Herb Dean is currently in Seoul, South Korea and is tasked to be the head official for Road FC. Apart from a slightly different rule set for the fights, the Asian promotion has also been using an “unlimited points” scoring that has veered away from the traditional 10-point must system used in the unified rules.
In Road FC, fighters get specific points for damaging blows, clear takedowns, dominant positions, near submissions, and the like. The total scores will then be used to decide a winner at the end of the fight.
Dean, who is one of the most highly regarded referees in the sport, spoke about the system potentially having a solution to some of the common problems we see in MMA judging.
“I’m interested,” Dean told Bloody Elbow. “I’ve shadowed them and watched the system. I haven’t been trained in their scoring system, and I have questions about it, but I’m excited about any system that gives value and gives scores to the techniques. I like that, and that’s what they’re doing here.
“I also like the fact that it’s continuous scoring, ‘unlimited points.’ You’re not dividing – the rest period in this situation is only for rest, you don’t win a round, you just score points.”
Like Japanese promotion PRIDE, Road FC also judges fights as a whole, but this ambitious new system does have a more specific and detailed criteria to score points and award victories. According to Dean, it’s a concept that intrigues him.
“I think it’s interesting. I like it a lot. I think it could potentially solve problems that we have with the 10-pt must system,” he said. “I say potentially because I haven’t been trained enough, and be able to see how consistent the judges are with their scoring.
“I think it depends on how the judges are trained and how consistent they are with scoring the same thing, or coming up close to the same scores. That would be a draw back — the training, and making sure people are consistent.
“(Punch counting) is not what they’re looking for. They’re not counting touches, it’s got to be damaging blows to score, so I think that’s what moves it away from being punch stats.”
With rules such as allowing upkicks and giving Blue cards that can deduct points for stalling or refusing to engage, Dean says it’s the promotion’s way to produce more entertaining fights.
“Upkicks to a grounded opponent, scoring system, and no elbows. Those are the main differences,” he said. “Also, they push the action more. You can get a blue card for negative fighting.
“It’s a different style of fighting is what they’re looking for here. But I don’t have an opinion on whether it is better or worse,” he said. “I haven’t seen upkicks play out enough in fights here. But their goal, their thinking on it, is to give the guy on the bottom more tools so that there would be more action on ground fights.”
The experienced referee also went on to discuss the recent changes in the Unified Rules, specifically, the new definition to a ‘grounded’ fighter.
“The thing I like, is that they’re clarifying grounded being palm or fist, instead of fingers,” he said. “I’ve always enforced the rule of supporting weight. I think they’re wording it now to get to that, because that’s the only thing that makes sense.
“If someone is just going to reach down and touch the ground — there’s no technique that requires you to touch the ground before you do it. You’re going to need to support weight,” he explains. “So if someone is only touching the ground, you’re doing it to bring the referee into it, which is like flopping in some of the other sports. That’s not something that we want to encourage or see in our sport.”
Dean is a firm believer in focusing on “supporting weight,” and isn’t sure just yet about the new rule about both hands having to be on the mat to be considered “grounded.”
“I like that part, but I’m not so sure how much I like about ‘two hands.’ I’ll have to see it a lot more, and see how it plays out, but right now it’s just causing a lot of confusion. Hopefully, once the confusion is down, we’ll see if that makes it any better.
“I think we already had a hold on that, just with supporting weight. Bottom line, the reason why the rule was made, is to stop the gaming that guys do. I think the palms and the fists, and supporting weight would change that.”
Dean also discussed the use of instant replay, and polling with other referees, which could play a big role if used on proper situations.
“Instant replay is used for fight ending injuries and instances. That means you’ve decided that the fight is over. Now you could go back and use instant replay to determine whether it was a foul or a fair blow.
“I like it for fight ending situations. I don’t like it for other situations, because you will have to stop the flow of the fight.
“I think a lot of people use replay. A lot of people use polling, they poll the (referees). Most states have that. I think it gets used.”
Polling was used during the controversial Weidman vs Mousasi bout to determine the legality of the knees. While the practice doesn’t seem to be a very common occurrence in most major fights, Dean discussed it’s importance.
“I think (polling is) used when it’s appropriate. It’s a good tool, and you should be able to use it. When you see an instance that you could use it, use it. They used polling (in the Weidman-Mousasi fight), and that helped prevent a situation, right? I think the right thing was done.
“The bottom line is that the referee can’t always be in the perfect position to see everything,” he explained. “You’re going to have to pick a position to be in, pick the position you’ll be able to see most things – let’s say 80%, but there’s always the other side and you’re not going to be able to see anything. On top of it, the athletes are always moving, and you’re always trying to adjust. There’s going to be that time where you adjust and you may not see something.
“I think it should be used whenever it’s appropriate. I think it’s a good tool, and if there’s a reason to use it – if there’s an end to a fight and you’re not sure what the blow was fair or a foul, then I think you should use replay or polling.”
Dean also went on to discuss his 3-day MMA referee camp that he did earlier in the month that goes over both refereeing and judging. While it is mostly for those who want to officiate bouts, it is also open to writers, analysts, or even fighters who want to learn more about the field.
“I do like to teach my referee course. I also kind of dread doing it because not everybody passes, and I have to say no to people,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s a lot of fun because I get to meet a lot of people who are interested in officiating in the sport. Someone always asks me a good question and makes me think, so it turns out to be a good thing for me too.
“You can find it at HerbDean.com, that’s my MMA referee camp. Usually, after I do it, interest develops, so I may put together and do another one this year.”
Bloody Elbow’s Paul Gift recently got certified in a referee and judging course, and Dean thinks his program would also benefit similar people who aren’t necessarily looking to work as an official.
“I think it’s helpful. I would love it for writers and analysts to do it, because they do lay in on the rules and they write things, and part of their job is to educate the people in the sport, and educate people about the rules. So it’s awesome if they come out and understand what goes into the decisions we make.”