in the judging could have potentially been the sight of the gash in Davis' head following Hardy's glancing elbow.
If we leave the damage quotient out of the equation, I'm a bit more inclined to accept a judging criteria that looks at the totality of the fight versus a round by round view of the fight. The problem with totality is that someone can be easily punished for the opening rounds, then comeback and almost finish the fight in the third round. It seems unfair that all the work fighter A did within the first two rounds is completely scratched from the record if fighter B almost finishes him in the third round. I think it ultimately would leave a bad taste in a lot of mouths.
What's the solution? The consensus argument is that education of our MMA judges is the key to success, and I agree with that argument. The huge problem, however, is that there is not a central organization that is helping out even the regional commissioned judges get the formal training they need on MMA judging criteria. Obviously, this couldn't be set up through state athletic commissions as there would probably not be any funding for it. It comes down to the individual judges themselves putting forth the effort to become educated, and that's a scary thought.
Clear criteria on how to score takedowns and damage from the bottom by an opponent are probably the two main focuses on judging I'd like to see given some more clarification. If you move for a takedown, complete it, but do nothing with it, should you be given points for that? What about when a fighter is in a defensive position on the bottom, but he's landing elbows and transitioning for submission attempts? What happens when a submission is attempted, but the top controlling fighter escapes? Do those attempts cancel each other out on the scorecards? I have no doubt in my mind that there are plenty of MMA judges out there that don't think about any of these scenarios, and that's sad.
The use of the 10-10 draw and 10-8 round needs to be pushed more as choices for judges. There are a lot of matchups in which a 10-10 draw is warranted, but we rarely see it because of either the pressures from the promotion to have definitive winners or because those outcomes are rarely seen in the American MMA scene. It could also be a matter of judges not actually knowing when to score rounds in this manner because there really isn't a clarification as to what warrants that type of round.
Other solutions involve adding more scoring criteria to the round. Boxing is one-dimensional in that we would be scoring blows from the hands. MMA could easily change their criteria to score strikes, grappling, control, and aggression. Some would want to throw takedowns and submission attempts in the mix, but I always revert to the argument that takedowns would need to be clarified as being only counted if damage is done. Submission attempts could also be countered by the fact that the fighter escapes the hold. I'd give points for submission attempts that were escaped, but ultimately put the fighter on the bottom in a better position because of the danger it caused his opponent.
If judging a fight with 10-10 and 10-8 rounds became more frequent, I'm sure overall draws will become more frequent. Also, I could see a fight in which fighter A won round 1 & 2 via 10-9 scores, and then fighter B overwhelming fighter A to a near finish in the third to a 10-8 round. What if K-1 round rules came into play? I'd love to hear the feedback. In short, a fight that was deemed a draw in the final round would go to a fourth round with a maximum of five rounds. Fighters would ultimately always need to train for five rounds, which I think helps the sport in the long run, but I can see the counter arguments to this idea.
In any case, I think the PRIDE judging system isn't the answer to our questions regarding judging in the American MMA scene. MMA judges should be the main focus, and while I understand Nate and Rogan's ideas concerning it, I'm just not a fan of the system. I do, however, understand that training MMA judges is a giant task that will likely not happen any time soon. Unfortunately, I think we will be stuck with the same problems we've been seeing for years to come.