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March 14, 2012

The State of Judging in MMA: guest article

photo taken from

This post was contributed by's own Dan Bonnell
March 14, 2012

Entertain the thought of what might be running through the mind of Carlos Condit after a unanimous decision win against Nick Diaz. Trumped by the notion that the lack of cognitive judging ensued leaves Condit Trying to win in the court of public opinion and that can be a daunting task sometimes.

What is the opinion of judging in MMA right now? Have we been exposed to so many fights that its more likely we see more poor decisions, or has the public opinion of a winner taken over? 90% of MMA fans don’t know how to judge a fight but their voice is heard much louder than the hundreds of some odd licensed judges there are in the sport. Fans are looking at judges now as if they’ve seen them on “To catch a predator”.

Dana White himself has gone on record denouncing the judging he’s seen in the UFC as of late. Disparaged from the judging at UFC 131 White says, “Something has to be done about the judging, It has to, its so bad….and not only does it affect peoples lives, it ruins everything for people that are watching. You watch it and your like, What? A 30-27? What are you watching? (In reference to Florian/Nunes decision)

Veteran Licensed Judge of many UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator, and Ring of Combat events Cardo Urso a retired United States Marine corp. veteran states just the opposite in regards to the state of judging in MMA. “I don’t think its getting worse, I think the amount of fights and shows may reflect some opinions but I think the judging is getting better. New Jersey (State Athletic Commission) has very aggressively taken a key roll in offering training to MMA officials and Judges.”

Local Jersey Promoter Lou Neglia of Ring of Combat has produced some of the world’s best fighters including former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. Neglia a veteran promoter of over 100 events tends to lean in the way of White’s pronounced opinion of Judging. Neglia Says, “Some Judges just don’t get it yet, I don’t think it has anything to do with the volume of fights, its just bad judging. I think fighters make good judges and id like to see more of them judging when they’re finished fighting”

Kevin MacDonald (UFC Veteran Referee) may have said it best when asked, “What makes a good Judge?” Kevin says, “It’s like driving, to get your license you study a book, take the exam, you have a quick road test with a state trouper and if successful you’re licensed to drive. That in no way makes you a good driver! How do we know? Check their record in a few years. To be an official in MMA you need to know and love the sport not just love watching the UFC. Every fight is like a story and you need to understand what’s going on. I don’t think the volume of fights has anything to do with it. I think we now have more complete fighters fighting other complete fighters and it makes for a technical fight to score.” That’s a good problem to have. MacDonald goes on to say, “I don’t think you have to be a proficient ground fighter but you have to have a strong functional knowledge of all things MMA to become a judge.”

Some officials that have never set foot on a mat, never been on the receiving end of a punch or kick, or had to escape multiple submission attempts judge the professional careers of some of the best fighters in the world.
In order to receive a blue belt in BJJ in most cases you must have trained in the gi consistently for upwards of a year and have a good knowledge of all basic submissions and escapes at an intermediate level. Yet to judge those very techniques and their effectiveness against your opponent as it applies to MMA and to how much damage they cause, or how much control you possess.... In some cases just have to take a 6 hour instructional course.

The most interesting thoughts of how today's judging effects MMA are from the fighters themselves. Local New England lightweight champion Matt Bessette and UFC lightweight contender Joe Lauzon weigh in on their thoughts.

Matt Bessette "There are guys out there that know a lot about the sport and I could have a good conversation with them, but to be honest, the guys that know the most, are the ones who get right in the thick of things and live the life, competing or training. Those are the guys I’d want judging my fights."
A good MMA judge does not limit their knowledge by being biased towards a boxer because of his history in boxing. A good MMA judge does not limit their knowledge by being biased towards a strong jiu jitsu guy because he is an accomplished black belt. A good MMA judge does not limit their knowledge by being biased towards a wrestler who humps your leg when he has gotten you down, only to defend strikes and submissions from the bottom...A good MMA judge KNOWS that it is important for a fighter to be well-rounded, in order to be successful. This is how MMA judges should look at themselves. Asking themselves, "When it comes to overall knowledge, am I well rounded." "Do I know how to properly weigh a fight, when considering what is more important; a strike that hurts my opponent, or a nice takedown landing me in a top position?" "Can I define "effective striking, grappling, and octagon control" and would the majority of my peers agree with my definition?"

Probably the most out spoken in all my interviews was UFC Lightweight Contender Joe Lauzon. “What makes a good judge is someone that knows the inside of the cage, a fighter or a coach. There is no substitute for actual experience. How can you know the difference between a kick and a punch, or how tight a guillotine is? Someone that just watches the fights is not going to make a good judge. I think the 10-9 scoring system is garbage too. There ‘s no good kind of scoring system. What is octagon control? Take Lyoto Machida for instance, he likes to keep the fight on the outside yet still has control. How about striking? What scores more, big shots vs. volume of shots? There are so many fights now, and the stakes are higher now. With the skill level so high, sometimes the judges miss the subtle things. I teach my guys to make their opponents pay for their mistakes; you never want to leave it in the judges’ hands. I teach them to keep position, position before submission.”

So what is the consensus of the state of Judging in MMA right now? Public opinion says the lack of knowledgeable judges is the reason for poor decisions right now. How do we remain consistent with our judging worldwide? Judging is all opinion based. Sure, we have certain criteria that the judges look for (effective grappling, effective striking, octagon control, and aggression) but each judge also has an opinion and we know what they say about opinions….

A good judge doesn’t necessarily have to be a veteran fighter but should have at least trained in a few different arts. MMA is a mixture of many martial arts and to be fluent in just one does not bode well in your opinion based judging style. Most athletes are very passionate about their sport and in some ways that passion for that particular art can get in the way of offering an unbiased well rounded score in a fight. Opinions will forever be involved in scoring a fight and for that reason alone we will always argue a close decision.

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