One of the great problems with combat sports is inadequate judging. Judges who either don't know how to score fights correctly, choose not to score fights by established criteria or score them incorrectly for reasons that boil down to corruption -- scoring for hometown fighters, scoring for guys a "promoter" wants to win, etc.
There was some dubious judging once again at this past weekend's UFC on FUEL TV 7 card, specifically on the scorecards of Aaron Chatfield, most notably his managing to find a way to score Matt Riddle vs. Che Mills for Mills. Chatfield's scorecards were the focus of part of a recent Luke Thomas article at MMA Fighting:
It only gets worse when you examine the rest of his resume. He didn't give Ulysses Gomez a single round in his loss to Phil Harris and scored round one of Sass vs. Castillo for the Brit. Those aren't the worst calls in the world, but on the back of a completely insane scoring of Mills over Riddle, one begins to wonder what Chatfield is looking for when he is evaluating fights. In 2012, Chatfield somehow managed to avert his eyes from whatever version of Angry Birds he was playing to score all three rounds of the bout between Cristiano Marcello and Reza Madadi to the Brazilian.
The UFC and Dana White are allowed to have conniption fits when judges like these are allowed to work in Las Vegas or Newark. They don't, however, in the UK. UFC essentially self-governs there by selecting which judges to use at the events. If they bring in Chatfield again without him having the benefit of more seasoning on local or other small shows, they are begging for disaster.
Chatfield's resume can be found at MMA Decisions, one of MMA's great resources.
I've taken on a bit of a personal mission to try to follow up with state commissions in the face of indefensible scoring and finding out if they will hold judges accountable. Given that the UFC "self-regulates" the vast majority of the time they travel outside the United States, Marc Ratner is the man who would be expected to hold someone like Chatfield accountable.
Here's what Ratner told MMA Junkie:
"I've already talked with a judge, and I met with all the officials after the fights," Ratner today told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). "We'll do some stuff internally, but we don't talk about that to the public."
Ratner, who prior to joining the UFC held the position of the Nevada State Athletic Commission's Executive Director, admitted that he disagreed with the split decision for Riddle, but added that there were other scores given during the event that he felt weren't correct.
"The most important thing to me is, did the right guy win the fight, who deserved the decision?" he said.
There are a few key things here.
First, simply "scoring in the minority" is not always indefensible. And we still have fans and media who cry "robbery" far too often in fights that could realistically have been scored a multitude of ways. In a three round fight, we often hear that a fighter was robbed when there were two clear rounds and a third that was very close. We also hear fans who get upset when scores feel wide in a close fight. A five round fight can be extremely close and competitive and still be 50-45 even if it felt like a struggle throughout. And there are also a lot of media who score based on an incorrect understanding of the rules or simply because they think the rules should be different.
But, there are scorecards like Mills over Riddle that are not able to be defended. There's almost no one on Earth aside form Chatfield who scored that fight for Mills, and those are cases where action needs to be taken. If you have turned in a scorecard that can't be understood, that can't be defended and that is in such an extreme minority as 29-28 Mills, you need to be held accountable.
And the idea that ultimately it doesn't matter because "the right guy won" is simply wrong. It didn't matter in that moment because the right guy's hand got raised, but it matters to fans who feel they can question the credibility of the officials. It also matters because it shouldn't happen ever.
The main thing, however, is that the idea that this all needs to be private is incorrect as well. These officials hold the integrity of the sport as well as the well-being of the fighters in their hands. Fans and fighters should be made to know exactly what actions are taken to clean up the sport.
When New Jersey suspended the three judges involved in the Erislandy Lara vs. Paul Williams travesty, it wasn't kept a secret. And it wasn't kept secret because fans need to know that when they tune in they're tuning in to a sport where they can trust that they'll get the appropriate result. And fighters should feel confident that their actions will be appropriately viewed and rewarded.
Not to sound cruel to Ratner, but he wasn't exactly known for cleaning up bad judging when he was executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. The fact that the UFC self-regulates in these situations means there should be pressure placed on them to also be completely transparent. If a judge does a bad job, are you removing them from future events? Are they suspended from working your next event in that country? What is done aside from "speaking with them?"
If we're holding the athletic commissions to higher standards in these cases, we need to hold the UFC to that same standard when they take on that role.