Whenever we dig into the details of scoring, the toughest part of the discussion is quantifying.
The discussions can be broken down into two categories, which are general and specific. Often our intent is a broad brush stroke with no specific fight or example to accompany it: a takedown is worth this much, or submission attempts should be given this much credit in the rules, or this qualifies as a 10-8 round versus a 10-9.
The shortcoming there is that a takedown can range from an ankle-pick where the defender is hopping on one leg, landing effective strikes and standing right back up to the opposite end of the spectrum, such as the rare circumstance of a slam-knockout like Shamrock vs. Zinoviev or Harris vs. Branch. Wrapping an arm around the neck and wrenching a standing guillotine for just a moment is technically a submission attempt, but much different than spending a few minutes fending off a rear-naked choke, turning purple in a triangle, or dislocating your elbow while spinning out of an armbar.
The opposite is analyzing a specific fight with tangible examples of the unified scoring criteria and how effective they were. Anytime you score a round, your decision should be based on a handful of significant events that swayed your score toward one fighter or the other. Those events have to contain effective demonstration of the scoring criteria in order to count, and just how effective that fighter scored can be a challenge to describe in words.
The title picture is an idea I had to help quantify all of these elements. Each round starts off at an equal score, which can be represented by the exact center of the 10-10 round, and as time passes, each fighter attempts to demonstrate better effectiveness with the scoring criteria. The ebb and flow of the action, or one fighter's significant actions contrasted with his opponent's, can be mapped on this graph to denote a significant action that took place, the time it occurred, and how much you felt it swayed the round in that fighter's favor.
I issued my most bizarre fight-score to date for Aaron Simpson versus Brad Tavares at UFC 132, which was 10-10 rounds across the board. Realizing this could be outright shenanigans and fully prepared to admit it after investigating further, I thought I'd apply my new round-scoring graph to that fight to chart my analysis of the results.
The completed graph for the first round is posted in the full entry, with circled numbers designating each significant exchange and an explanation for each number. Also after the jump is a visual aid for the hierarchy of the unified scoring criteria, depicting the priorities in order of importance as the rules suggest.
- @ 4:48: Tavares lands a decent body kick but stumbles back, and Simpson charges forward with a double-leg attempt. Tavares throws a combo on the way in and fends it off with underhooks to remain standing. (Effective striking, effective control for countering the takedown.)
- @ 4:38: Simpson, still pursuing the double with his head dropped, throws five short knees to thighs of Tavares. (Slight shift back to Simpson for aggression even though the strikes are not very effective.)
- @ 4:23: Simpson switches to a high crotch takedown attempt, Tavares counters, Simpson throws three short left hands, pulls Tavares away from the fence and tries an outside trip, then another trip against the fence, Tavares counters both with the whizzer. (Low efficiency strikes and aggression for Simpson, Tavares scores three times under control and defense.)
- @ 3:55: Tavares starts to "check" Simpson's two knees to the thigh, Simpson tries another trip, then a throw, Tavares counters both. (Two notches under control and defense for Tavares, Simpson still more aggressive and throwing the only strikes, though none are effective.)
- @ 3:22: Simpson throws an insignificant left, then two hard knees to the thigh, then pulls Tavares off the fence and tries another throw, Tavares counters. (Effective striking and aggression for Simpson, control and defense for Tavares.)
- @ 2:55: Mostly holding here for most of this sequence. Tavares is lifting his leg and turning it away to block one more short knee to the thigh, then Simpson slowly accumulates a series of left hands that are blocked, but land. (Effective striking and aggression for Simpson.)
- @ 2:14: Rosenthal separates the fighters and not much happens for a while. (Note: Rogan says, "And you can see already that Tavares is suffering the affects of that grueling exchange against the cage. He's a little slower, with some big, deep breaths." There is no evidence that Tavares is slower than before, because he only threw one kick before he was pressed against the fence ten-seconds in, and I don't see any of the signs of fatigue he's insinuating.)
@ 1:50: Tavares lands an inside leg kick, a jab, then slips Simpson's punches and lands a hard one-two counter that connects solid, which seems to be the best strikes of the round. (Swing toward Tavares for the best example of the highest-weighed criteria.)
- @ 1:37: Jab by Tavares, then Simpson counters a Tavares low kick with a decent one-two that lands mildly, then lands a nice low kick that's checked. (Slight shift back to Simpson for effective striking.)
- @ 1:25: Simpson throws a one-two, the second landing slightly to the body, to set up his shoot. Tavares gets the whizzer and counters the takedown attempt against the fence. (Small nudge for Simpson for striking and aggression, and Tavares for control.)
- @ 1:00: After three short knees to the thigh from Simpson (he's not even winding up on these "short knees"; just snapping them forward from a few inches away), he tries a throw from over-under, spinning Tavares off the fence, and the knee of Tavares touches the canvas for less than one second and he's back to his feet after effectively countering it. (This might be a point of contention, but I don't consider this a takedown under effective grappling because Tavares was down for a flash. Simpson gets aggression and a teeny-tiny mention for striking while Tavares gets another nod for control and defense.)
- @ 0:50: One short knee from Simpson, and then a half-dozen short left hooks from Simpson, almost every one of which looks to be fully blocked and ineffective. (Note: Joe Rogan says here that: "Simpson clearly been in control of these clinch-exchanges and is definitely doing more damage." I take issue with these observations and think they could sway the viewer. Under control in the unified rules, "countering a grappler's attempt at a takedown" is listed along with succeeding with a takedown, and thus far, Tavares has countered every single attempt from Simpson. I suppose the short knees might be adding up, but "definitely doing more damage" is not a description I find accurate.)
- @ 0:24: Still against the fence, Simpson throws two short lefts, Tavares lands a short right uppercut, they trade knees, Simpson drops levels for a double leg, Tavares counters and lands two solid knees to the body from the Thai plum, then pushes Simpson away as Simpson lands one. With less than five seconds left, Simpson dives for a takedown after setting it up with a big right, Tavares goes to both knees but stays upright and lands short hammerfists to Simpson' head at the bell. (Though both fighters score slightly in different areas, in my opinion, no one leapt ahead in this exchange. The takedown attempts were negated, their striking was fairly equal, and Tavares was on both knees for less than three seconds and countering with strikes, though they weren't highly effective.)
My round score: 10-10
Remember, the point of the exercise is to gauge the value of having a visual tool to quantify certain actions and elements, as well as round scores. For example, I am very liberal with 10-10 rounds and will apply that score anytime I feel "both contestants appear to be fighting evenly and neither contestant shows dominance" as the round-scoring rules suggest.
Let's look at the Anthony Njokuani vs. Andre Winner fight for a comparison, which I feel presented a perfect example for both 10-9 rounds (the last two where Njokuani was the clear winner, but by a close margin) and a 10-8 round (the first round where Njokuani "overwhelmingly dominated with effective striking"). If we measure the level of offense and the margin by which Njokuani out-performed Winner in the last two rounds, and then compare that to the level of output -- specifically with effective striking and effective grappling -- in the first round of Simpson vs. Tavares, neither fighter achieved that same margin of victory in the latter encounter.
Judging is inherently subjective, even if it's based on objective parameters. I think this graph can also illustrate where each interpreter is being subjective, and how much.
I'll follow up with graphs on the second and third rounds of the fight tomorrow.
Reference: Unified Rules of MMA on the ABC website
Downloadable pdf file of rules and discussion topics from the 2008 ABC Meeting on MMA rules
Effective striking is judged by determining the number of legal strikes landed by a contestant and the significance of such legal strikes.
Effective grappling is judged by considering the amount of successful executions of a legal takedown and reversals. Examples of factors to consider are take downs from standing position to mount position, passing the guard to mount position, and bottom position fighters using an active, threatening guard.
Fighting area control is judged by determining who is dictating the pace, location and position of the bout. Examples of factors to consider are countering a grappler's attempt at takedown by remaining standing and legally striking; taking down an opponent to force a ground fight; creating threatening submission attempts, passing the guard to achieve mount, and creating striking opportunities.
Effective aggressiveness means moving forward and landing a legal strike or takedown.
Effective defense means avoiding being struck, taken down or reversed while countering with offensive attacks.
The following objective scoring criteria shall be utilized by the judges when scoring a round;
1. A round is to be scored as a 10-10 Round when both contestants appear to be fighting evenly and neither contestant shows dominance in a round;
2. A round is to be scored as a 10-9 Round when a contestant wins by a close margin, landing the greater number of effective legal strikes, grappling and other maneuvers;
3. A round is to be scored as a 10-8 Round when a contestant overwhelmingly dominates by striking or grappling in a round.
4. A round is to be scored as a 10-7 Round when a contestant totally dominates by striking or grappling in a round.