Dave Meltzer reports that the Association of Boxing Commissioners, currently meeting in Clearwater, FL, have agreed to changes to MMA judging criteria.
The reason this isn’t a bigger story is because, basically, much of it is simply clarifying pre-existing criteria and/or putting into writing what was already being put into practice. They clear up some confusion that many judges have regarding how they should score, but it likely won’t resolve any of the major issues. For example, the part about not scoring for defense is already supposed to be a no-no, however you still have judges that will “legislate from the bench” so to speak and/or have a momentary lapse of judgement/reason. The most notorious example of this is Cecil Peoples, who argued in his scoring of the first Machida/Rua bout that he doesn’t believe leg kicks count as “effective” striking. That completely went against what’s on the books, but he’s the one with the pencil and score sheet.
The bigger issue, which went unaddressed, is the application of the ten point must system and exactly what qualifies a person to be a judge in the first place. Most of the time when you have bad judging, it’s as a result of the Commission appointing judges that are primarily boxing judges (who often still make many of the same errors in their home sport) or a judge brought in who is a specialist at one or two martial arts disciplines but not MMA (Cecil Peoples). The latter issue is a holdover from when MMA was in its infancy, but the sport’s been around long enough that there really isn’t any reason to not have a judge whose primary focus and expertise is in the sport of MMA itself.
A rundown of the changes from Dave Meltzer, with my thoughts:
1) Effective defense has been removed as a criteria. Only offensive moves are to be used in scoring fights. This should end any debate or talks when people ask if defending a takedown should be scored as a positive, or blocking a submission, or avoiding strikes. The new ruling is that effective defense only helps you in that it keeps you alive to do offense, but only offensive moves are the ones to be scored.
This one’s a long time coming and is already the case in boxing. Defense, particularly takedown defense, is key to success in MMA, but is only a means of preventing defeat, not attaining victory.
2) Striking and grappling are of equal weight. Before the old criteria listed striking first and grappling second. Now they are equal, with the idea that they are weighed based on how much of the fight is standing and on the ground.
Honestly, I think most judges are already judging with this in mind, which is the way it should be. Not everyone is thrilled with that, of course, but those people also have the option to watch boxing or kickboxing. That isn’t “love it or leave it” so much as to show that there does exist MMA sans grappling, and there’s a reason you don’t like it. In that aspect, MMA’s like any other sport: some fights are exciting, some not so much. It’s not a perfect sport, and not every fight’s going to get your adrenaline flowing.
3) The term damage as a criteria has been replaced by the term effective damage.
The key here is going to be making sure that judges know what does and doesn’t constitute “effective damage.” A lot of judges make the same mistake I see a lot of fans make, which is to look at a fighter’s face and assume he must have lost because he has a cut on his forehead from an elbow that literally didn’t do anything other than open up a cut. That’s cosmetic and a potential nuisance, but it’s not what’s considered effective damage.
4) Heavier strikes with impact should get more weight that just the number of strikes landed, most notably strikes that cause an opponent to obviously react, stagger, cut or bruiser, be in pain, as well as cumulative impact of strikes.
This could be trouble for three fighters in particular: Forrest Griffin, Nick Diaz, and Frankie Edgar. Griffin is the one who would suffer most, since he doesn’t turn into any of his punches and throws a lot of punches that don’t do all that much. Diaz has improved with his patty-caking the last few years, but still has a tendency to throw a lot of punches that don’t do anything and throw his hands up in the air when he isn’t given the decision. Edgar, to his credit, has it in him to finish and combines his punches with very good grappling and a blistering speed that overwhelms opponents. But the days of simply throwing strikes that land and not much else are over.
5) Grappling moves scored are takedowns, reversals and submissions, passing to dominant positions, use of active and threatening moves from the bottom, close submissions can’t more than just attempted submissions and submissions that lead to people being tired are also weighed significantly.
Basically this just clarifies further what is considered “effective” grappling for judging. There’s a typo here; what Dave meant to say was close submissions count more than just attempted submissions. This is an important distinction, though highly subjective.
6) Effective aggression is moving forward scoring with legal techniques, as well as attacking with strikes or submissions on the ground from either the top or bottom position.
This sort of solidifies the idea that effective aggression isn’t just trying to win, it’s trying to finish.
7) Cage and ring control is dictating the pace, place and position
Again, just clarifies what’s already in place. Seems some just weren’t clear on what cage control constituted. Then again, there are judges in boxing who think that effective defense is effective offense, so interpretations will vary no matter how many qualifiers you add.
8) The current scoring system (ten point must) remains in place
Shouldn’t be a surprise. They reiterated the differences between 10-9, 10-8, and 10-7. But again, this is something that’s already been in place, and the reticence of judges to score a 10-7 even in the most obvious cases isn’t going to change.