MMA Judging sucks. We know that. More importantly, we know why. We know that many of them transferred over from boxing, with no real knowledge of what makes for MMA efficiency. We know that some of them are literally insane, as Douglas Crosby was keen to reveal on an internet forum. And we know that they can be exceptionally dumb, as Cecil Peoples and his "leg kicks don't finish fights" quote is a testament to. Plus they judge from terrible angles with no monitors.
So fine. Been there, bitched about that. How then, do we explain the dramatic rift in MMA fans (who if nothing else at least generally know how to score a fight) over the Diego Sanchez vs. Martin Kampmann decision? Why does this suddenly feel like physics, where even the world's brightest can't explain why the nature of the quantum world (Sanchez) contradicts the nature of the macroscopic world (Kampmann)? I just compared MMA fans to the world's leading physicists, so for that, I apologize. But back to my point.
On first viewing, I had the fight for Sanchez. I feel like I'm in good company, as Matt Parker and Brent Brookhouse also had it for Sanchez. He lost the first round obviously. The second round I felt was largely decided in the brief but violent striking exchanges. And in those exchanges, on first viewing, I felt like Diego edged out the round (and no, not because Rogan split my synapses in half with his banshee screams). Ultimately, I felt like it was the case of Diego throwing 20 punches to land 2 great ones over Kampmann throwing 10 to land 2 good ones.
While not convincing, Diego took the 3rd in my opinion, but again, only after first viewing which I'm admittedly not comfortable with. I'm not interested in the actual judging of the fight so much as I am in how people disagree. Most of the debate seems to be fractured over the 2nd round. And most of it is polarized between "Kampmann's superior technique" and "Diego's kitchen-sink aggression". Which has more value? The crisp, well chambered shots landed by Kampmann, or the sloppy, lumbering combinations landed by Sanchez? The reason I think this debate feels so "confusing" is that people have trouble reconciling whether to score in the context of a competition, where technique is rewarded above all, or in the context of a fight, where damage yields the most value.
On the surface, Sanchez/Kampmann is a terrible comparison (and the reason I can't help but second guess my original decision). Just look at Diego's face. Kampmann was not only the superior technician, but he did the most damage. However, this was the story of primarily the 1st round, while Sanchez clearly took the momentum of the final 2 rounds; whether they earned him those rounds is the question. For some people, this is precisely what invalidates the 10 point must system. I think the 10 point must system is just fine. The real debate revolves around how strict we adhere to scoring rounds 10-9, while avoiding the use of 10-10's (which in retrospect is how I should have scored round 2).
Towards the larger point, conservative judging feels appropriate given the length of time for each round. Only something 'dramatic' warrants a 10-8 round: a fair perspective, but one that isn't without fault. For example, Mike Whitman and Jordan Breen both scored the 3rd round of Jon Fitch vs. B.J. Penn a 10-9 (as many others did). Yet FightMetric had Fitch outscoring Penn with 149 strikes to 2 in round 3. There was nothing dramatic about Fitch's control, and his strikes didn't appear to be the most damaging (though Penn's body language told a much different story), but in the context of 'pure competition', could these numbers not be a better indication of the type of domination worthy of a 10-8 round?
Going back to the Sanchez fight, people seemed to emphasize the importance of Kampmann stuffing the takedowns. Should these score points? Is this the old submission attempt versus the submission escape conundrum? I don't know. I'd prefer to open the forum to this discussion rather than pretend like I have the answers. I feel like successful takedown defense influences my perception of who the better fighter is, but successfully defending a takedown in and of itself doesn't deserve scoreboard points. How do we evaluate when it's better to be proactive than reactive, and vice versa, with all things being equal?
While I scored the fight for Sanchez, I can't in good conscience look at him and say "yea, that guy over there that looks like he was shot in the face with the BFG...he won". I realize I'm in a very small minority, and probably the only one struggling to make sense of it all, but Sanchez/Kampmann feels like that dead end in MMA where you've got to harmonize who the better fighter it is (Kampmann) with who scored the most points (Sanchez?). Either way, if there's one thing we can all agree on, it's that both men put on a hell of a fight.