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Revisiting the Rewritten Judging Criteria in the MMA Unified Rules

Lyoto Machida and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson battled to a controversial decision at UFC 123. <em>Photo by Tracy Lee for Yahoo! Sports</em>
Lyoto Machida and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson battled to a controversial decision at UFC 123. Photo by Tracy Lee for Yahoo! Sports

Back in November of 2009, I attempted a rewrite of the judging criteria in the Unified Rules. I believed then, and I still believe now, that the current judging criteria complicates what should be a fairly intuitive process.

Mike Goldberg sings his refrain -- effective striking, grappling, aggression, and Oct-a-gon control! -- before every UFC event, but have you ever tried to explain the scoring criteria to an MMA layperson?

"So yeah, those are the four criteria. Now, each category is given importance in that order. Except when there was more grappling than striking, then grappling is the most important. OK, so...what's effective grappling? Well, it's the 'successful execution of takedowns and reversals.' Now, Octagon control..."

Here's what I ended up doing:

1. Remove aggression and cage control. These are superfluous categories. Aggression, the act of coming forward with a legal strike (or offense), is already a part of cage control, which includes a provision for controlling the pace of the bout. And Scott Christ of Bad Left Hook debunked the idea of cage control (or "ring generalship" in boxing) in June of '09:

This is for the boxer who was able to force the other fighter into fighting their fight. This is sort of a BS catch-all, like when people talk about 'intangibles' in other sports. There really isn't a good way of measuring ring generalship, so a lot of folks just ignore it. Unfortunately, I feel like some judges use this as an excuse to score a round a certain way when there really isn't a defensible way of scoring the round the way they score it.

For instance, take the UFC 123 main event between Lyoto Machida and Quinton Jackson. Was Jackson controlling the cage by pressuring Machida and taking the center of the Octagon? Or was Machida in control by making Jackson chase him around the perimeter of the fence?

And why does it matter anyway? If, in the most extreme example possible, two fighters, in lieu of throwing strikes, dance around the cage, do you score the round for the fighter who led the procession? It seems to me that cage control is used as a sort of tiebreaker in close rounds, and if the round is that close, why not score it 10-10?

2. Consolidated striking and grappling into effective offense. If we agree that a fighter's goal should be to end the fight (and I think that's near-universal thinking), then we should reward fighters for actions that have a direct effect on that goal. Positional advances have been removed as effective offense (but not entirely from the criteria). Instead, judges are instructed to reward effective striking, threatening submission attempts, and "slam" takedowns. (Slams were not part of the original rewrite.)

3. Introduced positional control. This comes into play 1) if effective offense is otherwise even and 2) more than half, approximately, of the round takes place on the mat with the offensive fighter in dominant position. (Dominant position being defined as side control, mount, or back control with hooks.)

4. Clarified the ten-point must system. Despite some inherent flaws, the ten-point must is a fine scoring system provided that judges utilize it correctly. By liberalizing the use of non-10-9 rounds, scores should better reflect the action in the cage.

5. Miscellaneous. I included the use of television monitors back in 2009, and that has since be adopted by some (most?) commissions. I amended the first clause to include "three or five judges" to score bouts. Evaluating the guard has also been clarified.

Outside of some grammatical changes and a couple of minor additions to the rules, the document remains largely unchanged from the one that I posted in 2009. Check it out after the jump.

13:46-24A.13 Judging
(a) All bouts will be evaluated by three or five judges.

(b) When applicable, judging stations should be equipped with television monitors. Judges are permitted to watch the monitors during the bout. Between round replays will not be shown to officials for the purpose of judging.

(c) The 10-Point Must System will be the standard system of scoring a bout. Under the 10-Point Must Scoring System, 10 points must be awarded to the winner of the round and nine points or less must be awarded to the loser, except for an even round, which is scored (10-10).

(d) Judges shall evaluate mixed martial arts contests by effective offense and, in lieu of a distinction in effective offense, positional control.

(e) Effective offense includes clean, effective strikes, threatening submission attempts, and "slam" takedowns.

(1) A threatening submission attempt is any grappling hold in which the threatened fighter must use counter grappling measures to prevent being submitted.

(2) A "slam" is a takedown in which the defending fighter has both legs lifted off the mat and is driven to the mat in one motion.

(f) Positional control should only be utilized in the absence of separation in effective offense and when more than half of the round was contested with at least one fighter on the ground. A fighter may be given a round for positional control if he or she maintained dominant position (defined as side control, mount, or back control with hooks) for a majority of the round.

(g) The following objective scoring criteria shall be utilized by the judges when scoring a round;

(1) A 10-10 round is awarded when neither fighter has done enough to separate his or her performance from his or her opponent. If a judge does not feel confident scoring a round for either contestant, a judge should score the round 10-10.

(2) A 10-9 round is any round in which a fighter demonstrates a basic, but clear level of superiority. A 10-9 round may be characterized by a greater amount of effective strikes landed, a knockdown, or threatening submission attempts.

(3) A 10-8 round is any round in which a fighter demonstrates a significant level of superiority. The round winner will typically have put himself in position to finish the bout during the round. A 10-8 round may be characterized by multiple knockdowns, a knockdown followed by effective ground strikes, or a lopsided disparity in effective strikes landed.

(4) A 10-7 round is any round in which a fighter put himself in position to finish the bout multiple times.

(5) A 10-6 round is any round in which a fighter was in position to finish the bout for a majority of the round and the round loser produced no effective offense.

(h) For the purposes of grappling, the guard (defined as a grappling position in which a grounded fighter, on his back, has both legs in between in between his and his opponent's hips) should be considered a neutral position. Strikes delivered from the fighter within the guard should be given more credit than strikes delivered from the fighter on his back.

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