(To begin with, sorry about the length. This is my first fanpost, and I had a lot more to write than I initially thought. It may be a bit rambling, but I tried to stay on point for most of it. Comments are appreciated.)
If BJ Penn fails to finish Frankie Edgar and Edgar is unable to get BJ to quit, the headlining fight of UFC 118 is going to be decided again by the judges. Since BJ has not won a decision in over 5 years and Edgar has 6 of his 8 UFC wins by decision, this is likely to be Edgar's best chance at victory.
At the start of UFC shows, Mike Goldberg goes over what the judges will consider when scoring a fight: effective striking, grappling, aggression, and octagon control. This is both too simplistic and a bit misleading. First, it does not really get into how to weigh the different criteria, nor does it explain what it means to be "effective" in any of the criteria.
Further, the UFC does not determine the method that the judges use to score a fight, it is the state's athletic commission. And in each state, the rules may be slightly different. A lot follow New Jersey's Unified Rules. But a lot more do not.
On a side note, the FightMetric reports similarly do not look at the individual state's judging criteria. Instead, the people over at FightMetric have their own determination of who is winning a fight. From what I have seen, it does not match any state's regulations, though it may be the closest to a lot of fans view of a fight's "winner."
So, UFC 118 is in Massachusetts, so lets take a look at MA's criteria of scoring a fight (page 76):
(2) In determining a score, the judges shall consider and give weight to mixed martial arts techniques, in the following order: effective striking, effective grappling, control of the fighting area, effective aggressiveness, and defense. Effective striking is judged by determining the number of legal strikes landed by a combatant and the significance of such legal strikes. Effective grappling is judged by considering the amount of successful executions of a legal takedown and reversals. Fighting area control is judged by determining who is dictating the pace, location, and position of the bout. Effective aggressiveness means moving forward and landing a legal strike or takedown. Effective defense means avoiding being struck, taken down, or reversed while countering with offensive attacks.
At first glance, it looks very similar to what the UFC says is the way the judges score the fight. How is this different from what the UFC tells us?
Well, to start, it gives us an indication of what order the judges should consider the different parts of the fight. Striking is more important than grappling, grappling than fight control, etc. This alone is extremely important. But lets go into the descriptions of each tactic.
Striking - number and significance matter. Note what doesn't matter: number thrown or accuracy. But much is still likely left up to the judges. How do you weigh number and significance against each other? Do you consider two of Edgar's jabs as equal to one of BJ's hooks? And what strikes are more significant than others? Are leg kicks more or less significant than jabs?
Grappling - number of takedowns and number of reversals. Thats it. Sitting in opponent's guard for a round does not mean effective grappling (though it likely helps the fighter in the next criteria). Transitioning from guard to side control to mount also does not mean effective grappling. And there is not a difference in the significance of takedowns. So while it may look nicer, Uchi Mata scores as much as a single leg takedown. And unlike the FightMetric system, it does not matter if Frankie does anything once he took BJ down, only that the takedown happened.
Fighting area control - dictating pace, location, and position of the fight. This is my least favorite criteria, as it is the one most left up to the judges. So much is up to what the individual thinks of where the fighters want to be. Kalib Starnes wanted to run away from Nate Quarry, so did he control the fighting area by doing so? If Lyoto Machida wants to counter and Rua wants to chase him, who is controlling the fight? Or if Sonnen wants to ground and pount, and Demian Maia wants to get Sonnen into his guard, who gets the benefit of them being in that position? And most importantly, if Penn wants to stand in the center of the ring and have Edgar run around him the whole fight, who is controlling the fight?
Aggression - moving forward and landing strikes and takedowns. Note what does not count as aggression: number of strike attempts. Once again, total number of strikes thrown and accuracy do not mean anything to the judges in Massachusetts. I do not know how the judges would score a repeat of Penn/Edgar I tactics. Is Edgar jumping in and out effectively better than Penn slowly plodding forward? My guess would be that the total number of strikes landed would give it to Frankie, since in this area, significance of strikes is not considered.
Defense - avoiding strikes/takedowns/reversals and countering. Here seems to be where accuracy and total strikes thrown matters, except it only matters for the person who is avoiding them, and not for the one throwing them. So, in theory, being more active and not connecting as often would hurt a fighter. In some ways, this criteria can be seen as the opposite of the previous one. After all, it is the more aggressive fighter who would be countered more often. And the more an opponent throws strikes, the more chances the defensive opponent has to avoid them. But considering the difference between FightMetric and Compustrike in regards to total strikes thrown, it's hard to get a understanding of exactly who avoided the most strikes in the first fight.
This post ended up much longer than I expected, so I will try to wrap it up a bit here. Note the things that are not considered at all, or only in the most minor way. First, submission attempts. Pretty much worthless according to the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission. Maybe it goes to Fighting Area Control, but probably not. Being closer to finishing the fight does not impact the judge's scoring. Second, ground transitions. For the most part, getting mount or back mount does not mean any more than holding your opponent up against the cage. As long as the judges think you have the opponent where you want him (for Fighting Area Control purposes) those positions are the same.
So what are we left with after an hour of reading this post? Pretty much nothing. I am way to pessimistic to believe that judges who are licensed in 30+ states are actually looking at the individual state athletic commission's guidelines on how to score a fight. More likely than not, they are using the same criteria in every fight they score. But if they are doing their job, the results of many decisions would be different depending on the state the fight takes place in.