After reading through the various debates and discussions regarding the scoring of the Dan Henderson/Shogun Rua fight at UFC 139, I felt compelled to post this. I think that the debate about whether the fight should be scored a draw or a 48-47 victory for Henderson is missing the real takeaway from the fight, which is:
The 10 point must system has run it's course for high level MMA. There are lots of little tweaks that could be done to improve it, but the bottom line is that it wasn't created for MMA and using it is akin to trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Using that fight as an example, here are just a few reasons why we need a new scoring/judging criteria:
1. Henderson stated that he believed he was ahead 3-0 and thus didn't attempt as much offense in the fourth and fifth rounds. He may be just making an excuse for Shogun dominating him but he did say it right after the fight, so I have to take him at his word. The fight was proclaimed an instant classic exactly because Shogun mounted a dramatic comeback. Without the 10-9 must system, the fight may have concluded differently. Now, we might not have seen what looks to be a brilliant display of heart and courage, but if Hendo truly backed off and "allowed" Shogun to do what he did in the fourth and fifth rounds, it cheapens the fight significantly for me.
2. No one knows what a 10-8 round consists of. Was the third round a 10-8 round because referee Josh Rosenthal was mere moments away from stopping the fight? Was the fifth round a 10-8 because Shogun spent nearly the entire round in a dominant position on the ground? In boxing it's clear and easy to identify a 10-8 round. If there is a knockdown, the guy hitting the canvas loses a point. But in the multi-discipline sport of MMA, there is no hard and fast criteria for giving out this score. To each point that those rounds should have been 10-8 there is a counter point: Yes, Shogun was on the verge of being stopped in the 3rd. But he survived and mounted offense of his own by the end of the round. Yes, Henderson was mounted over and over again in the 5th, but was he ever in danger of being finished? And we see this happen all the time: Judges don't know what a 10-8 round should be, so they avoid giving them out at all costs. That's not good!
3. One of the attractive qualities of MMA (at least to me) is the closeness to which it mimics an actual fight. A fight on the street or in the jungle doesn't closely resemble a boxing match, it closely resembles a MMA fight. In the street, if you take a beating and the other guy can't finish you off, if you come back to sit on top of him and rein down punches to his face until someone breaks it up, well, you win! (I realize this isn't a perfect comparison, since the fight was stopped by time, not because the ref stopped Shogun from punching Hendo). There is no room to account for this happening in the 10-9 scoring system. But I think it matters in a fight. Coming back from a brutal beating to find success should be taken into consideration when determining a winner.
4. The sport has grown so much over the past few years that everyone has a complete game. At the highest of levels, the striking is closely contested, the grappling is closely contested and the majority of takedowns are struggled for, whether it be the clinch or against the cage. Gone are the days of a grappler simply taking down a striker and doing minimal damage to win a unanimous decision. By the same token, strikers aren't just defending the takedown for a few minutes and then knocking out their overmatched opponent. Deciding how to award a 10-9 when you must take into consideration three distinct areas of combat is difficult enough. Deciding how to award a 10-9 when these three areas are very closely fought is almost impossible.
I don't have a perfect solution. My initial suggestion would be that we move away from scoring a fight by rounds and instead consider it as a whole in three or perhaps four categories: Striking, Grappling, Takedowns and Damage. At the end of each timed round the judges would give the advantage to one fighter or the other and at the end of the fight they will use these imperfect metrics to help inform their decision, which would be simply their determination of who won the fight. MMA doesn't need a points based system to help us say who won. In fact, it muddies things up far more often than it provides clarity. We trust judges to judge, so we should let them do that without forcing them to use a system that wasn't even designed for the sport they are watching.
I will state at the end of this that I have not taken judge or ref school with either Herb Dean or John McCarthy (or anyone). It could be that there are specific interpretation methods by which MMA judges are to consider grappling and takedowns along with striking that make it easy and justifiable to use the 10-9 must system. I don't believe this to be the case, but if it is and there is anyone with judging experience who can break this down for us, I welcome it.