Judging in MMA has been a hot topic among fans during the last few years. Most notably, debates rage within the MMA community regarding how fights should be judged in regards to the 10-point must system, and how fighters who work offensively off their backs should be compensated for their work. A few fights in the past year have been brought up in regards to judging that wasn't on par with what MMA fans expected; Takeya Mizugaki vs. Jeff Curran was one of the bouts we've talked about in the past along with Caol Uno vs. Spencer Fisher.
In an article I recently wrote regarding the NJSACB's Nick Lembo's comments regarding judging in the State of New Jersey, I talked about the current process in which the NJSACB trains judges and asked whether or not those "more experienced" judges were actually teaching judging prospects the "new" forms of judging. This would entail scoring bouts with fighters working from the bottom. Lembo and I had a lengthy email conversation about the piece, and from the answers that Lembo provided -- New Jersey is certainly one of the more progressive states in training judges in MMA.
Lembo gave some detailed information regarding their selection process and what prospects have to go through in order to become a professional MMA judge in the state:
- Aspiring judges must have an appropriate martial arts background, meaning they can't simply have a background in boxing or judging boxing.
- Prospective judges work amateur shows as a "shadow". They normally sit next to other judges to get a feel for where they will sit, and in order to discuss the fights during breaks. The "shadow" will score the bout, and Lembo reviews those scores.
- If Prospective judges are deemed fit to work a professional event, he/she would sit next to two experienced judges. This will not only please the promoter who would want at least two experienced judges working the event, but it'll give a much higher confidence to the scores.
- Prospective judges must explain their "interesting" scores and have been forced to watch video to explain their scoring process out loud in the past. Lembo did state that there are judges who no longer work events in New Jersey or are working their way back into the mix following these review sessions.
This is a pretty progressive program over many of the other states that commission MMA bouts. While I have no doubt that some of the more active states have some sort of process in place, Lembo's plan of attack has the checks and balances in place to truly succeed.
As for the question regarding who the experienced judges are who work with prospective judges, Lembo named Douglas Crosby, Jeff Blatnick, Carlos Rodriguez,and Cardo Urso. Urso has over 35 years of martial arts training and currently holds black belts in Okinawan Karate, White Crane, Judo, Jujitsu and Sambo, and is also a level 3 instructor in the Miletich Fighting Systems. Doug Crosby is one of the most well-respected judges in the sport, and he's had more than enough correct calls on many close fights. Jeff Blatnick is an Olympic gold medalist from the 1984 Olympic Games, has a vast background in wrestling, and has worked in MMA since the early 90's. He also commentated for the UFC. It's safe to say that this stable of experienced judges has the background to teach to future of MMA judges.
Lembo also forwarded me Josh Gross' article regarding the problems with judging in MMA, and it talks about the Verissimo vs. Hughes bout back at UFC 48. FightMetric actually scored it in favor of Verissimo as did Joe Rogan during the event, and many fans feel he won the bout from his back. The judges didn't think so. Hughes vs. Serra was also a bout that Lembo mentioned as a good candidate to showcase working off the back. The article is required reading for new applicants.
There were some other interesting points that Lembo brought up as well. Most notably, judges need to continue to educate themselves. Seminars are held, and there is focus on the fighters who work off their back in some of the classes. This ensures that all judging applicants have the knowledge to score a fight no matter where the action takes place.
I'd like to thank Nick Lembo for his time in explaining the processes in place in New Jersey. I think the most substantial piece of the puzzle is the review process. All commissions should require a review process for judges, and all commissions should be strict in their judging selection as New Jersey. If we had experienced judges who knew exactly what they were seeing when it came to the ground game, we'd likely have less drama at the end of an event. We'd know who the real winners were that night.