The Time Clock, the Rules, and MMA Judging

Today's guest post comes from Dallas Winston of The Garv (aka BE member Leonard Washington) He's been doing some thoughtful work on judging in MMA and I wanted his arguments to get more exposure so I asked him to write this guest piece. Kid Nate

Question:  Let's say when tallying the points for each fighter in a round where 90% of the fight takes place on the feet, that Fighter A wins effective striking, but Fighter B wins the remaining categories (grappling, control, aggression, defense).  Who would the round be awarded to?  Since the criteria is prioritized in descending order (effective striking and/or grappling, control, aggression, defense), how are the individual categories weighed against each other when split amongst both fighters?

Answer: "I would say that if 4 of 5 minutes occurred standing, and Fighter A won the stand-up, it is likely that Fighter A won the round. In addition, it would seem that Fighter B would not win on octagon control or defense in this scenario.  If there was an even split in criteria, effective striking and effective grappling should be given scoring priority."

That answer comes from influential New Jersey Commissioner Nick Lembo in a 2009 interview about interpreting the unified rules.  I noticed that the mangled horse lying lifeless on the floor might have twitched a few times, so I feel I can proceed to mercilessly beat the poor animal a bit further by citing the Nogeuira versus Bader fight as a relevant example of how the unified rules are not being followed.

Let's focus on round three, which fits the hypothetical round scenario in the question above to a tee:  approximately one minute of ground-time was clocked in the third, with neither fighter mounting any significant offense on the mat, meaning that almost four full minutes of the round played out on the feet with striking.

I feel it's pretty clear that Nog edged Bader in the striking aspect of the last frame.  Both found the mark with significant blows and landed a few combinations, but Nogueira landed the more effective strikes with knees to the midsection and strung together more successful sequences.  

Effective striking is judged by determining the number of legal strikes landed by a contestant and the significance of such legal strikes.

If Nogueira did indeed outperform Bader in striking, he simply wins the round -- case closed.  ("I would say that if 4 of 5 minutes occurred standing, and Fighter A won the stand-up, it is likely that Fighter A won the round."

Of course, it just wouldn't feel like MMA if everyone high-fived in agreement.

Let's break it down in the full entry.

I'm open to the theory that the striking was more evenly contested than tilted in Nog's favor -- but not to the sentiment  that Bader clenched the striking war; that is, until someone can demonstrate how Bader landed the greater number and/or the more significant strikes.  For the sake of argument, let's give Bader a mulligan and consider the striking even, and proceed to analyze the remaining categories in descending order.

 

  • Effective grappling is judged by considering the amount of successful executions of a legal takedown and reversals. Examples of factors to consider are take downs from standing position to mount position, passing the guard to mount position, and bottom position fighters using an active, threatening guard.

 

The amount of legal takedowns successfully executed was two in favor of Bader.  At no time will I adopt my own personal inference of "what the rules are really trying to say", but rather avoid subjectivity by translating the rules exactly as they're written.  So to lend broad leeway to the opposing opinion, let's just give this category to Bader outright.  Fair?  That means we scrutinize the control heading next.

 

  • Fighting area control is judged by determining who is dictating the pace, location and position of the bout. Examples of factors to consider are countering a grappler's attempt at takedown by remaining standing and legally striking; taking down an opponent to force a ground fight; creating threatening submission attempts, passing the guard to achieve mount, and creating striking opportunities.

 

There were seven collisions where Bader attempted to impose his will and assume control by forcing the fight to a different phase of combat (from free phase/striking to grappling), and Nogueira prevailed in five of those seven battles.  This is where many assert that Bader's takedown attempts were inherently more aggressive and offensive, where stuffing the shots was defensively oriented and therefore should be counted less.

The almighty question is:  Why?

Negating a takedown is clearly offered right alongside achieving one in the description for control.  There is no indication that one should be given more favor than the other.  Isn't it as simple as that?  Does inserting some random bonus multiplier on your own accord seem more fair and unbiased then just reading what the rules plainly state?  This trend of straying away from the criteria on a personal whim is the same as lighting the fuse on a giant powder keg. 

It ignites a formless void of subjectivity and personal opinion, ingredients that make up the very definition of a cancer devouring a system founded on objective interpretation.  In addition, I would argue that some of Bader's takedowns were absolutely defensive in nature.  When Nogueira started to find his rhythm and accumulate strikes, Bader's counter-punches were ineffective and he was being backed up against the fence while covering.  Springing for a takedown in this situation was intelligent and highly effective, but not necessarily purely offensive in nature.

Either way, I digress -- the ambiguous interpretation of whether a technique was offensive or defensive is only referenced in the lowest and most inferior departments of aggression and defense, sections of the rules that only come to light if everything above is even.  It was not.

  • Fighting area control is judged by determining who is dictating the pace, location and position of the bout. Examples of factors to consider are countering a grappler's attempt at takedown by remaining standing and legally striking; taking down an opponent to force a ground fight.

Without injecting your own take on the paragraph above, can we really say that Bader wins the control tier when Nogueira notched five examples of control to Bader's two?  To once again offer some flexibility, let's say that takedowns should count more than stuffs.  This would mean that we mysteriously imply that takedowns are weighed more than twice as heavy as stuffs, and even three times as much if we factor in that Nogueira was back to his feet and landing strikes six seconds later.

An important disclaimer in Lembo's statement:  In addition, it would seem that Fighter B would not win on octagon control or defense in this scenario.

I find it rather fascinating how aptly that applies to the third round of Nog vs. Bader.

The following questions must be answered logically while adhering to the unified rules to justify the opinion that Bader won the round:

 

  1. If 4 minutes or 80% of the round was on the feet, how did Bader win by clearly demonstrating superiority with striking?
  2. Since there is a valid argument that Bader won "effective grappling" which is equal with striking, why should one minute out of four (with no significant offense or damage) be given more weight than the four minutes striking?
  3. How did Bader more effectively dictate the location of the bout and win control by succeeding with two of seven attempts (only one of which was effective)? And, of the highest importance:
  4. Why is my opinion more correct than the most knowledgeable athletic commissioner who played a pivotal role in implementing the unified rules of MMA?

 

If there is one malicious travesty within the MMA judging conundrum, it's randomly straying from the very foundation it's built upon.  

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