MMA and professional boxing are two of the very rare sports where scores are still hidden and only revealed after the match. Other sports — also including many in the combat sports realm — have scoring displayed throughout the contest, with the athletes and coaches being given the opportunity to adjust and control their fate better, based on crucial information at hand.
Judging has always been a source of constant controversy, but despite promising trials and increasing calls for open scoring in mixed martial arts, some of the most powerful people in the sport still oppose it. Earlier in the year, Dana White brought up age old arguments against open scoring, saying it leads to “bad third rounds” and ruins “anticipation.”
Just how true are those same old statements about open scoring? Anecdotally, the eyeball test seems to already contradict this based on all those entertaining events in Invicta FC and LFA. But do the actual numbers back it up?
The Kansas Athletic Commission have been testing and implementing open scoring in the past year. After our initial request, executive director Adam Roorbach has provided Bloody Elbow with more detailed information and statistics from their trial program.
They’ve recorded 92 fights with open scoring in Kansas, across 14 events with both LFA (9) and Invicta FC (5). The data was then compared to 72 fights from Invicta, LFA and UFC that didn’t use open scoring. The sample size is still relatively small, especially with the pandemic limiting the amount of shows, but the numbers have been very encouraging.
Bad third rounds?
The old argument against open scoring was that fighters would coast once they knew they were ahead on points. The UFC President argued that if fighters knew they’re already up two rounds, they’re more likely to just avoid action and be willing to lose the third round because they’ll still surely win a decision anyway.
The numbers though, show it differently.
72.4% of fighters (21 out of 29) who were up by at least two points on at least two judges’ scorecards, still went on to win the third round. This number is actually up 10.9%, from the time that they didn’t have open scoring, which was at just 61.5%.
Third round finishing rates also increased slightly, going from 13.3% before open scoring, to 14.5% (7 of 48 finishes) after.
So if you’re worried that third rounds will get terribly worse with open scoring, these numbers just aren’t showing it.
With open scoring, 47.8% (44) went to a decision, and 52.1% (48) ended with a finish. This finishing rate is up 10.4% from the 41.7% before it was implemented, but the change could also be explained by the increased LFA bouts.
Separating that into the two promotions that have used open scoring, the all-female Invicta FC cards had a 34.8% finishing rate (8 out of 23), while LFA had a 57.9% (40 out of 69). There’s a gap between the two orgs, but both those numbers were just about 2% different from their totals prior to open scoring.
If knockouts and submissions equate to more entertainment, open scoring didn’t seem to hurt that field at all.
Comebacks and late round finishes
While the worries against open scoring center on fighters supposedly just coasting and milking the clock, one of the more popular arguments for it is that knowing the official scores will give them a better chance to comeback and/or avoid bad judging by trying harder to get a finish.
Overall finish rate seem to have remained relatively close after open scoring, but diving deeper into those numbers is also interesting.
There’s an increase in finishes outside the first round, after the scores have been revealed. Second round finishes grew from 23.3% before open scoring, to 31.2% (15 of 48 finishes). Third round finishes were roughly the same, just increasing slightly from 13.3% before open scoring, to 14.5% (7 of 48 finishes) after.
Looking further, fighters who were behind on the scorecards after the first round but came back to get a finish in the second, amounted to just 28.5% of all finishes in the past. With open scoring, that comeback increased to 40% (6 out of 15 finishes).
Of all the data recorded by the Kansas Athletic Commission, with and without open scoring, there were zero fighters that lost the first two rounds and came back with a third round finish. That’s somewhat unsurprising as third round finishes in general are already relatively rare, let alone late comeback finishes from the losing fighter.
What’s interesting though is that there’s a bit of an increase in third round finishes after it was announced that the scores were tied.
Before open scoring, if tied with one round a piece, zero finishes were scored in the third round and all the bouts just went to a decision. With open scoring, finishes—after it’s been revealed that the first two rounds were even—increased to 28.6% (2 out of 7 third round finishes).
As mentioned earlier, this is still just a small sample size, but the arguments and concerns about open scoring isn’t reflected on the statistical evidence available. In fact, the numbers support the many perceived benefits, and seems to show that if fighters know they’re officially tied or behind on points, they’re more likely to go after it even more.
Open scoring won’t truly solve bad judging, but removing the guesswork will give the fighters crucial information that will make them better equipped to try and win bouts. Winning or losing affects so much in their careers, and at the very least, this gives fighters some added control in a sport where they already have very little of it.