There never seems to be a shortage of controversial decisions in the UFC and mixed martial arts, in general. Early this month at UFC Vegas 25, featherweight fighter Kai Kamaka lost a disputed split decision over T.J. Brown, a verdict that his team is planning to appeal.
Even Dana White has grown frustrated with MMA judging’s current state of affairs. Most recently, the outspoken UFC big boss put two judges on blast for awarding Jan Blachowicz 10-8 rounds during his UFC 259 title fight against Israel Adesanya.
Despite these hotly contested verdicts, California State Athletic Commission executive director Andy Foster says MMA judging has been better than ever, especially at the UFC level.
“Mixed martial arts scoring, at the high level, at the UFC level, is better now than it ever has been,” Foster told ESPN. “I’ve got stats, I’ve got all kinds of things to prove that point. Doesn’t mean we can’t get better, doesn’t mean that. But, it’s better than it ever has been.
“And it’s to the point now that where the media and fans are examining individual rounds to see if a judge was off in that particular round, which I think is absolutely valid, to credit. But at some point, the right guy is winning, or the right woman is winning most of the time.
“Doesn’t mean we can’t get better, we can. We’re gonna try to get better. We do it everywhere, every month. But it’s a process and it’s gotten better.”
Foster pointed out some struggles that athletic commissions face. One of them, he says, is the total number of high-level judges in correspondence with the number of MMA events on a global scale.
With the lack of manpower, Foster says the next big step is expanding the current pool of judges.
“We have about 15 judges worldwide who can score at the highest level. About 15,” he explained. “And that’s not enough for the sport of this size. You’ve got to have rounds, you’ve got to have competency.
“What we’re trying to do and what I think Nevada’s trying to do and a lot of states are trying to develop (is) additional people that can go out there and score, and give people opportunities.
“But we have to develop additional judges that can do this.”
As a former fighter himself, Foster understands the plights that many professional athletes face. For him, these competitors deserve nothing but the best.
“We have to do what’s right for these fighters,” he said. “What we do with the fighters, we’re dealing with many times, a religious conversion, or a birth of a child, or a marriage. We’re dealing with the most important day of their professional lives. They’ve trained their entire life for this.
“And if these judges and these referees have not put in the same level of dedication to get there, to sit in the seat, then I need to pick somebody else.
“You’ve got to give the fighters the best. This is what they deserve and we’ve got to put our best foot forward.”