Is MMA Judging Getting Worse Despite Media Outcry?

Has MMA Judging continued to worsen? The Evan Dunham vs. Sean Sherk decision could serve as evidence that it has. Photo by UFC.

Judging, in almost any capacity, can be a tough proposition. After all, it relies on a single person interpreting a set of criteria accurately and reasonably to a point where they can judge something competently. It doesn't only apply to mixed martial arts or boxing either. We can apply the same idea to law, deciding who you're going to marry, if you want to buy a house, or what you want to eat for lunch. Obviously, there are differing consequences from life-altering changes to having a sour stomach for the rest of the day, but the same method of interpreting what exactly it is that makes something good vs. bad still applies.

Within the landscape of mixed martial arts, interpreting the criteria for how a fight is scored seems to be a huge problem. Fighters will tell you that they simply shouldn't let the judges decide the outcome of a bout, but that's a somewhat unrealistic opinion when we consider the phenomenal athletes that battle in this sport. While this has been an obvious problem since MMA's boom in popularity, the scrutiny of MMA judging has reached its height over the last two years.

WEC 51 added some fuel to the fire as Leonard Garcia miraculously stole one judge's scorecard during his main card featherweight tilt with Mark Hominick. Interestingly enough, Garcia's wild punching and pace have given him a number of victories that were undeserving in his recent string of appearances, and it hints at one of the problems with MMA judging, cageside viewing of fights could be hindering accuracy.

Sherk vs. Dunham and Frausto vs. Aguilar are two of the more recent screwjobs in mixed martial arts judging I can think of off the top of my head. With all of the outcry over the past few years when it comes to MMA judging.. why haven't we seen some sort of rise in credible judges getting the nod over the unpopular icons of the old guard?

Jake Rossen hit the nail on the head back in November of last year:

The problem with begging for reform -- which has become a regular bell for critics and fans to ring -- is that it ignores the significant aversion humans have to admitting error. If an athletic commission institutes changes in what is clearly a flawed system, the subtext is that they didn’t know what they were doing in the first place. Good luck with that. 

People who seek positions of influence tend to want to control situations, not follow instructions by layman’s committee. What we’re left with are decisions by judges of suspect credentials and observation who could potentially be altering the course of careers -- all while commissions shrug and point to the subjective nature of the role. 

Ever work for a company or employer that is stuck in their old ways, or perhaps they aren't open to amending the current practices for fear of breaking the current system, a system that is outdated and obsolete? That's what I believe is the major problem with MMA judging today. The old guard remains in place, using their poor methodology of judging on a basis of an even worse interpretation of the current set of criteria.

Subjectivity has its limits, believe it or not. We can interpret the rules, and give the nod to takedowns when a fight is fairly uneventful on the ground and non-decisive on the feet. But subjectivity only goes so far before it becomes blatant ignorance to what the unified rules actually state. When corners are screaming for a single takedown with :30 seconds left in a fight because it will decide the outcome, there is a problem.

The high-tech upgrades would help, but as Ron White once said... you can't fix stupid. Interpretations of the criteria have never changed for some judges, despite the evolution of the sport and what the unified rules actually say. Both Cecil Peoples and Douglas Crosby have publicly stated on rare occassions why they scored a fight the way they did, and it's evident that these two icons of MMA judging are past their primes.

Has MMA Judging gotten worse? The influential decision makers still in place in the judging world believe their interpretations are the Bible, and any dissenting opinion is wrong. It's time to re-read the manual, and re-evaluate those interpretations. Unfortunately, that won't happen, and the only solution to our problem is time. 

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