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With confusion and debates on MMA judging, UFC commentary teams are part of the problem

The UFC commentary team regularly gets things wrong when it comes to the MMA scoring criteria

The UFC commentary team regularly gets the scoring criteria wrong
The UFC commentary team regularly gets the scoring criteria wrong
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Some of the loudest critics of MMA judging are the UFC commentators. Just this week, Daniel Cormier and Dominick Cruz offered their opinions, with Cormier stating that judges who are tasked to score UFC fights “keep on making these mistakes.”

The problem with Cormier’s view on this is that he and his cohorts on the UFC commentary desk don’t seem to have a complete grasp on the scoring criteria. That’s not great, considering viewers often take their cues from the commentary team. With that, there is a trickle down effect of wrongness.

What makes things worse is that there have been incidents where the UFC commentators, especially Dominick Cruz, have been proudly, loudly and confidently wrong in informing those who watch and listen to them on UFC broadcasts

What follows are some of the recent instances where the UFC commentators either displayed their ignorance of the MMA scoring criteria or just plain got things wrong.

None of this is to say that there should not be legitimate criticism of the judging in MMA, but when that criticism comes from an opinion on the judging criteria that doesn’t coincide with how the criteria is written, that’s when there is a problem with that criticism. Too often, the loudest voices come from an incorrect starting point. That is what we often see from the UFC commentary desk.

UFC Vegas 55

In his criticism of the judging of the Holly Holm vs. Ketlen Vieira fight, Cormier, who is a UFC Hall of Famer and former two-division champion, said, “Ketlen Vieira does not want to be against the side of the Octagon being held by Holly Holm. Regardless of what you think in terms of the damage, she doesn’t want to be there.”

While Cormier might be correct about Vieira not wanting to be held agains the cage, Holm holding Vieira against the fence is not effective striking or grappling and that is the first prioritized scoring criteria when it comes to scoring an MMA fight.

Cormier might not like that fact, but that is how MMA judging works. There is prioritized scoring criteria and the first item on that list and the one that will decide the majority of rounds in MMA fights is effective striking and grappling.

MMA Scoring Criteria
MMA Scoring Criteria
Association of Boxing Commissions

UFC Vegas 54

During the UFC Vegas 54 bout between Katlyn Chookagian and Amanda Ribas, former UFC and WEC champion Dominick Cruz overly focused on numbers and takedowns. After the first round, Cruz said, “On the numbers and the takedowns, you could give it to Ribas in that first round.”

Then in the third round, Cruz offered, “If she (Ribas) could get more control time in the third (round), it would almost guarantee her the fight, I would think, but you don’t know any more.”

During that same round, Brendan Fitzgerald, who was working with Cruz, attempted to speak abut the scoring criteria when he said, “Control time is the least important of the criteria of the judging, but certainly in a fight that’s very close…”

Fitzgerald did not get to finish his thought because an incredulous Cruz cut him off with, “Who said that? Who told you that, Fitzgerald? You ever try to control somebody?”

First, Fitzgerald was correct. According to the scoring criteria, “Fighting Area Control” is only to be considered if “Effective Striking/Grappling” and “Effective Aggressiveness” are both equal in the round. As the rules state, “Fighting area control is assessed by determining who i dictating the pace, place and position the match.” Fighting Area Control” shall only to be assessed if Effective Striking/Grappling and Effective Aggressiveness is 100% equal for both competitors. This will be assessed very rarely.”

Nowhere in the scoring criteria does it say judges should consider how difficult it is to control someone on the mat or against the cage. In fact, control is not effective grappling, as defined by the scoring criteria. As the criteria states, “It shall be noted that a successful takedown is not merely a changing of position, but the establishment of an attack from the use of the takedown. Top and bottom position fighters are assessed more on the impactful/effective result of their actions, more than their position.”

The above also refutes Cruz’s first round statement about “giving the round” to Ribas for her takedowns. A takedown alone does not score as effective grappling.

I must also stress that nowhere in the scoring criteria are the number of strikes landed or the number of takedowns secured mentioned. The judges do not get those numbers because they do not score according to those numbers.

UFC 273

During the Vinc Pichel vs. Mark Madsen fight at UFC 273, UFC commentator Joe Rogan said that standups should not happen if a fighter is being held down by their opponent. The problem with Rogan’s opinion on this subject is that it goes against the scoring criteria in MMA, which states that effective grappling is, “Successful execution of takedowns, submission attempts, reversals and the achievement of advantageous positions that produce immediate or cumulative impact with the potential to contribute to the end of the match...”

Holding down an opponent without looking for submissions, positional advances or landing ground strikes is not effective grappling. Therefore, if no action is being taken on the ground and one fighter is literally just holding the other on the mat without looking to improve their position, they are stalling and a stand up should occur — at the referee’s discretion. The key here, of course, being no action.

UFC Vegas 50

During her UFC Vegas 50 bout opposite Gillian Robertson, JJ Aldrich attempted a takedown in the final two seconds of the first round. Aldrich never gained control of Robertson, let alone moved to an advantageous position. Despite the takedown attempt having zero reason to be considered when scoring the fight, UFC commentator Paul Felder offered effusive praise.

“That’s such a veteran move,” said Felder. “That’s such a smart approach to fighting. She knew there was almost no time left in that round. She level changed perfectly and got a big takedown… “

Felder was off the mark in his assessment. It was not a takedown, and it was a meaningless effort in relation to the scoring of the fight because Aldrich did not, as the scoring criteria states, establish an attack from the use of the takedown.

UFC Vegas 48

During the UFC Vegas 48 contest between Gloria de Paula and Diana Belbita, Cruz once again offered his opinion on numbers and scoring in MMA.

“It’s been entertaining,” said Cruz, “but how do you score it if there’s no other mixed martial arts? (This fight has been) mostly stand up. By the numbers. It probably goes by the numbers then, right?”

“I would say so,” answered his broadcast partner for the event, Jon Anik.

That is 100 percent incorrect. Numbers — and I’m assuming Cruz was talking about the striking numbers — are not mentioned anywhere in the MMA scoring criteria when it comes to striking. And that’s why the judges don’t get information on numbers during fights, because they shouldn’t be considering those numbers at all.

UFC Vegas 46

During this event, Cruz wondered how the judges would consider how the output of one fighter would come into play in the scoring. The answer is — it wouldn’t. Striking volume is not a part of the scoring criteria unless the “output, impact, effectiveness and overall competition between the two fighters is exactly the same” or if one fighter has a much lower or negligible output due to their opponent’s domination of the action. That was not the case in the fights at UFC Vegas 46.

UFC 268

During UFC 268, Anik declared the fight between Dustin Jacoby and John Allan was close because the strike totals were close. Again, striking numbers are not something that judges consider when scoring a fight that has striking action. Mentioning the numbers in relation to scoring is more harmful than helpful.

Praise for John Gooden

I must single out John Gooden here. Gooden, who is not utilized nearly enough as a UFC commentator, does a superb job of taking the time and effort to explain the scoring criteria during the UFC events he works.

Gooden is the example other UFC commentators should emulate when it comes to not only understanding the scoring criteria, but helping those watching the broadcast grasp the nuances of what they judges are looking for during a fight.