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UFC 190: Looking at different scoring options

Submitted by Dan Velten

The sport of Mixed Martial Arts is relatively young and has been growing strong.  It has evolved quite a bit since the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s birth in 1993.  As time goes on, evolution occurs, and sports are no different.  It has been said a million times, but the scoring system used in MMA is flawed because it was taken from a different sport, boxing.  MMA needs a scoring system designed for the complexity and nuances of MMA.  Simply put, fights could be scored in a more fair, accurate, and ubiquitous manner. 

The current “10-point Must” scoring system is a dinosaur egg laid by the sport of boxing seemingly 60 million years ago.  The sport of MMA has evolved but the scoring system has not.  The fighters and fight dynamics have changed, and it is time for the scoring system to remove its vestigial tail.

The goal of scoring should be to determine the correct result.  Too often we see a match where a fighter won on the judges scorecard, but it appears to the viewer that he or she lost the fight.  These scoring options would hopefully stop that from occurring.  As often stated by the fans, “Who would you rather be at the end of the fight?  That’s who won.” It is a tough opinion to argue. 

Scoring is subjective, but it could become more objective to a degree, which would be better for the sport, the fighters, and especially the fans, many of which have become frustrated.  This sport is designed to represent a street fight.  Sometimes the scoring system does not accurately represent who fans thought won the battle.   Fans enjoy a competitive match, and love a dazzling knockout or submission, but what they hate is a robbery.  Obviously, there will always be those that say a decision was a robbery when their fighter lost, but hopefully this scoring overhaul can alleviate some of this aggravation.

The current fossil scoring system works mediocre at best, even in boxing, but for fights that last more than 3 or 5 rounds, recovering to win from a slow start is incredibly difficult.  It makes it nearly impossible for a fighter trailing 20-18 after 2 rounds to win a decision.

In boxing, a judge can focus primarily on punching and thus a fighter who connects more should be given the 10 points.  However, there are so many nuances to MMA judging that must also be considered.  One of which is the ground game and the submission attempts.  The “near finish submission attempt” is often overlooked because it appears that no damage was done.

Point scoring in boxing is ok because a typical fight is between 6 and 12 rounds.  In MMA, over the course of the typical 3 round match, a fighter can barely win the first two rounds and lose the last round heavily and typically still wins the fight with a score of 29-28.  If judges were allowed to use more of the 10 points then this system would more accurately represent the fight.  The problem is that judges are told to “find a reason” to pick a round winner, and often rounds are too close to call, but draw rounds rarely occur on a judges scorecard.  Another flaw is that 10-8’s are only given when a fighter destroys the opponent.  The damage differential between a 10-10 and a 10-9 can be minimal, but to score a 10-8, the difference has to be massive to be given.  There are plenty of other problems with the “10-Point Must” system that I will look at in the future. 

This article (and subsequent articles) will score fights using different methods.  Some of these have been realistically discussed, but never gone any further.  One I just made up completely.  A brief summary of each method is below. 

10-Point Must Scoring (currently used in MMA) – The round winner receives 10 points and the round loser receives 9 or fewer, supposedly based on the differential of the damage and other advantages.

10-Point Open Scoring – This is the same as above, but more of the points will be used, including each fighter potentially receiving 10 points in an even round.  It could be determined as follows:

10-10 – No clear round winner

10-9 – Winner barely eked out the round

10-8 – Winner clearly won the round

10-7 – Winner significantly won the round

10-6 – Winner did tremendous damage and dominated the round

10-5 – Winner dominated and nearly finished the fight

Scoring a 10-4 or less is probably not necessary and thus you could make this a 5-point system.  10-10’s and 10-8’s will be more prominent.  As often mentioned, this is similar to the “Half Point” system, but with less math.  The “Half Point” system is needlessly complicated and judges already screw up the math, and asking them to do more seems like a bad idea.

Weighted Round Scoring – The first round would be worth 1 point, the second would be worth 2, and the third would be worth 3 points.  This is something I just cooked up, because so often we will see a fighter barely win rounds 1 and 2, and then coast in round three.  It may result in more draws, but I’m predicting it will result in fighters keeping their foot on the gas pedal all the way.  At the end of the round, the judge simply needs to pick the winner and not worry about the damage differential.

“Pride” Scoring – This would simply be picking the fight as a whole.  At the end of the fight, the judge decides who won.  This seemed to work excellently in the Pride promotion, as bad decisions rarely occurred.  People talk fondly of this system, and I believe it is actually the fairest.  However, people like statistics and points, so this system will probably never be re-implemented.

Here is how the scorecards may look if these systems were used for UFC 190 (main card, only fights that went the distance):

Gadelha vs. Aguilar

Official result:  All three judges score the contest 30-27 in favor of Gadelha, and I would agree.

Open Scoring:  Rd 1) 10-8 Gadelha  Rd 2) 10-8 Gadelha  Rd 3) 10-9 Gadelha

Result:  30-25 Gadelha

Weighted Scoring:  Rd 1) Gadelha  Rd 2) Gadelha  Rd 3) Gadelha

Result:  6-0 Gadelha

Pride Scoring:  Gadelha

Nothing changes in this dominant performance for Gadelha who clearly won the fight.

Struve vs. Big Nog

Official Result:  All three judges score the contest 30-27 for Struve, and I would agree.

Open Scoring:  Rd 1) 10-9 Struve  Rd 2) 10-9 Struve  Rd 3) 10-8 Struve

Result:  30-26 Struve

Weighted:  Rd 1) Struve  Rd 2) Struve  Rd 3) Struve

Result:  6-0 Struve

Pride Scoring:  Struve

No changes here.

Vieira vs. Lopez

Official Result: 29-28, 30-27, 30-27 all for Vieira – I scored it 30-27 for Vieira.

Open Scoring:  Rd 1) 10-10  Rd 2) 10-9 Vieira  Rd 3) 10-9 Vieira

Result:  30-28 Vieira

Weighted:  Rd 1) Vieira  Rd 2) Vieira  Rd 3) Vieira

Result:  6-0 Vieira

Pride: Vieira

No change.

Shogun vs. Big Nog

Official Result:  All three judges score it 29-28 Shogun, and I’d concur.

Open Scoring:  Rd 1) 10-9 Nog  Rd 2) 10-9 Shogun  Rd 3) 10-10

Result:  29-29 Draw

Weighted:  Rd 1) Nog  Rd 2) Shogun  Rd 3)  Even

Result:  4-3 Shogun

Pride:  Shogun (Or a Draw)

I would have judged this a draw fight because I do not think either had enough of an advantage, but I guess I’d rather be Shogun because I can’t imagine Big Nog’s ribs will feel very good tomorrow.  Also, I named my dog Shogun, and she’s awesome.

MMA, and the UFC in particular, want fight winners, but as a sports fan, that waters down records.  A win should be a big deal, and not something to be disputed, and certainly not something that “could go either way”.  After all, the sport is basically trying to replicate a fight to the death, and killing your opponent should not be something decided by a coin toss in the eyes of the judges.  If no clear winner is determined, then it is a draw.  Wins would be far more significant, and that is important.  We see far too many undefeated fighters where we can easily recall a fight that could have been decided differently.

Tonight, there were no real surprises or bad judging decisions in my book, but I would encourage you the fans to judge for yourself using one my methods or perhaps one of your own.