The Detail of Judging MMA
By Joseph Martin and Holli Martin (April 9, 2009) Doghouse Boxing  
Outside what is required to effectively perform in an operating room, there is almost no greater need for attention to detail than in the capacity as a mixed martial arts (MMA) judge. As a mixed martial arts judge, an eye for the minute elements make the difference in a “too close to call” match. In a judge’s position, as is often the case in a surgical environment, calm objectivity makes acute attention to detail possible.

To understand how attention to detail plays into the art of judging a MMA fight, the role of the judge
must be explained. The criteria a judge looks for are effective striking, grappling, aggression, and overall ring generalship (control of the fight). Strikes should only be counted if landed cleanly. Grappling should only be counted if there was a real threat of a fight-ending submission, whether or not one is actually achieved. Aggression is determined by deciding who is actively trying to end the fight without leaving it to the judge’s scorecards. Finally, ring generalship can be defined as the technique employed to determine the pace and location of the fight such as footwork, clinching, and grappling skill on the ground.

Where the casual observer may get caught up in the emotion of a fight (his favorite fighter is throwing a lot of kicks and punches), a judge’s job is to remain unaffected by how busy a fighter is and instead focus on the contender who is actually landing the most shots and creating the bigger threat. A keen eye is needed to differentiate between a busy striker and an accurate one. For instance, in the case of Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin, Griffin fans felt he was robbed of the decision because he was far busier and appeared more aggressive than Ortiz, particularly in the third and deciding round. However, if this battle is viewed without prejudice, it is clear that while the Griffin fans are right in their assessment of Griffin’s activity and aggression, Ortiz is overall more accurate and therefore more effective in causing damage. The judges were dead on in their decision to rule Ortiz the winner.

Another example is Anderson Silva’s first fight after winning his middleweight title. This was not a title defense as his opponent, Travis Lutter, could not make weight. The first round was close but Lutter was given a slight edge by most accounts. In the second, Lutter effectively achieved a takedown and stayed on top of the champion until the fight was called to a stop. In this case, Lutter tapped out to a triangle choke and strikes but had he survived until the bell, an inexperienced judge might have awarded the round to Lutter, taking into account Lutter’s top, therefore dominant, position. However, a good judge would have given it to Silva, noting that despite being on his back, he was in control with the triangle choke, giving Lutter no ability to land strikes, while imposing damaging elbows to Lutter’s head.

In the first match pitting BJ Penn against Georges St-Pierre (GSP), fans were shocked when the decision went to the relative newcomer, St-Pierre. Their reason mostly rested in the blood covering both fighters, all belonging to the Canadian. That much blood coming from one fighter is often indicative of the damage he sustained at the hands of his competitor. Not the case, in this example. About midway through the first round, Penn landed an uppercut that grazed the tip of St-Pierre’s nose and another shot that opened up scar tissue under St-Pierre’s right eye, both causing substantial bleeding. Fans saw blood covering GSP’s face all three rounds, leading them to assume Penn had caused more damage throughout the fight. However, when viewing the match objectively, it is apparent that Penn may have won the first round, but St-Pierre won the remaining two, and therefore the match. Overall, St-Pierre landed more clean punches and leg kicks, achieved more takedowns while avoiding being taken down, and was more aggressive than Penn while in dominant positions. The judge’s attention to detail, rather than any emotional response, led them to the proper conclusion.

Questionable attention to detail can lead to questionable decisions. For example, Michael Bisping’s controversial split decision win over fellow The Ultimate Fighter alum Matt Hamill is often called into question. While the percentages show Hamill outstriking and outgrappling the Manchester native, two out of three judges deemed Bisping the winner. Ironically, only the English judge gave all three rounds to Hamill; the other two were American.

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