Harv currently writes for Abstract Sports, the Sports History Network, and the magazine Gridiron Greats. Harv wrote the published book "Pro Football's Most Passionate Fans" and as a professional writer has had articles published in an array of sports publications.
Judge This: A New System for Judging MMA Fights
On February 22, the UFC held an MMA card titled UFC Fight Night: Felder vs. Hooker. What was expected to be a brutal and possible fight of the year between Paul Felder and Dan Hooker lived up to its billing. However, the split decision victory for Dan Hooker was met with yet again a judging controversy.
Many fans and fighters alike felt Paul Felder deserved the decision and victory and with another clouded ending to an MMA fight it comes on the heels of the Jon Jones victory over Dominick Reyes in a light heavyweight championship bout that also ended with fans and fighters scratching their heads over the judges scorecards with many believing Reyes had won.
Bad judging decisions are nothing new as they have been going on in boxing for many years and since the world of MMA has exploded onto the scene there have been what appeared to be highway robberies taking place in not just the UFC but other organizations like Bellator and more. As long as there are three judges scoring fights at the Octagon side, there is going to be controversial decisions. This is simply because judging MMA fights and even in boxing it’s all subjective. It’s based on perspective and in the Felder/Hooker fight, the two judges voting in favor of Hooker may have been swayed by his fifth-round takedown of Felder ignoring the fact that the American had been the aggressor and done more throughout the championship rounds.
So how does the sport of MMA fix this problem? My solution is simple. Do away with judges. My suggestion is since they now keep very solid fight stats, that should be used to determine who wins a fight. In all other sports, the winners are determined by who scores the most or in the case of golf, who scores the lowest. There is no subjectivity in any other sport so the only controversies that can exist are ones created within the game itself that may affect a score.
Here’s how my system would work:
The fight stats currently being tracked are knockdowns, significant strikes, total strikes, takedowns, pass attempts, and submission attempts. But I would take it one step further to include control time on the canvas, missed takedowns, and missed strikes. All these would be assigned a point total and at the end of each round the tally would add up to points awarded to each fighter. When the final bell sounds, the fighter scoring the most points wins. No need for any judges. No subjectivity.
The point system would work like this:
- Strikes landed (these include leg strikes): 3 points
- Strikes missed: –1 point
- Takedowns attempts: –1 point
- Takedowns: 3 points
- Submission attempts: 1 point
- Control time: 2 points for every minute of control time
- Knockdowns: 4 points
- Passing guard: 2 points
To put this scoring to the test, let’s try the Felder/Hooker end results. I could not find numbers for all the categories above but what I did find was this:
- Paul Felder: 119 strikes landed, 124 strikes missed, 0 takedowns, 1 takedown attempts, 0 submission attempts, 0 passes, 0 knockdowns
- Dan Hooker: 133 strikes landed, 101 strikes missed, 1 takedown, 5 takedown attempts, 0 submission attempts, 1 pass, 0 knockdowns
The final result based on this system would be Paul Felder 232 points, Dan Hooker 299 points. Since control time was not tracked or published on this fight that could not be factored in. I thought Felder won the fight but again, my belief is only subjective as are the judges. Based on this system, Hooker deserved the victory. But how one judge sees the outcome of a fight can easily be much different than another judge’s view. This is why some fight card results are sometimes points apart from another. There can be no disputing how a fighter performs when it comes down to the categories above.
How can you argue with a strike that lands? Or a fighter that is taken down multiple times or even once? If you try to apply a submission a fighter should be awarded for that attempt. But for an attempt at a takedown that fails this should be taken into consideration in scoring with a negative score as it indicates the opponent avoided and used solid defense to deny the takedown.
As for control time, visually that is taken into consideration by judges I’m sure. Visually meaning a fighter like Daniel Cormier that specializes in the ground game and attempts to control his opponents by staying on top and working his ground and pound as well as grappling is seen as a boring fighter but that is the strategy that made him a champion. He and fighters that use a control game should be awarded for it whether fans like it or not. Thus two points for every minute a fighter can stay on top of another and control the fight.
Let’s try another example and the one spoken about previously. Jon Jones's questionable victory over Dominick Reyes.
- Jon Jones: 107 strikes landed, 63 strikes missed, 2 takedowns, 9 takedown attempts, 0 submission attempts, 0 knockdowns, 0 passes, 257 total points scored.
- Dominick Reyes: 119 strikes landed, 144 strikes missed, 0 takedowns, 0 takedown attempts, 0 submission attempts, 0 knockdowns, 0 passes, 213 total points scored.
Thus the actual winner was the real winner based on this point system. Just to test this system again, on that same Jones/Reyes card I thought Ilir Latifi beat Derrick Lewis but Lewis got the win by a unanimous decision. Let’s put the Harv system to the test.
- Derrick Lewis: 27 strikes landed, 31 strikes missed, 0 takedowns, 1 takedown attempts, 0 submission attempts, 0 knockdowns, passes, 49 total points
- Ilir Latifi: 62 strikes landed, 15 strikes missed, 3 takedowns, 7 takedown attempts, 0 submission attempts, 0 knockdowns, 2 passes, 172 total points
Because this bout was a case of Latifi mostly working his ground game, he did outstrike Lewis and did so with much better accuracy. What isn’t taken into consideration here is the control time Latifi used to limit what Lewis did offensively. Using this system, this fight painted a much clearer picture of who should have been the victor and makes the end result seem much more like a flat out robbery.
If you haven’t had enough, let’s analyze another historic fight that had what many believe a very backward decision at the hands of the judges. This would be the main event at UFC 167 held on November 16, 2013, when welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre faced Johny Hendricks inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The three judges at Octagon's side were Tony Weeks, Glenn Trowbridge, and Sal D’amato. Weeks and D’amato scored the fight 48-47 for the champ while Trowbridge had it by the same score only in favor of the challenger. Now my system…
- Georges St-Pierre: 125 strikes landed, 120 strikes missed, 3 takedowns, 6 takedown attempts, 1 submission attempts, 0 passes, 0 knockdowns, 256 total points
- Johny Hendricks: 142 strikes landed, 110 strikes missed, 1 takedown, 5 takedown attempts, 0 submission attempts, 0 passes, 0 knockdowns, 315 total points.
So while tons of fans and fighters believed St-Pierre lost his title that night (and I’m one of them), using this scoring system Johny “Big Rig” Hendricks would have been crowned welterweight champion that night and would have owned a victory over one of the greatest fighters in UFC history.
A championship fight in the UFC is five rounds. Main events also go the same distance. Thus far I’ve given you four examples using my point system so let’s go to a fifth-round to close out the discussion. What better fight to put to the test than Conor McGregor’s rematch versus Nate Diaz, a bout that many thought Diaz had won again after he had previously submitted the Irishman in the first fight.
- Nate Diaz: 252 strikes landed, 183 strikes missed, 1 takedown, 7 takedown attempts, 0 submission attempts, 0 passes, 0 knockdowns, 570 total points
- Conor McGregor: 197 strikes landed, 125 strikes missed, 0 takedowns, 1 takedown attempts, 0 submission attempts, 0 passes, 0 knockdowns, 465 total points.
And there you have it…Nate Diaz based on what he did in the Octagon should have won a second straight fight over Conor McGregor. If I were to present this format of scoring to the Nevada State Athletic Commission do you believe they would scoff at it? ABSOLUTELY. This would mean costing judges around the world their job. However, it would create a bigger responsibility to those who track these statistics and make them VERY important individuals.
The bottom line, however, would be that there could be no more controversial decisions because there is no disputing a strike that lands, a takedown that works, a strike that knocks an opponent to the canvas, a successful passing of the guard, submission attempts, and for many that specialize in grappling, control time. MMA is way overdue for an overhaul of the scoring method and boxing is included in that discussion.