Is the experimental half-point system a true solution to bad judging? Photos by Donald Miralle/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
The half-point scoring system, which is currently in an experimental phase in California's amateur ranks, has been heralded by some as a means to revolutionizing the judging aspects of mixed martial arts. As most MMA fans have come to realize, there is a huge disparity between how a fight actually plays out versus what three officials saw unfold. The system, created by veteran MMA judge Nelson "Doc" Hamilton, is supposed to be a solution to the growing problem of incompetent scoring, clearly outlining the scoring criteria and adding significance to damage, near-submissions, and advancement of position. But is it really the answer? Yahoo! Sports' writer Dave Meltzer took a look at how the system works and what we hope to gain from it:
Since the start of 2011, California has experimented with a half-point scoring system on its amateur shows, both to get feedback from its judges, and also to compile statistics. At the end of the year, when the stats are done, the findings will be presented to people like Marc Ratner, the vice-president for regulatory affairs at the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and the Association of Boxing Commissioners, to see if the system has more merit than the one in place.
"I like what they are doing," said Ratner. "Right now the best thing to do is use the system for a year, compile the statistics and see what we can learn."
Instead of always writing 10-9 on a scorecard unless there is a completely dominant round with a near finish, you have more options. A 10-9.5 is for a close round, like rounds one and three in Siver vs. Wiman, and rounds one and two in Jackson vs. Machida - both fights in which the person who ended up losing in the current system would most likely have won with the new system.
A 10-9 would be the score for a round that is competitive, but, you have no doubt who won. That is still the score that comes up most of the time with the new system. A 10-8.5 would be for a round where one fighter dominated, but didn't do enough for a 10-8, notably round two in Wiman vs. Siver, and round three in Machida vs. Jackson.
A 10-8 would be similar to how it is currently used, and you'd even have a 10-7.5 for something more dominant than a normal 10-8 round, but for whatever reason, the fight isn't stopped.
The new system also includes a fourth judge whose lone job is to award points based on criteria. If the three judges come out to a draw, which has happened six times so far this year, a winner is determined based on a points system.
The point system was put together by a panel that included well-known referees and judges "Big" John McCarthy, Herb Dean and Nelson "Doc" Hamilton, as well as Steele and George Dodd, the executive director of the California State Athletic Commission.
The system is four points for a knockdown, two for damaging strikes, one for a takedown, one for a sweep, two for grappling into a dominant position (back, mount or side control), and four for a near submission.
"We're not married to this system," said Steele. "We're working on getting it as good as we can, and it's getting close."
BloodyElbow.com's own Mike Fagan critiqued the system back in December, taking a stance that the existing ten-point must system isn't the problem at all. The idea of damage becoming a significant piece of the puzzle along with some sort of quantifiable measure on how near-submissions and guard advancement could be scored is intriguing, but I'm in agreement with Fagan's original thesis. None of this solves the root problem.
As most of you probably know from my incessant rants on the subject, the scoring criteria in mixed martial arts have issues. There is room for individuals to interpret the criteria in ways that every MMA fan would slam their head off a desk repeatedly if they heard an explanation. Some judges think that Octagon control, or coming forward constantly while having fists blasted off their chin, is a means to winning a fight. Others believe solely in the takedown, and a select few believe in the Airbender, a fighter who possesses the natural gift of whiffing on blow after blow and still winning.
That type of incompetence is the real problem with judging. Half points isn't the answer. In fact, it's a bad solution. Why? If a judge can't determine a winner of a fight from the standpoint of whole integers and basic criteria, how do we expect the ancient veterans of the sport to calculate points for knockdowns, near-submissions, takedowns, and sweeps. Sure, to the average hardcore MMA fan who is watching pay-per-view after pay-per-view with enjoyment, it doesn't seem like a tall task at all. But for some guy sitting cageside who already has a terrible vantage point along with a minimal understanding of what the scoring criteria actually means, it's more "crap" that will convolute their understanding.
Don't get me wrong. I think the damage aspect has some merit. I also think, with some tweaking, that the scoring of grappling affairs in regards to takedowns versus sweeps, etc. could bloom into a good idea. I'm hopeful that the officials in place stick to what they've said and experiment with the criteria to create an optimal course of action. But the consistency of bad judging brings the curmudgeon out in me.
Fans getting upset over the Dennis Siver vs. Matt Wiman decision should calm down. It was a very tough fight to judge, and a prime example of the ten point must system allowing Siver to win two rounds narrowly while Wiman won one round emphatically. In the end, Wiman did more damage. The same could be said for the Cruz vs. Faber fight, and under the half-point system where stunning blows count for more -- Faber would have made the scoring real interesting. That's where some of the concepts from the half-point system make their mark on the existing system.
Unfortunately, none of this matters if the judges in place are incompetent. And to be perfectly honest, beating the dead horse is all we can do at this point. Commissions need to follow their guidelines strictly. If a system is in place to review judges and punish those who are judging incorrectly based on the criteria, longer demotions need to enforced, if they are even happening at all. I'm sure there are veterans who were relegated to local events, only to show up at another major event one month after demoralizing an entire fanbase with asinine judging. If there isn't a history of bad judging, I'm all for second chances, but as we've learned over the last few years -- there are judges who consistently leave us with our jaws wide open.