Fight Watching 101: How (And How Many Times) Do You Watch A Fight Before Confidently Scoring It?

This has been cross posted from Head Kick Legend.

The aftermath of the Nick Diaz vs Carlos Condit fight at UFC 143 has seen some incredibly good fan posts around the SBnation community:

  • My early favorite was this post by Bloody Elbow community member "crazybones", in which he bemoans the separation of violence and sport that has gradually been taking place in MMA.
  • Dallas Winston asked people to share their scores, which provided a great sampling of opinions and insights for seeing it one way or the other.
  • I'm sure you've all read it by now, but another BE member, KGNLuc, took the time to transcribe what was said in Nick's corner during the fight. Above all else, It's a fascinating look into the relationship between Nathan and Nick. If you haven't or don't read it you will definitely be missing some key information when trying to evaluate the fight.
  • Finally, Monte Fisto opens up his fight watching toolbox and shares a concept that everyone who cares about MMA should know: "The Rule of Trembling Shock". Just go read it.

Throughout those (and other) threads, it emerged that a large portion of those who saw it for Diaz felt he clearly won and a large portion of those who saw if for Condit felt he clearly won.

How so many people can look at a singular event and have wildly differing accounts is generally known as "The Rashomon effect", named after Japanese film maker Akira Kurosawa's film "Roshomon", which depicted a crime seen in mutually contradictory ways through the eyes of four people. In applying the concept to MMA, passion clearly plays a large role; Diaz fans will tend to see the fight for Diaz, while Condit fans will tend to see the fight for Condit.

Another contributing factor is the tendency for opposing factions to attempt to discredit each other while at the same time trying to get their point across. A great example of this in everyday life is the political debate over the de-criminalization of marijuana. Those in favor of de-criminalization would have you believe that it is a miracle plant with countless benefits and no negative side effects. Those who are against de-criminalization, on the other hand, claim that, among other bad things, it turns all who use it into worthless, unmotivated slobs and often leads to more serious drug use. Of course there are grains of truth on both sides but neither will ever admit it, in fear that their position will then be dismissed entirely.

Back to fighting though. By now, having heard the countless arguments from both sides, I think most reasonable members of the MMA community would agree that the Diaz/Condit fight was an incredibly close affair. Judging that fight live must have been an exceedingly difficult task and I wonder how many times the judges went back and forth in their heads before settling on Condit.

Fortunately for us, we do not have to render our verdict in the two minutes immediately following the fight. We have the benefit of being able to watch the fight multiple times, of looking at the CompuStrike and FightMetric stats, of listening to the opinions of many many educated observers, before we come to a conclusion, if we even do. (I'm okay with saying, "That particular fight was so close, I'm not exactly sure who I think won". I've said it before and will probably say it again.)

With the number of close fights happening in the past few years, I've spent a lot of time thinking about how I watch and evaluate fighting and this fight has convinced me that it was time for me to ask how the members of this esteemed community watch and evaluate. I'll share my fight watching evolution from noob to whatever I am now (potentially still a noob) and hopefully a handful of people will do the same.

When I started watching the sport, I was generally not really sure what I was looking at. I would alternate between watching one fighter or the other every few seconds, mostly their faces and it was impossible for me to tell what happened during standing exchanges unless a fighter was noticably effected by a strike. Even then all I could really tell was that one guy hit the other with either a punch or a kick. When the fight hit the ground I was even less sure what was happening. During this phase of watching fights I relied on the play by play and color to fill me in on what was happening and I took their opinions as the gospel truth.

Since I, like most sports fans, had already been exposed to stand-up striking through boxing and of course, Bloodsport, I was most concerned with learning about the ground game. Luckily for me I started watching a little bit after a couple of my close friends did, so they knew the basics. I can still remember asking "did he just pass to half guard?". After I had the positional aspect of the ground game down, I learned what a few of the submissions looked like and I would just keep track of the positions and submission attempts. At that point I wasn't big on giving the guy on top the advantage.

My next stage of evolution was in how I watched the stand-up. I'm not sure if someone tipped me off to this method, or if I just came up with it on my own, but I stopped watching the fighters faces and bodies and started focusing on the space in between them. I found watching like this made it far easier to identify what strikes were being thrown by who and while I still had a bit of a tough time keeping track of prolonged exchanges, I felt I had a much better idea of who was winning.

I continued watching fights this way until I started grappling, about two years ago. This greatly changed the way I viewed the ground game. I started to appreciate how difficult it could be to keep top control. I began to be able to tell when a fighter was looking to advance position and do damage or just preventing their opponent from doing so. I went from seeing the battle for grappling position that often takes place up against the cage as boring to a critical aspect of the match. Around this time I also began to make it a priority to keep the unified scoring criteria in mind at all times.

The most recent steps I have taken in my fight watching evolution are watching without sound and watching multiple times. I don't do this for every fight, certainly not fights that end by stoppage, but I have taken to watching close fights a total of four times before I come to a decision.

The first time I watch it live, with friends, fully in the moment, absorbing as much as I possibly can and coming up with a decision at the end of the fight, before the judges scores are read.

The second time through I watch only one of the fighters, from start to finish. I watch their eyes, their arms and legs, their body language. Then I do the same for the other fighter. I find that this allows me to see things I might have missed and also to identify which fighter is dictacting the fight and which is reacting. Sometimes exchanges happen so fast that it's hard to tell who got the better of them and this method helps me narrow it down. I might make some notes on what I feel were key moments for each guy.

Finally, I watch the fight again, alone, with no sound. By this time I have a pretty clear idea of how I think the fight went in my head but I just want to make sure that I haven't been swayed by something the broadcast team said or the way the crowd reacted during the fight.

And that about does it. How many of you think this is going way overboard? Anyone have a similar routine? I learned today that Monte Fisto looks for "trembling shock" when watching stand up action. What do you look for in a fight? I'm not sure anyone will want to admit it on the internet, but even after watching like I do, I'm occasionally still unsure of my determination of who won. How confident are you in yours?

(Note: I haven't finished my viewings of the Nick Diaz/Carlos Condit fight, but I'm working through it. Just in case anyone wanted to come along and accuse me of making all this up in an effort to justify my giving the fight to one guy or the other)

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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