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New judging criteria of Unified Rules finalized, effective 2017 (Updated)

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The criteria for judging MMA rounds changed this week. Read the just-finalized wording here.

Esther Lin

Among the six changes to Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports' (ABC's) Unified Rules of MMA on Tuesday was a rewording of the criteria by which judges are to score rounds under the 10-Point Must system. Bloody Elbow obtained a copy of the new criteria, which will be logged in to the Unified Rules and become effective on Jan. 1, 2017, from veteran MMA official John McCarthy.

It begins with a mission statement: "To evolve Mixed Martial Arts Judging Criteria to focus on the result of action (versus action itself), it must be stated that criteria is to be used in specific order. These criteria may not move from one to the next without the prior criterion being 100% even in the judges' assessments."

The document clarifies that an MMA fight should be judged on a single criterion: Effective Striking/Grappling. Only if Effective Striking/Grappling is 100% equal, would a judge move to the second criterion (Plan B) of Effective Aggressiveness. And only if Effective Aggressiveness is 100% equal, would a judge move to the third criterion (Plan C) of Cage/Ring Control.

In other words, fighter complaints about losing even though they were moving forward the whole time should be pretty much dismissed.

A 10-10 scoring option where all criteria are 100% equal is a necessity since incomplete rounds sometimes must be scored when there may have been little to no action. The new criteria make clear that at the end of a 5-minute round, "If there is any discernible difference between the two fighters during the round the judge shall not give the score of 10-10."

Effective striking/grappling is defined with the word "damage" removed from the previous proposal. "Impact" is the substitute for "damage." The definition is meant to train judges' attention towards effectiveness over things like flashiness or top control without - dare we say - any damage.

Effectiveness in striking/grappling is about "impact with the potential to contribute to the end of the match," with immediate impact receiving more weight than cumulative impact.

The new criteria also explain that, whether on top or bottom, fighters should be assessed more on the "impactful/effective result of their actions, more so than their position." So if a bottom fighter's throwing nasty elbows from guard while the top fighter's hanging out with body, body, head every once and a while, the bottom fighter's winning.

A 10-9 round is when a fighter wins by a close margin, "even if by just one technique over their opponent." However, a judge must also consider whether the losing fighter was engaged in offensive actions during the round or just tried to survive the opponent's offensive onslaught. This will be relevant to 10-8 / 10-9 distinctions. A 10-9 score can be "an extremely close round or a round of marginal domination and/or impact."

Every time readers see the word "impact" in these criteria, think damage. While the word "damage" was removed to appease regulators who were possibly worried about future lawsuits, the criteria are still taught with damage in mind.

In addition to clarifying the proper order of the scoring criteria and the role of effectiveness over flashiness, the new judging criteria slightly liberalizes the use of a 10-8 score and more precisely defines the factors surrounding a 10-8 round.

The technical definition of a 10-8 round did not change: when one fighter wins by a large margin. But the specifications of what exactly comprises a "large margin" did.

The new criteria make clear that a fighter doesn't have to steamroll, or as McCarthy put it, "almost murder" the opponent, for all 5 minutes to earn a 10-8. In fact, "If a fighter has little to no offensive output during a 5 minute round, it should be normal for the judge to award the losing fighter 8 points instead of 9."

The unwritten old criteria of a 10-8 round was dominance and damage (i.e., impact). The new criteria add a third possible element: duration. If two of these three elements are present in a round, a 10-8 "shall be seriously considered." If all three are present, a 10-8 "shall be awarded." In the latter case, the judge has no leeway. They are obligated to score a 10-8.

Impact, Dominance, and Duration are then defined in detail, something that was missing from the previous version of the Unified Rules.

Impact can include visible evidence such as swelling or lacerations, but is also the "diminishing of their opponent's energy, confidence, abilities and spirit."

Dominance is an opponent's lack of offensive actions in a round. "...when the losing fighter is forced to continually defend, with no counters or reaction taken when openings present themselves...Merely holding a dominant position(s) shall not be a primary factor in assessing dominance. What the fighter does with those positions is what must be assessed."

Duration is the time a fighter spends effectively attacking, controlling, and damaging the opponent, with little offensive output coming in return. "A judge shall assess duration by recognizing the relative time in a round when one fighter takes and maintains full control of the effective offense."

A 10-7 score will rarely be given and occurs when a fighter has "both overwhelming DOMINANCE of a round, but also significant IMPACT that, at times, cause the judge to consider that the fight could be stopped." If a judge thinks the fight could be stopped, they can possibly give a 10-7 but don't have to. If a judge thinks the fight should be stopped, they're definitely at a 10-7, assuming no last minute comebacks to move the round back to a 10-8.

According to McCarthy, only two rounds in MMA history should've been scored 10-7: Round 1 of Cris Cyborg vs. Jan Finney and Round 2 of Neil Magny vs. Hector Lombard. We shouldn't see too many 10-7 scores in the real world because referees should do their job and stop the fight. Since the only two McCarthy 10-7 rounds in MMA history should've both been stopped, readers might want to think twice about calling a round 10-7 just because it maybe could've been stopped.

While the ABC has now changed its version of the Unified Rules, individual athletic commissions still must ratify the changes in their areas of jurisdiction. While it appears many states and tribal commissions will ratify the new judging criteria as well as the five other rule changes, New Jersey and a few other states may only implement a handful of the rule changes after expressing concerns for fighter safety.

The new judging criteria probably won't be a part of fighter safety concerns so MMA fans should expect implementation to begin on January 1 wherever the Unified Rules are used.

Will we see a swift change in judging decisions across the United States and throughout the world? Perhaps not. Other than a slight liberalization of how 10-8 should be scored, the new criteria technically don't change much about how rounds should have already been scored. They change some of the wording and provide more clarity. The most important factor for actual change remains spreading and implementing the knowledge of how to properly score a round to jurisdictions that may not have been following the spirit of the most recent 2012 amendments to the judging criteria.

Improving judging knowledge and skills is something roughly 100 people -€” from high-level, name judges to newbies trying to jumpstart their fledgling judging career -€” attempted to do last weekend in Las Vegas. The author's experience there in John McCarthy's C.O.M.M.A.N.D. judge certification course will go up on Bloody Elbow next week.

Read the new judging criteria in its entirety in this PDF document or in the images below.

Paul is Bloody Elbow's business and analytics writer. Follow him at @MMAanalytics.

2017 Unified Rules - MMA Judging Criteria (Final) - Page 1

2017 Unified Rules - MMA Judging Criteria (Final) - Page 2

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