Keith Kizer Is More Right Than Joe Rogan About MMA Judging

Joeroganweighins_display_image_mediumJoe Rogan's arguments regarding the problems with the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) and mixed martial arts judging are air tight on virtually every count. Executive Director Keith Kizer is a politician. The body he oversees often stumbles or errs and refuses to recognize as such. Many of Nevada's referees are incompetent morons grandfathered in from boxing. Just as Rogan suggests, there are fans who could do a better job than many referees working in Nevada today. Yet, overall, Kizer is correct and Rogan is wrong. Why?

Rogan, in my judgment, diagnoses the problem correctly, but misunderstands the solution. The reality in every athletic commission today - from Nevada to Virgina to those in various Canadian municipalities - is that judges, referees and other officials are part of a volunteer army. There is no conscription of the competent nor is there any real incentive beyond existential desire for anyone to sign up for officiating duty. It pays little, the job is stressful and is mostly without any glory or recognition for achievement. The athletic commissions are only able to train and use those individuals who walk through the door. No more, no less. Today's problems with judging and refereeing are as much about inert commissions as they are about laziness among educated fans.

There is no group of eager minutemen ready to take up arms for the cause of MMA judging who need athletic commissions to stop denying their requests for work. There is no line a la American Idol of would-be MMA judges ready to work hard for a lucrative judging or refereeing contract. The only folks involved in the process are the ones who freely submit to the process each state requires to certify volunteers and their numbers are extremely slim. When Kizer says it isn't coincidence NSAC refs and judges are flown to UFC assignments because they're the best option, he is making a claim of relative, not objective, MMA judging talent.

Each commission grapples with this reality. With the available resources in terms of manpower and allotted budgets, commissions set out to train, approve, certify and employ the best available talent they can find. They are left to work with the tools handed down to them, no matter if they are woefully incomplete or downright useless. If they are excellent talents who are willing to work their way through the system, then excellent. If they are barely literate clowns who are also willing to work events, botching key decisions in key moments in fighters' career, well, they'll do, too. In today's climate, showing up to volunteer is worth a lot more to commissions than someone with a keen eye who isn't willing to work events.

The solution everyone must wake up to is that until more volunteers take it upon themselves to improve the sorry state of officiating, there is little that can be done. There's obviously a case to be made that training methods can be improved, but the ceiling on how much that change matters is low. Best practices in methodology are no substitute for natural ability. And without a built-in mechanism for making refereeing attractive as a practice - do you really want to have two fighters' lives in your hands at the cost of your spare time for very little money? - this is going to be a problem we are perpetually stuck with.

Rogan is right when he says there are plenty of educated fans who could do a better job. The problem is the overwhelming majority aren't actually willing to do the job. They'd prefer to remain on the couch or in the stands to enjoy fights for themselves. I don't decry their decision. That's their right. I also don't think we should absolve bad judging when we are subjected to it even if we understand the realities that produce them. But until we recognize educated fans putting their money where their mouths are is realistically the only way out of this mess, we're attacking a lot of windmills.

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