I've said this before but I want to say it again. Since starting my tenure at SBNation writing about MMA, I've been afforded a lot of great opportunities to cover this sport. From various radio spots to UFC credentials, it's been possibly one of the most interesting years for me. However, they all can't compare to being granted the chance to act as a shadow judge for Bellator 59. In a prior meeting, NJSAC council Nick Lembo made the offer that whenever I wanted, I could shadow judge for an event. Knowing I'd be home in New Jersey for Thanksgiving, I took him up on this offer.
Before getting into the evening and my perspective of the night, I want to give a short disclaimer. I was sitting ringside next to Jimmy Smith the whole night so my point of view was what I saw in front of me. I didn't have the benefit of a monitor with various camera angles. This had a major influence on my scoring. If I couldn't see what is going on then I couldn't score it. This will be important to remember later on.
Though the fights were scheduled to begin at 7:00 pm ET, the commission workers (inspectors, doctors, referees, and judges) were all required to be at the venue at 5:00 pm ET. The inspectors started drug testing fighters. The judges, who included Jeff Blatnick, Ricardo Almeida, and Cardo Urso just sat around talking. New Jersey requires judges to have a martial arts background so there is an understanding of what is happening in the cage. However, if you are from a grappling background, you'll likely give more credit to effective grappling while those with a kickboxing background will often score stand up with more importance.
As previously stated, I chose to sit next to the commentators. They have the benefit of monitors with the various camera angles, basically seeing on screen what fans see on television. The first fight was clearly a win for Gregory Milliard; however, a debate arose between myself and the judge I was shadowing about what constituted a 10-8 round. Though I scored every round 10-9, I believed that the case could be made to score the second round 10-8 because of the damage and domination. She told me that 10-8 rounds should only be given for a near knockout. Later on in the evening for the LeVon Maynard fight, myself and Jeff Blatnick saw the second round 10-8. While Maynard wasn't close to finishing Chris Wing, his domination clearly translated into a 10-8 round. I want to note this because it seems that everyone has their own opinion of what constitutes 10-8. The other two judges scored it 10-9.
There were only two other fights that went to decision and only one was controversial. The Phillipe Nover vs Marcin Held fight was one that really could have gone either way. The first round saw Held attack with various leg locks and Nover being the clear dominant stand up fighter. I saw it as a split round and scored it 10-10. The judges were split with two giving it to Marcin, while the judge I sat with scored it 10-9 for Nover. I'm not sure if this translated on television but when the score cards were read for Held, the place was near the breaking point. Due to his proximity to Atlantic City, it was a very pro-Nover crowd. A similar situation arose with the Kurt Pellegrino stoppage. From my perspective it wasn't a bad stoppage though maybe a bit premature. Two more punches wouldn't have made much of a difference besides calming the crowd down a bit.
Probably the most memorable and weirdest moment of the night was the Santos-Prindle fight. I haven't seen the television broadcast but I literally had the best perspective for the fight. Santos told referee Greg Franklin (Rich's brother) that he kicked Prindle in the butt. From my point of view he landed directly to the groin. It was one of those moments where I cringed. Greg Franklin, after speaking with Santos, ruled that it was accidental. This is why the fight ended as a "No Contest" instead of a "DQ".
As fans and media it's easy for us to get on judges for poor scoring based on what we see on our computer and television screens. Saturday night allowed me to understand why some score cards just don't make sense compared to what is broadcasted. For much of the night I was obstructed by a photographer who was constantly trying to get shots for his media outlet as well as dealing with cage obstructions like the posts. Things like that can severely change the scoring of a round. Another thing to notice is that depending on the positioning of the fighters on the ground, I either had a clear line of sight to what was going on or playing the guessing game if punches were landing cleanly.
I want to thank Nick Lembo for the opportunity. There is a reason that New Jersey has long been considered one of the top commissions in the country and it starts at the top with Nick. He made the decision long ago that all employees working shows have a martial arts background. From the inspectors to the judges to the referees, everyone knows what they are watching. The ringside doctor ran the trauma ward for Mount Sinai in NYC and the other doctor runs the ER in Newark, NJ. It was an eye opening experience and one that I hope I can have again soon.