It’s time for an overhaul of the judging system in MMA.

The outdated “10-point must” system is currently one of the worst aspects of mixed martial arts, along with the actual judges put in place by the state-regulated athletic commissions.


Let’s dive into more detail about the current judging system in the United States, what is wrong with it, and some alternatives.


Why the System is Bad

To begin explaining why the “10-point must” system is bad, we must first understand what that system is and where it came from. The system is a carry-over from Professional Boxing which states that in any given round, the fighter who “wins” that round is granted 10 points on a judging scorecard and the “loser” of the round is granted nine or fewer points depending on the level of domination from the round’s winner. Points can be deducted from either competitor in any round if they are found to be breaking the rules of the contest.

This scoring system is a part of the widely debated and often criticized “Unified Rules of MMA” which has been adopted throughout the United States. Ironically, there are two versions of the Unified Rules, but the scoring criteria is the same in both. The judging of who wins and loses around is based on three criteria in this order: Effective Striking/Grappling (i.e. striking and/or grappling in the most efficient way to work towards a stoppage), Effective Aggressiveness (i.e. pursuing a stoppage to the fight through the use of striking and/or grappling), and Fighting Area Control (i.e. dictating where the fight takes place inside the cage or ring).


What’s a Stoppage?

At this point, you may be wondering, “what is a stoppage?” The terminology of a stoppage and the lack of them in early MMA is the whole reason the “10-point must” system was adopted.

The definition of a stoppage as recognized today would be a Knockout, Technical Knockout, Doctor Stoppage, Submission, or Disqualification. In the simplest terms, a stoppage is an end to the fight before the time limit elapses. To spare the time of explaining the entire history of stoppages, it is best to blatantly state that fighting promotions needed a way to determine a winner if a stoppage could not be achieved. Here is the introduction of the “10-point must” system. The rules of the system were slightly tweaked due to the differences between MMA and Boxing, but for the most part, it is the same idea.


This is where the problems arise. Because of this system, fighters and fight fans have been dealt with some terrible and head-scratching decisions, some of which have happened very recently. This system is inherently built on the notion that at least two out of three judges will always agree on every round over the course of a fight based on the three-fight criteria listed above.

However, whether it is incompetent judges, the vague subjectivity of the scoring criteria, or a combination of the two, there are outright terrible decisions being rendered and insane scorecards being read.

Take, for example, a recent fight from UFC 249: Michelle Waterson versus Carla Esparza.

One judge scored the fight 30-27 Esparza, another judge scored it 30-27 Waterson, and the third judge scored it 29-28 Esparza netting a split decision win to Esparza.

What that scorecard tells you is that one judge believed Waterson won every round, another judge believed Esparza won every round, and the third judge believed Esparza won two of three. While anyone watching the fight could tell you it was close, not one of the three state commission appointed judges could agree on the score. Two of those three judges saw the fight exactly opposite to one another. That is simply unacceptable.


Change #1

The unfortunate thing for fighters and fans is that there is no simple fix. There have been a few great recommended fixes presented by the fighting community and while none of them would work on their own, a combination of them could work.


Probably the most popular and widely requested change to scoring a fight would be the old Pride Fighting Championship scoring system.

Pride FC was a fighting promotion based in Japan. Since there was no state regulating body overseeing the adherence to the American Unified Rules, Pride developed their own judging system.*


This system saw the judges overseeing the fight to judge the fight as a whole as opposed to round by round. To put it simply, they picked a winner of the fight, they did not add up a round-by-round score. While many fans think this could be a great change to the judging system, the corruption around this system was, in part, one of the major downfalls of Pride FC. There was constant speculation that Pride FC may have fixed a few fights in their day and only needing a judge to decide a winner allowed that corruption to prosper.

*Pride did adhere to the Unified Rules when holding shows in America


Change #2

The second most commonly requested change to the scoring system would be to change the people scoring the fight. Many have requested that MMA media experts, retired fighters, or even commentators score the fight as opposed to the state-appointed judges.

While this may help in the instances where the judges have no idea what mixed martial arts is, and that really does exist, it would not help in terms of corruption once again. Having people within the fighting community scoring fights sounds great, but fighters have friends and enemies that could easily score a fight for or against them.


Change #3

The third and final most notable change to the scoring system would be transparent scoring. What this means is that after each round, the way the three judges scored the round would be displayed for the crowd in attendance, the audience at home, the broadcasters, and even the fighters. Again, this is a great idea in theory but this could do more harm than good.

The idea of this is to alert the fighter who is behind in the fight to pick it up and either work harder or work for a stoppage if they’ve already lost on the scorecards. Inversely, this would also alert the fighter in the lead to continue what they’re doing but also avoid getting caught by the fighter who is going to be looking for a stoppage. This also lets the audience know what way the fight is going so they are not shocked if a decision is rendered.

This idea is akin to basketball players knowing the score of the game, not blindly competing. The same applies to the fan so they can understand the position each fighter is in as the fight goes on. However, if one of three judges gives around to fighter A when the other two judges scored the round in favor of fighter B, this could create doubt in the first judge’s mind and potentially sway them to score around differently. The outside influences of a crowd cheering or booing could also provide backlash for the judges.


While there is no simple fix to the judging system in MMA, articles like these, as well as fans voicing their displeasure with judging decisions will hopefully alert these major organizations that changes must be made.
Hopefully, changes are made because as of now, the system seems to be flawed.

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