There are hundreds of MMA fights around the country every weekend. Each fight needs qualified judges to score the action, but the growth of MMA means there aren't enough judges to go around.
Over the weekend, I sat in on an MMA judging clinic by Association of Boxing Commissions-certified trainer Robert Hinds of Combat Consulting. (The ABC is the group that oversees the state commissions that administer MMA across the United States.) The clinic gives prospective judges to be a place to start their judging career, and several state commissions require certification from an event like the one I attended. Whether you want to be a judge or not, every MMA fan should know something about how winners and losers are chosen when fights go to decisions. Here is what you need to know:
1. Judges look at result of the move, not the move itself. It's not about the takedown. It's about what happens from the takedown. It's not about the punch. It's about if the punch lands, and if it has an impact.
2. Judges are not fans. If they are scoring as fans, they should be fired. Judges have to be dispassionate and objective in every fight they judge. If they are a fan of one fighter or another, they need to reconsider their job.
3.Media, fans and promoters have no business comparing their score cards to those of judges. When I'm covering fights, I'm watching the fights, taking notes, tweeting and answering emails, text messages and instant messages. When fans watch the fights, they watch the fights, order beers, talk with friends, and check out the waitress who just delivered another plate of wings. When a promoter watches the fights, he or she is watching the fights, keeping an eye on the broadcast, dealing with inevitable problems on every fight card, and talking with fans and staff.
When a good judge is watching a fight, he or she is watching the fight. That's it. He or she has been trained on how to focus on the fight and see what has affected the round. Every bit of their brain power is focused on the fight. I've never had a judge tell me how to cover a story. I shouldn't try to do their job, and neither should you.
4. Positioning matters. With three judges around the cage, each one will not see the same thing. Sometimes a judge will not see a punch because only a fighter's back is visible. While monitors help in this situation, they're not everywhere yet and they are not a cure all. The judge is then limited to the view decided by the director of the show. If you're wondering what fight a judge watched, realize that it may not be the exact same one you saw on television.
5. Judges score rounds, not fights. When a round ends, the judge should score it and forget it. What happened in round one should not affect what score a judge gives in round three. In fact, Hinds recommended the use of individual score cards for each round so that judges are not influenced by their previous score.
6. 10-10 rounds are rare. Hinds described 10-10 rounds as a "unicorn." In a five-minute round, or even a three-minute round, something should happen that will give one fighter the edge over another. An observant judge should be able to catch it. 10-8 rounds have a specific definition: complete domination and significant impact for the entire round. If you don't see both, it's not a 10-8.
7. Judges can do nothing but judge. If a foul is not called by a ref, the judge cannot deduct a point. If a fighter's corner is giving the fighter terrible advice, the judge cannot give the fighter the benefit of the doubt. If the matchmaker came up with a terrible fight, the judge cannot take a round off and expect the knockout. The judge can judge the round. That's it.
8. What makes a bad judges is not the results they give, but their methods in judging and not using the criteria. Judges have a criteria and professional standards to follow. They need to carefully judge rounds, staying focused the entire time on using the criteria to call a winner in each round. If they are looking away, talking to someone, or eating or drinking during a round, that's a problem. If they can't say how the criteria applied to their judgment, that's a problem.
9. Not everyone can be a judge. During the clinic, we watched several fights to practice judging. Five minutes at a time, we practiced focusing on the fight and nothing else. It took me about a minute before my mind wandered. On Saturday night, we sat cageside for amateur fights so we could practice what we learned during the day. MMA's brutality is in your face from that distance. One man from the clinic confessed being so close to the action was emotional.
Judges have to be focused, and they cannot be squeamish. If you're not OK with listening to fighters get hit in the head, or hearing their bones crunch throughout their fights, or having blood and sweat fly onto your face, don't be a judge.
10. Judging ain't easy. Much like any profession, judges don't wake up one day and decide it's time to start judging UFC fights. Someone hoping to be a qualified judge has to practice by judging fights on television and judging sparring sessions at nearby gyms. They attend clinics and shadow judges in amateur fights before trying it themselves, then do the same routine before trying a professional fight.
With the growth of MMA from the amateurs on up the UFC, the sport needs good judges. If you think you can contribute to the sport in this way, contact your state commission.