Much of the blogosphere/forum discussions after UFC 127 have centered on scoring and the 10-8 round. References Jon Fitch's third round domination of BJ Penn, lots of fans are suggested that 10-8 scores should be used more liberally.
At UFC 125 i tried to figure out how to use a more liberal 10-8. Thought i would post my trial and some of the problems i ran into.
Let me know what you think...
LIB8 Trial Report 1 - some thought experiments and suggestions about MMA scoring.
I recently wrote a blog entry on judging and what I called the problem of round equivalence. I suggested that importing the 10-point-must scoring system into MMA had brought with it significant problems. One such problem had to do with the current implementation of the 10 point scoring system as most of todays MMA judges tend to shy away from the 10-10 or 10-8 scores. That is, judges tend to apply the 10-9 score to rounds that can be better reflected with the 10-8 (when one fighter is able to dominate his opponent) or a 10-10 (when neither fighter is able to take command of a round).
As a result of the over usage of the 10-9 score, very different rounds (both rounds in which one fighter is able to win by a significant margin as well as rounds in which one fighter wins by a very thin margin) are read the same way. Thus, fights like Lyoto Machida versus Rampage Jackson (the fight that ignited my interest in alternative scoring systems) where one fighter just barely wins two rounds is given the victory even if he is dominated in the third.
In effect, a fighters dominance in one round is given the same value as the other fighters razor thin victory in another. Both are scored 10-9. Hence the term round equivalence. The story of the fight according to the 10 point must then, is a draw (both have scored one 10 point and one 9 point), this in spite of one fighters larger margin of victory.
In one sense, the 10 point must system seems to allocate victory based on time rather then performance. That is, by giving the same 10-9 score to any and all rounds, MMA judging primarily values the length of time one wins and not how well a fighter wins (the margin of victory) or performs. If one fighter, for example, is able to win two rounds (10 minutes) by just a few glancing blows, he will earn a 20-18 score from most judges. If the other fighter should convincingly win the last round by a much larger margin he will most likely earn a 10-9 himself and thus, despite his five minutes of dominance, he will lose by a final score of 29-28.
Fighter A's razor thin wins over 10 minutes are assigned a greater value then Fighter B's later dominance simply because said dominance lasts for only one round. Rampage versus Machida is perhaps the best example of this. Rampage, who earned very questionable wins in the first two rounds, is given the victory despite Machida's absolute dominance in the third round. Thus Rampage is scored the winner; not for his performance as much as for the TIME he spent just barely "winning".
If we were to shrink this down into one round it would probably go something like this:
Fighter A is able to win 4 minutes by just a hair, maybe by scoring a few takedowns and landing some very minor strikes but doing little else to his opponent. Fighter B tries and fails to secure submissions and lands some minor punches off of his back. The fight is competitive but most would probably score it in favor of Fighter A. In the last minute, however, Fighter B is able to stand up and drop Fighter A with punches and secure top position. Fighter A is stunned but survives and holds on until the clock runs out. The round ends.
Despite Fighter A's marginal victory through most of the round, Fighter B deserves the 10-9 score. Fighter B is competitive with Fighter A over the first 4 minutes and then does significant damage late. Fighter B's performance, his attacks and the damage that he is able to do to Fighter A later in the round is worth more then Fighter A's marginal control in early.
How then do we score fights to better reflect a fight like the one described above? How can we better reflect the story of a fight with numbers?
In my previous writing i suggested that a system that hands out 10-8 scores more liberally might be able to reflect the margin of victory better then the current 10-9 scoring system. This Liberal 10-8 system would not significantly change the current 10-point must-system in theory, instead, it would simply ask judges to change their use of the 10 point systems and change current ideas about the 10-8 round.
The 10-8 round, as it is used today, is only applied when one fighter nearly finishes his opponent. Round one of the rematch between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard serves as a good example of this. Edgar was able to mount very little offense against Maynard who spent most of the round landing punches on Edgar who was nearly knocked unconscious 2 or 3 times.
I would suggest that judges not expect so much before handing out the 10-8 score. Instead the 10-8 should be used in rounds where one fighter is able to dominant his opponent and clearly win a round regardless of how close he is to finishing his opponent. The winning fighter should not be expected to drop his opponent 2 or 3 times etc.
Instead, the 10-8 should simply be scored when one fighter clearly wins a round. 10-9s should be left to competitive rounds in which one fighter wins, but the margin for victory is small. 10-10 rounds should be scored in rounds when neither fighter is able to out fight his opponent, or does, but only by an extremely thin margin.
The margin of victory, instead of the length of time spent "winning", then, would be put into focus by the lib8 (liberal 10-8 system).
Fights, then, could be better represented; the story of a fight could be better told by numbers then is the case currently. We could look at the final scores and better understand a fight like Machida versus Rampage which could be scored using 10-10s, 10-9s as well as 10-8s. A final score of 29-28 would give you a sense that the fight was closer then a 29-27 - and fans could see a 29-27 without immediately wondering why one of the fighters had had a point deducted.
All of this sounded brilliant in theory but testing this new lib8 system would require trials. I started with WEC 53: Pettis vs Henderson and tested the Lib8 system again when i watched UFC 125.
I decided that i would score the fights as follows: In any round that one fighter clearly won, he would be given a score of 10 and his opponent would be given an 8. The winning fighter would not have to come close to stopping his opponent, nor would he have to inflict any significant damage. Even a grappler who was able to positionally dominate his opponent could earn the 10-8 score. The 10-8 would therefore reflect one fighters command of the round.
A round in which one fighter won but only by a small margin would be scored 10-9 (10 for the winner and 9 for the loser). The 10-9 would thus reflect the competitiveness of the close round.
Finally, a round in which no fighter was able to clearly win would be scored a 10-10.
Should one fighter completely overwhelm his opponent (like Maynard did to Edgar in round one of the UFC 125 rematch) i would assign a 10-7 score to reflect the blowout.
Unfortunately, both tests of this system rendered very discouraging results.
The WEC 53 show started with Bart Palaszewski vs. Kamal Shalorus. It was a fight in which Shalorus clearly won round 1 and also won a competitive round 2 before dropping a close and competitive round 3. Thus the final according the lib8 system was 29-27 (10-8, 10-9 and 9-10). This, i thought, was a much better reflection of a fight that was mostly controlled by Shalorus then a 29-28 scorecard (the score the fight received according to current 10-point-must standards).
Unfortunately, while the final score was respectable, I found that the first trial of the 10-8 system forced me to ask numerous difficult questions about the 10-9 and the 10-8 scores; how CLOSE and COMPETITIVE must a fight be before it is given the 10-9 score? How can we define a "clear" win in one round/ a round that deserves a 10-8? Might half points allow judges to better reflect the slight differences between close and not so close? Is there room for a 10-8.5 in the MMA scoring system?
The same questions lingered as i scored the Dominick Cruz vs Scott Jorgenson and Anthony Pettis vs Ben Henderson bouts (both 5 round title fights). In the first title fight, Cruz did not do significant damage to Jorgenson, who was never hurt or stunned in the fight, but clearly controlled most of the rounds and so i asked questions about damage in scoring; Is there/should there be a requirement of damage before a fighter is given a 10-8? Pettis vs Henderson was much less one sided but, even still, i found myself using the 10-8 score in rounds 3 and 5, both rounds which Pettis clearly won in very different ways; Pettis spent the entirety of round 3 on Henderson's back trying to secure a choke and nearly finished his opponent in round 5. The 10-8, again, i thought could better reflect Anthony's dominance and complete control of those two rounds especially when compared to more competitive rounds like round 4; a round that Pettis won but struggled against Henderson who had his own successes over the 5 minutes as well.
In the end, I only found the process of scoring the fights more difficult and tedious and was not completely convinced that the finals better reflected the fights.
My trial of the lib8 system at UFC 125 raised similar questions but also pointed out serious flaws in the system. I had confidence in the system at first - after fights like Dustin Poirier versus Josh Grispi which was scored 30-25 (10-8 twice and 10-9 in the third round) and was a much better reflection of Poirier's dominance then the 30-27 score (the score that most judges gave the fight) a common score that has been given to a number of more competitive fights.
And then, i ran into one of the biggest problems with the lib8 system - and perhaps one that cannot be overcome. Not only did the lib8 system make scoring a fight a much more tedious task (significant because many of todays judges can barely handle the 10-9 system), while watching the Gray Maynard versus Frankie Edgar fight, i realized that the lib8 systems might only further exaggerate judicial errors.
Before explaining the last point - I must note that judging is obviously a subjective process and one that relies on numbers and scores that will never be able to accurately tell the story of a fight. As such, there will always be room for mistakes and there will always be the potential for scores like 29-28 for Leonard Garcia in his fight against Nam Phan. To improve MMA judging we must, therefore, focus our attention on the judges themselves - better educate them in the ways of mixed martial arts so that they can more accurately score a fight.
Until judges are better educated, the Lib8 system, unfortunately, might only arm judges with the ability to make BIGGER mistakes.
While watching the Maynard/Edgar rematch this became very clear. I scored the fight with friends (casual fans of the UFC - i use the term UFC and not MMA on purpose) many of whom disagreed with my final score of 47-46 in favor of Frankie Edgar (using the lib 8 system).
I had scored the fight as follows...
ROUND 1 : 10-7 Maynard
ROUND 2 : 10-8 Edgar
ROUND 3 : 10-10
ROUND 4 : 10-8 Edgar
ROUND 5 : 10-10
The fight was very close and i did not think that a score card for either fighter would be particularly egregious - until i saw my friends scorecard...
ROUND 1 : 10-7 Maynard
ROUND 2 : 10-8 Edgar
ROUND 3 : 10-8 Edgar
ROUND 4 : 10-8 Edgar
ROUND 5 : 10-9 Maynard
The scorecard was also in favor of Frankie Edgar and so we agreed in one sense, but i found his scoring in round 3 very disturbing. Round 3 had been perhaps the closest of a very close fight. Both Edgar and Maynard had their own successes on the feet and, although Maynard had taken Edgar down more then once, he did very little from on top and even found himself in a guillotine at the end of a round. I might have accepted a 10-9 in favor of Edgar, but to see a 10-8 made me realize that any errors in close fights from judges could potentially be 2 POINT errors in the lib8 system. That is, judges like my friend (who shall remain nameless) might not only make the mistake of scoring what should be an even round in favor of one fighter, but he might double the damage of his error by scoring the round a 10-8.
I found my friends error quite upsetting. What if round 3 had been the deciding round in a close and competitive title fight? My friend had uncovered a weakness in the lib8 system and reinforced the idea that the real problem with MMA judging is the judges themselves. I still think that the lib8 system or perhaps a half point system might have a place in the sport and will continue to test each - but until the judges themselves are better educated, a change in system will not be able to correct todays problems with MMA judging and scoring.