"On April 3, 2001, the New Jersey SACB held a meeting in Trenton to discuss the regulation of mixed martial arts events..."
So begins the codification of rules governing mixed martial arts in the US. The commission decided that the best way to determine the outcome of each match would be the use of judges, who would score each of the rounds independently, and in much the same way as professional boxing.
On the surface the decision to judge rather than to score was simply a case of needing a rule set in place to gain legitimacy and distance itself from Sen. McCain's ‘human cockfighting' label. But is that really the case? It seems that the urgency to actually get regulated and equate the young sport to an older, more respected sport like boxing contributed heavily in the commission's decision to use judging instead of a scoring based system. In defense of the commission, scoring such a wide variety of attacks may have been a daunting task at the time. Now that we have tools such as Fight Metric and CompuStrike at our disposal is it too late to use them?
The title of official judge holds an air of expertise in decision making, but in early years of sanctioned MMA, these officials came mostly from boxing or kickboxing, leaving out the integral aspect of grappling. The same can be said for modern MMA as well, even though we have recently seen a backlash due in part to the perceived over-emphasis of the takedown.
The logistics of official judging have never been truly concrete. Opinion ways heavily, favoritism of discipline may be a factor, and the aspects of control and aggression can sometimes be subjective and unquantifiable. So why does judging hold more precedence than scoring? Professional boxing has always been scrutinized for using this system, resulting in poor decisions and now we have those same scenarios popping up in MMA. Garcia-Phan, Fujii-Frausto, Sherk-Dunham, Guillard-Stephens are just a few of the recent bouts that come to mind.
There has been much discussion concerning judging in the past year. Should the judges use a fractional point system? Is the 10 point must system valid? Many martial arts use a scoring system, and it works far better than judging. Olympic combat sports such as Karate, Taekwondo, Judo, Wrestling, and even Boxing use a point based system to determine decisions, so why are we stuck with judging who is inflicting damage, or displaying cage control when you can simply tally the categories of striking and grappling to determine a winner? MMA is not a forms contest.
Obviously, I am not a judge. When I watch a live fight I am absorbed in the moment and cheer for my favorite fighters. In other words, I am not impartial...and possibly drunk. After a fight, I usually wait a couple of days before I watch it again and that's when the judge in me takes note of exchanges. Whoever wins the most exchanges in each round, whether standing or grappling, wins the fight if it goes to a decision. That is the extent of my ‘judging' and I realize how difficult that can be, even in hindsight. I am not so egocentric to believe the Unified Rules of MMA should change the system to suit my tastes. But if I had a voice in the matter I'd recommend a system of two judges, and Fight Metric or CompuStrike as the third determining factor. As a former wrestler I know that scoring works, and should be used in part to determine the winner of a decision.