Nam Phan's Decision Loss Should Spark Call for Commission Accountability

Nam Phan swings at Leonard Garcia during their featherweight tilt at The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale. Phan lost via a controversial split decision despite the consensus opinion being that Phan won convincingly. via

Joe Rogan said it best during The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale tonight. Keith Kizer and the Nevada State Athletic Commission need to be held accountable for the incompetence displayed during the opening featherweight battle between Nam Phan and Leonard Garcia. After three rounds of Phan essentially battering Garcia with blows while Garcia swung wildly at air, judges Adalaide Byrd and Tony Weeks scored the bout two rounds to one in favor of Leonard Garcia. A stunned crowd at The Pearl at the Palms in Las Vegas, Nevada booed angrily, erupting in chants describing their discontent with the decision.

We've seen this type of judging time and time again, but it's been more prominent this year as we've had a number of close decisions that were deemed controversial by fans and media alike. While most of those decisions were debatable, Phan's loss tonight wasn't a debate. It was flat out robbery. We've been criticized for the overuse of the term in the past, but it applies justly in this case.

The decision could go down as the worst of this year, although it probably doesn't stack up against the Mike Easton vs. Chase Beebe debacle that our own Luke Thomas and Kid Nate were sitting cageside for back in 2009. In my mind, the central issue is beginning to move away from individual judging incompetence and the re-education of these dissenting officials, and moving toward a higher power. Instead of critiquing judges and hoping for a change in their patterns, let's throw that failing opinion out the window. As I stated in an article back in October, the old guard is finished in this sport. With the exception of a talented few who have interpreted the judging criteria correctly, the new breed of judges needs to be allowed to surface.

That problem can be solved if the Nevada State Athletic Commission and other commissions around the country accept accountability for the actions of their judges. When I spoke with Nick Lembo of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board in September of 2009, we talked specifically about the judging process in New Jersey:

1. Aspiring judges must have an appropriate martial arts background, meaning they can't simply have a background in boxing or judging boxing.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

More regarding the judging process and excerpts from Keith Kizer regarding the process in Nevada after the jump...


I reached Keith Kizer to find out what Nevada's policies were in regards to the judging process as well, specifically whether there was a process in place to review scorecards: This excerpt is from a piece in October of last year:

The NSAC, like the NJSACB, has its own "shadowing" program for applicants. New applicants "shadow" judge amateur bouts alongside professional judges in order to gain experience and knowledge about scoring a MMA bout. All the professional judges are easily accessible to answer questions from those applicants in order to gain a better understanding, and Keith Kizer himself scrutinizes the applicants' judging cards in order to assess their performances.

Kizer also stated that a review process is also in place, and that poor judging can result in some judges being dropped from judging professional events. One of the main differences between New Jersey and Nevada is the criteria for judges. New Jersey requires some sort of martial arts background while Kizer simply stated that "Judges can come from various walks of life, but need a "judging background" to do the pro events. Judging the amateurs and attending judges' training events is important.". As long as applicants prove that they are competent and get their experience through the process, those applicants can become professional judges

The problem of ignorant judging still seems to be an issue despite these programs being in place. While I can't say the state of New Jersey is a problem due to the limited amount of major events held there, Nevada is under heavy scrutiny from the media and fans due to the frequency of events in the state. There is also the added reputation of using judges who have had problems in the past, hence why we see the same names coming up. Tonight, it was Tony Weeks.

The solution is simple, and it will more than likely step on the toes of those who are entitled to positions as judges with the commission due to their experience and reputation. Think of it as the older generation running the company you work for. You may have some great ideas, but their content with the security of what has worked for the last 20 years. Unfortunately, those methods don't work in the modern era, and neither do the interpretations of the judging criteria that continue to be used by judges who continually score fights incorrectly. 

Instead of believing that these judges can be miraculously changed in their old ways, commissions need to follow their policies. The review process needs to be stiffer and with more significant consequences. Good judging awards higher pay and bigger fights. Poor judging gets relegated to the "minors". The next step may need to be complete avoidance of the state, and that'll be tough for a promotion like the UFC, who is based in Nevada.

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