Referee Rob Hinds discusses MMA officiating in detail

Image courtesy of Rob Hinds

MMA referee and judge, Rob Hinds discusses a variety of topics including the elusive 10-10 round, what constitutes a 10-8 round, point deductions and more.

Combat sports are rife with criticism of the officiating, directed at both the referees and the judges. All of us have had moments where we feel we see things the officials should have seen and acted upon. In light of some recent questionable judging (Danny Castillo vs Edson Barboza), we decided that it was time to get someone on that could answer more of our questions.

Rob Hinds was our go to educational source for this round of interrogation. He is a referee and judge as well as a member of the ABC, and instructs upcoming judges and referees on the unified rules and holds seminars frequently. Hinds discussed a variety of topics including the elusive 10-10 round, what constitutes a 10-8 round, point deductions and more. Here's what he had to say:

MMA Sentinel: To kick things off, what exactly is your role with the ABC?

Rob Hinds: The ABC has certain trainers for referees and judges all across the country, and there is a number of us approved to teach the unified rules and teach the judging criteria to both athletic commissions, and their licensed officials.

MMA Sentinel: A few years back, I guess about five years ago now, The Underground Forums,, became the official record keepers for the ABC. What made the ABC decide to make them the record keeper over Sherdog, and have they done an adequate job in your opinion?

Rob Hinds: put forth all of the information that the ABC wanted out of them, and was able to present it at one of their conferences. I'm unsure about how much Sherdog actually presented to the ABC, but at the time was able to present the information that the ABC was looking for, therefore Kirik Jenness has a good relationship with some of the board members at the ABC and was able to get in there as the records keeper.

I know both Sherdog and have their own databases, and everybody seems to have their preference of one over the other. I think does a good job of record keeping, but it's only as good as the information the athletic commissions and tribal commissions report to them. When it comes down to it, it's really about who is reporting these results properly, more than the person that's actually posting the results.

Sherdog does a very good job of seeking out the information, whereas get the information reported to them. It seems like Sherdog digs a little bit deeper as far as who was assigned to the bouts, and get a little more detail about the bout information. Kirik gets things reported to him, and he can only put out there what's reported to him.

MMA Sentinel: With judging, there are some questions about 10-10 rounds, which are almost unheard of in MMA judging. Can you give me your stance on 10-10 rounds?

Rob Hinds: My stance on a 10-10 round is if you're a qualified, trained judge, and you use the judging criteria exactly the way it's supposed to be used... The way I put it to my students is, ‘A 10-10 round is like a unicorn. Some people believe in them, some people believe they've seem them, but they don't actually exist.' If you really assess a round based on the criteria in the right order, you will be able to pick a winner of a round, even if it's by the smallest margin, and that's the job of a judge.

A 10-10 round is basically throwing up your hands and saying, ‘Well, this thing was close enough. I'm not going to make a decision here.' That's not really the job of a judge.

MMA Sentinel: Do you yourself ever award 10-10 rounds?

Rob Hinds: The last 10-10 round I awarded was probably ten or eleven years ago, and it was in a kickboxing bout.

MMA Sentinel: What do you think causes the reluctance to take away points for sloppy strikes leading to fouls, like pokes to the eye or low blows?

Rob Hinds: Well, there's a protocol for that. From a referee's standpoint, there are two things we look at when there is a foul. We look at the intent; is the foul accidental or intentional? From there, there's a certain path we go on in terms of verbal warnings, point deductions and diqualifications, that sort of thing.

There's a whole path chart you go from, but the first thing you need to do is figure out if it's accidental, or if it's on purpose. Then if it's repeated, if it's accidental and it's repeated, that's where point deductions come into play. If it's continued even after that, that's where disqualifications come in. In the case of an intentional foul, you're more apt to take away points and disqualify people a lot quicker.

MMA Sentinel: It seems like so many refs are unwilling to take away points, and they kind of chalk it up to it being sloppy technique, when in my opinion, if there's a second eye-poke or low blow, a point should immediately be taken. Sometimes we see three or four fouls before anything happens.

Rob Hinds: Realistically, you're correct. The proper protocol for those fouls is, if it's accidental, the first time is a warning and you let them know during the injury time out, ‘If you do this again, I'm going to deduct a point.' That is the proper protocol. That's where well trained and updated referees come in; their procedure.

It's not really about whether it's two or three or four fouls, it's what the proper protocol is.

The proper protocol is: You need to give a warning, if it's unintentional. If they do it again, you deduct a point. That's something that needs to be explained to fighters in the rules meeting, and a lot of times, it's not.

MMA Sentinel: That's something that drives me nuts. There's such a disparity amongst the referees. I asked referee Jason Herzog about this last week, and I'd like to get your take on it as well. Fence Holding. I freaking hate it, especially when fighters intentionally reach out and grab the fence to prevent a big slam or a takedown. In my opinion, that should be an automatic point deduction. What's your take on that?

Rob Hinds: It comes back to proper procedure. Personally, in my rules meetings, I explain to fighters, ‘If you grab the fence, I'm going to warn you and slap your hands or feet off the cage. If it becomes a habit, I will deduct points. If it becomes your strategy for the fight, I will disqualify you. If you grab the cage illegally and you improve your position or restrain a position, I will deduct a point.' That's in the explanation, and a lot of referees don't explain that clearly to the fighters.

MMA Sentinel: So they do have leeway to take a point right off the bat if fighter A is slamming fighter B, and fighter B grabs the fence to prevent that from happening?

Rob Hinds: There's always the ability to deduct a point. The one thing that's a very fine line for referees, is this isn't boxing with 10 or 12 rounds. This is a three round fight, and every point deduction you make has a significant impact on the overall decision of that fight. That really shouldn't come into play in a referees mind, but if we deduct points for everything, we're going to see somebody who had an accidental eye poke twice, then has a completely dominating performance for the rest of the fight, lose or get a draw because of that.

It's a really fine line, but again, the communication with the fighters and the clarity of those rules needs to be had, and it's not.

MMA Sentinel: We got talking during the Danny Castillo vs. Edson Barboza fight, and I was under the impression it was a pretty clear 10-8 round, but you told me that under the judging criteria it was more likely to be a 10-9 round. Can you explain what the criteria is for a 10-8 round, and why you didn't feel that round qualified?

Rob Hinds: The biggest challenge is that a 10-9 round has a wide, wide range of what qualifies as a 10-9 round. It could be razor close and be 10-9, and it could be a pretty dominant round and be a 10-9. The proper definition of a 10-8 round is complete domination and significant impact or damage for the majority of the round, with little to no offensive output by the opponent.

Castillo definitely had some dominating and damaging portions in that round, but that was for less than two minutes and thirty seconds of a five minute round. A judge has to take the full five minutes into consideration. Now if Castillo had that same play for three and a half to four minutes of that round, and there was little to no offensive output, that's when you really have a complete 10-8 round.

MMA Sentinel: What caught me off guard most when we were discussing this, is that the unified rules themselves are not clear on that. The rules themselves just basically say, ‘A dominating round through strikes or grappling,' and doesn't go into the sort of detail you went into there. Do you think that's an issue for the fighters, that the rules they see in the unified rules are maybe slightly different to how judges are actually taught to score rounds?

Rob Hinds: The written unified rules that you see on the ABC website, not only are they outdated and not updated, but it's a blanket statement. You don't see any other rulebook in any other sport that doesn't have great detail about everything. What the ABC does, is they recommend those general rules, and then it's up to us, the trainers, to go out there and train the officials on the details, like the definition of a 10-8 round, and going into more detail about what a 10-10 round really looks like, and all of those things.

To answer the part of the question about the fighters, it's a great disservice for nobody to explain to the fighters exactly what's expected of them with a 10-9 round, or a 10-8 round. It's funny, the more seminars I do for officials, the more pro and amateur fighters and trainers come to them to find out what's expected, because even at the UFC level, that's not explained to them.

You have somebody like a Rich Franklin, who will tell you, ‘My whole career, nobody has ever explained to me what the difference between a 10-9 and a 10-8 round is. Everybody has an opinion on it, but hardly anybody has the true definition of it.'

MMA Sentinel: That's crazy. You were saying that a 10-9 round can range from barely winning a round, to winning it by a significant margin. Do you think that's an issue? There's the half-point system being mooted around, to give more clarification between a dominant round and a close round. Do you think there needs to be a change to the scoring to better take that into consideration?

Rob Hinds: It's not so much that I think there should be a change in the scoring. Would something like a half point system be helpful? Yes. If that closes the gap between a close round versus a clear round versus a partially dominant round versus a completely dominant round, whether it's 10-9.5, or 10-8.5, whatever that looks like, that would be helpful.

What it ultimately comes down to, is the proper training of the criteria, and the proper training in assessing what is a completely dominant and damaging round. I think that has more play than the numbers system, but that half point numbers system is helpful.

MMA Sentinel: Can you give us a little bit of information on the process of someone becoming a judge, the training they would undergo and the approval process they have to go through?

Rob Hinds: This is another major challenge. Some states and tribal commissions require training, but some do not. Some require that people get updated every 1-2 years, but some do not. Something we're very concerned about is if you've been a boxing official for 10 years, you're automatically going to become an MMA official at the highest level. Those are the things that are challenging. Along with the rules, states and tribal commissions are allowed to do whatever they want to know. They have recommendations from the ABC about what they should do, whether they do it or not is up in the air.

That's one of the major challenges with officiating; training is only sometimes required, and sometimes it'll be required, but once you're trained it could be five or ten years before you get trained again, or you may never get trained again. One of the challenges we're seeing with experienced officials is that they haven't been updated on the sport or the rules in years.

MMA Sentinel: Wow. So we could potentially have a situation where we have three judges for a fight, one of them has been trained by yourself, and they're up to date on how the rules work and how to score a round, but there could be two other judges there who came over from boxing, and their entire knowledge of the rules is from the blanket statement in the unified rules, and they're scoring in a completely different way. That seems massively problematic.

Rob Hinds: Yeah. We see it all the time, and that is the challenge. More than the system, more than the rules, more than anything else; it's the officials at different levels not being on the same page. In baseball, umpires strike zones may be a little bit difference, but ultimately, there's a guideline there. With combat sports, there's no specific guidelines anywhere.

MMA Sentinel: The guidelines are basically made by people like yourself who train the judges, but they are approved by the ABC, correct? You submit your materials to the ABC, who approve them?

Rob Hinds: Yeah. You submit your written materials, you submit your exam material, you obviously have a background check on your experience in the sport as well. There's a whole laundry list of items to actually become an approved trainer. When you look at how people become trainers and that sort of thing, you have to look at not only their experience, but also their education level and whether or not they're up to date on what's happening. There's a lot to it.

MMA Sentinel: Speaking of training judges and referees, do you see many of your colleagues at the ABC meetings? Do you find a lot of your mixed martial arts officiating colleagues attend those, or do they tend to be more sparsely attended, as it were?

Rob Hinds: Right as it is today, it's still a very, very boxing world when it comes to regulation and that sort of thing. There are no commissions out there that are segregated between boxing, MMA and kickboxing. Everything is still all mashed together, and from the ABC's standpoint, there are very few directors of athletic commissions that actually have experience in combat sports and mixed martial arts specifically. There's still a wide range of boxing based officials that have just automatically made the crossover, simply because it's a combat sport, without knowing the true differences.

MMA Sentinel: The California State Athletic Commission has undergone something of a major restructuring in the past couple of years, and it seems like the new commission is building it up to be much more mixed martial arts friendly. Have you been keeping an eye on that, and how do you think they're doing down there in California?

Rob Hinds: Andy Foster is a former mixed martial artist. He was actually a fighter, so he understands not only the fight game, but how trainers work and how the actual sport itself works. He was the director for Georgia for quite a number of years, and then he moved to his position in California. The benefit that California has, is Andy Foster was a mixed martial artist, so he does understand the sport. There are certain things that he needs to be updated on as far as officiating and that sort of thing goes.

The other benefit California has, is they have some of the best officials in the sport there. They have your Jason Herzogs, Big John McCarthys and your Herb Deans. They have some of the better pool of experienced officials in mixed martial arts in that state. They're going to have a very good rise in the quality of officiating in that state.

You can follow Rob via his Twitter account, @hindsmmareferee

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