The score we pen at the close of each 5-minute round is intended to reflect an objective assessment on the level of dominance displayed by the fighters.
Throughout the discussions on MMA judging I've been a part of over the years, the philosophy that 10-10 rounds should be avoided at all costs and the 10-8 score should be reserved for a near-death mauling are quite prevalent. Many express the opinion that, in an extremely close or even round, one can always magnify the exchange of combat down to a granular level and isolate a single technique -- be it an extra strike landed, an ineffectual takedown or the vibe that one fighter was "pressing the action" more -- to elicit a round winner.
Well, yes ... when you're responsible for your own score and determined to make sure someone wins the round, you won't encounter much resistance in achieving that goal. However, the mission is to objectively define the winner and their margin of victory and we can't just pick and choose which parts of a balanced scoring system we'd like to use. It's no coincidence that, when we do, it throws the entire system out of balance, it doesn't accurately reflect the different levels of dominance we witness in the cage and it fosters controversy. Ultimately, there are rules for judging a fight and refusing to call an even round "even" is flat-out not following the rules.
While the 10-9 score will always be the most widespread and popular, the Ten Point Must has many different options that aren't being exercised. Here's one specific reason why we should change our outlook on the prevalence of 10-9 scores and loosen up the shackles on the 10-10 and 10-8 rounds.
In the aforementioned scenario of a razor-thin round where neither fighter clearly demonstrates his superiority, it's common practice to pick a winner based on a finite assembly of relatively insubstantial offense -- because if it was "substantial" then there would be no question of who won the round. But what happens when one of the fighters does go on to clearly out-perform the other by mounting a definite and identifiable advantage through effective striking or grappling?
We see this all the time and I like to call it a "Statement Round": it's not enough for a 10-8 score, but one competitor firmly differentiates himself and cements to the onlookers that he owned that round and deserves a solid, classic 10-9 score. Controversial decisions are often made up of rounds wherein some are close and could go either way, but one or two feature a clear-cut winner who's worthy of a 10-9.
By abstaining from 10-10 and 10-8 rounds to force a 10-9, we are granting the fighter who squeaked out a 10-9 round based on the tiny shreds of a perceived advantage with the exact same reward as the fighter who clearly out-performed the other. Those are -- not drastic, but -- significantly different levels of domination and performance, but many are content to deem them as equal by scoring both 10-9.
The result? The "statement" that the fighter etched through that definitive 5-minute performance, in which he clearly out-shined his opponent and pulled well ahead in the race, is inevitably diluted and largely unaccredited. Diluting standout rounds that are definitively won, especially in a close fight, are counter to what judging is all about and the makings for controversy.
Since, again, the sole directive of judging is to accurately and objectively define the varying degrees of performance in a 5-minute round, and we're granted a system with many options to do so, exercising just one option in all circumstances will not yield the results we're looking for.