We are now at a point in the history of our beloved fight sport that we have major action going on all the time. Between the UFC, Forza, Bellator, and the other promotions around the block, we're basically guaranteed a fight card every week. MMA's position has never been stronger from a business standpoint, with the UFC having the marketing muscle and viewership of the FOX machine behind them; Bellator looks poised to be Viacom's flagship MMA org, and Strikeforce seems to be in a position where it will keep functioning for the foreseeable future.
So now, more than ever, is a good time to work out all the kinks in the sport. Here are a few systemic problems that I think need to be addressed and amended ASAP; issues that have practical (if laborious) solutions, but are necessary.
JUDGING & OFFICIATING
- The judging HAS been getting better, and is going in the right direction. I think the quality of judging has been under such scrutiny, that the Athletic Commissions are taking the correct steps to ensure quality judging in the sport. However, quality control can only go so far, when the actual criterion for scoring are ambiguous and ineffective.
- The scoring criteria needs to be clarified and improved upon. Things like "aggression," "cage generalship," and "effective grappling," are often misconstrued IMO; harm needs to be the most basic barometer of scoring. Effective striking= [Volume & power of strikes landed]; Effective grappling = hard slams, as well as other harmful techniques such as weight- bearing positions (a heavy mount, scarf- hold, crossface, anaconda body- lock from back mount, etc) and in some cases- damaging submission attempts (a submission attempt that is actively being applied, but does not draw a submission (tapout, verbal submission, or technical submission).
- Make better use of the 10 point must system. There is absolutely a qualitative difference between having NO CLEAR WINNER in a round (10-10), CLEARLY (10-9) winning a round, DOMINANTLY (10-8) winning a round, and absolutely RAVAGING (10-7) the round. And the system should be able to reflect these qualitative differences. Some people are uncomfortable with this idea, for a variety of reasons; they might say that it's impossible to come back from losing a round 10-7 or 10-8, or that a 10-10 will lead to draws too often. On those who decry 10-7 rounds, I call bullshit. If you lose a round big, you should have to win the other rounds big to come back, or you should finish the opponent. If you can't do that, then the opponent is better than you, plain and simple. They also might propose the half point system as a better alternative, because it fits in closer to how fights are scored now, and wouldn't be such a drastic departure from the norm (which I don't have a huge problem with, but the decimals sure complicate the basic math that already was too complicated for the AC in Australia.
- To further clarify, a 10-10 round is when no fighter clearly did more harm; 10-9 is for when one fighter clearly did more harm, but not to a staggering degree; 10-8 is when one fighter did much more harm than the opponent, and potentially came close to finishing the opponent with concussive blows and/ or damaging near- submissions; 10-7 for when one fighter absolutely battered the opponent, likely rendering the opponent semi- unconscious on more than one occasion, and doing everything BUT beating the opponent to the point of unintelligent defense ( I consider the 1'st rounds of Carwin/ Lesnar and Maynard/ Edgar 10-7 rounds, as Gray & Shane seriously hurt their opponents and nearly put them away on multiple occasions, stuffed all their takedowns, and didn't take any damage.)
- Finally, the officiating (reffing) must continue to improve. Refs like Big John McCarthy, Herb Dean, and Josh Rosenthal are all consistently excellent; they know when to stop a fight, when to verbally prod the fighters to work more, when to admonish and punish fighters for fouls (unintentional or blatant), etc. I think that flagrant stalling needs to be addressed more harshly, with point deductions and even disqualifications if warranted (Kalib Starnes, for example, should've been DQ'd for his infamous performance against Nate Quarry).
This is a topic I've researched and wrote about before (Detriments of cutting weight); aside from forced dehydration actually being a brutal form of torture, the basic problems of dehydration as a means to make weight are as follows:
- Hypohydration via diuretics or sauna exposure substantially reduces plasma volume, and thus reduces your body's ability to deliver oxygenated blood through your body, which negatively effects Cardio/ aerobic endurance.
- Something which isn't discussed often is the threat of DEATH from excessive weight cutting. There have been several cases of athletes dying from extreme weight cuts, doing intense workouts with layered clothing on, in heated rooms; the perspiration they produced cooled them to the point of hypothermia, resulting in heart attacks and kidney failure.
- Eating disorders are a HUGE problem. In HS and College, wrestlers account for 3/4 of male athletes with eating disorders; I doubt these numbers are much different in MMA, where the weight cutting is just as extreme.
(no more emo fighters on weigh- in day)
- The tried and tested solution here is to do some of the things the NCAA and HS athletics have done- require wrestlers to take hydration tests and check their body fat. This will curtail dangerous practices such as training in rooms hotter than 80 degrees, self-induced vomiting, extensive food or fluid restrictions, and overall- will restrict the amount of weight they can lose.
- Now, the immediate problem this presents is for the actual MMA promotions and the fighters therein; there are already established champions at established weights, and different fighters cut a different amount of weight. I say that the weight divisions as they are should be kept the same, with the exception of one thing: adding a cruiserweight class (with somewhere around a 225-230 lb limit).
- With weight cutting gone, most fighters would fit into the division above them, and that would leave many 205 lb'ers in the same division as all the natural heavyweights, thus making the cruiserweight division viable and necessary. You could then leave heavyweight open ended, or extend the cap to 285 lbs or somewhere in that neighborhood. This might also eliminate the necessity for a 125 lb division (depending on whether or not there's a 115 lb division by the time this would be implemented).
- What would then have to be done is simple; pit the former champions against the top contenders of their new weight classes, and VOILA! Good as new. Most of the fighters would be fighting at the same weight as they enter the cage anyways, but without the strain of dehydration; I don't think they would be carrying a significantly greater amount of weight to acclimate to.
I know all this would be a pain in the ass, but as Forrest Griffin famously told his pupils on TUF 7- "The juice is worth the squeeze."
What I'm going to do is tweet this to DFW and all other figures I think have influence on the Athletic Commissions. Scoring reform, and the problem of weight cutting is something which I wholeheartedly believe needs to be taken care of in order for MMA to truly become the sport of fighting, instead of the sport of stalling, and eating disorders. Retweet if you agree with me! @EcMath
Edit: Similar to medical doctor's creed of "First, do no harm" (primum non nocere), I have come up with a simple creed for fighters- "Primum magis nocere," or "First, do more harm."