Open scoring is one of the more surprisingly controversial topics in combat sports. While there are arguments for and against the idea that providing combatants with information as to exactly how well they’re doing in a fight could make the bout less exciting, it’s one of the only types of athletic competition that sees a lack of knowledge as to who is winning or losing as fundamental to how the game is played.
For his part, UFC boss Dana White has made it clear that he’s steadfastly against the idea—suggesting that open scoring would likely lead to a major downgrade in competitive vigor.
“If a guy knows that he’s up two rounds and you’re a professional fighter, you can absolutely stay away from a guy for an entire round and make the fight completely horrible,” White told fans during a recent ESPN+ Q&A, adding that part of the fun of a bout is the anticipation of the judges decision.
And while those are fine and fair points against the idea, that doesn’t mean everyone agrees, not even on the idea that it’d spoil the viewing experience for fans. Former UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping recently gave his thoughts on open scoring during an interview on the MMA Hour and, to his mind, it’s an innovation that could increase fan engagement.
“I think it’d be very exciting for the crowd, as well,” Bisping said, when asked about the idea of open scoring. “Also, I believe it would hold judges further accountable. Because right now, we know the names of some of them, but most fans wouldn’t know who they were if you walked past them in the street or if they spat in their face. You know what I mean, like, ‘Who did that? Apparently it’s an MMA judge!’ But this way, bing, it comes on, people can say ‘Who the hell is this!?’ Or, ‘Yeah, I agree with this.’ It’s another talking point.
“So I’m not sure what the negatives are, and I’m not sure why they don’t do that. But I think it would add a further element of excitement. And it also would say to the fighter in question—their coach is saying, ‘Bud, you are down, you have no choice! You need to be Derrick Lewis against Volkov. You need to go out there in that final round and get that Hail Mary shot. Because if you don’t? All this work we’ve done, all this preparation, has been for nothing.’”
Starting in March of 2020, the state of Kansas started offering an open scoring system for boxing and MMA promoters. A year later the released some limited, but interesting data about the use of the new system. Notably that data showed no increase in coasting for fighters already up two rounds in their fights—with an actual slight uptick in fighters winning the third round, when they had already banked the previous two. It also showed an increase in come from behind finishes, for fighters down two rounds heading into the third.
Due to the small sample size that data could easily be skewed, especially since the bulk of the pre open scoring bouts were taken from Invicta events, and the post open scoring bouts were weighted more heavily toward LFA. Hopefully the future offers more opportunities to test the idea out and collect more comprehensive numbers that can put one of combat sports’ oldest debates truly to bed.