It's become an accepted truth that the problem with MMA judging is the judges and not the system. If we could only get judges who knew how to score an MMA match, all our problems would be solved. I think this is a fantasy. The judges that we MMA fans dislike are decried as boxing judges who only know that sport. But ask boxing fans how they feel about the exact same judges and see what they say. No one is satisfied with the judging in their fights, no matter if the judges have tons of experience or none. What if the problem wasn't only the judges (though I think that it does contribute), but the ten point must system itself?
The problem with the ten point must system is that it asks judges to make decisions about discrete rounds, but then only compares the three judges' scores at the fight level. What I mean is that each of the three judges decides who they think won a round, but the system does not care whether there was unanimous agreement about who won that round. Instead, we wait until the fight is over and each judge totals his rounds to assign a winner. Each of those judges counts as a single vote and the majority wins producing either a split or unanimous decision.
But what if we did care about how the judges saw individual rounds? Why shouldn't we treat each judged round as a discrete entity that should earn points for the fighters? It makes the greatest use of the judging resources available to us and might help minimize the effects of some bad judging.
Here is the proposal:
1. Forget the ten point thing. It's overly confusing and doesn't make any sense anyway. Go to a simple model where a judge awards one point to the fighter he thinks wins a round. If it's a dominant round (what we'd call 10-8), he gives two points. If neither fighter wins (what we'd call 10-10) he gives neither fighter any points. In the case of a point deduction, a fighter can get a negative score in a round.
2. Add up all the points from all the judges at the end of the fight and the fighter with the higher score wins.
3. Drink beer
The terminology becomes clearer. We've all had to sit there trying to explain to a novice why 30-27, 30-27, 30-27 is a perfect score. How bad could a fighter have done if he got 27 points? Imagine instead that the winning fighter wins by a score of 9-0. That's a shutout and a lot easier to understand.
Fewer possible screw ups with basic math. We've seen a few instances where commissions can't do math and announce the wrong winner. We'd be making it easier on them by adding up 1's and 2's rather than 10's and 9's.
The real benefits are in the way decisions are granted. Let's take this past weekend's Henderson vs. Edgar 2 fight as an example. The scores were 49-46 Edgar, and 48-47, 48-47 for Henderson. Translated into points, that means 4-1 Edgar, 3-2 Henderson, 3-2 Henderson. Total those up and you get 8 points for Edgar and 7 points for Henderson. The reason why is because all three judges were unanimous in giving Edgar rounds 2 and 5 and were unanimous in giving Henderson round 1. But the other two rounds were split. And since Edgar got two unanimous rounds and Henderson got only one unanimous round and two split rounds, we give the decision to Edgar.
Let's look at another decision, the split decision Leonard Garcia earned over Nam Phan at the TUF 12 Finale. This was widely considered to be one of the worst decisions of all time. The scores in that one were 30-27 Phan, and 29-28, 29-28 for Garcia. In points, that means 3-0 Phan, 2-1 and 2-1 for Garcia, or in total, 5-4 in favor of Phan. He earned the only unanimous round of the fight, plus one split round. Garcia had no unanimous rounds and two split rounds and loses this decision.
We lose the easy tracking of what is a unanimous decision and a split decision. We trade this for greater transparency into the ways that judges scored individual rounds rather than how they scored the fight.
It doesn't fix most bad split decisions. Let's take a look at the split decision Leonard Garcia earned over Chan Sung Jung at WEC 48. The scores were 29-28 Jung, and 29-28, 29-28 for Garcia. In points, that means 2-1 Jung, 2-1 and 2-1 for Garcia and a total of 5-4 for Garcia. This is where we must point to bad judges and ask them to do better. We'd be giving them a better system, but it's up to them to open their eyes.
Moving to this system has almost no drawbacks from a decision standpoint. Under normal circumstances, the fighter who would win under the ten point must system would win just the same under the point system. Even in the case of most split decisions, the same fighter will win both ways. It's only in cases where the scores are very different that this system gives a truer accounting of who won the fight. It really shines in five round fights, where there are more chances for judges to agree or disagree.
The major drawback is the departure from tradition. The ten point must system dates back a long way and fans are used to it. It would take a lot to make a change this big. But it's probably worth it. Plus, saying that Jon Jones beat Rashad 13-2 is a lot cooler than trying to explain the difference between 50-45 and 49-46.
What do you think?