MMA fans disagree on nearly everything, from the best pound-for-pound fighter to the best promotion to even the prettiest ring card girl. However, there is one area that MMA fans, media, promoters and fighters do agree on — the state of MMA judging is nothing short of sorry. Martin Kampmann, Nam Phan and Riki Fukuda were recent victims of egregiously bad judging, but rarely does a card go by that doesn’t have at least one judges’ decision that leaves the MMA world confused.
Two judges spoke up recently about their job, and how they arrive at decisions. Chuck Wolfe, who surprised Bellator fans by scoring Joe Warren 30-27 in a win over Marcus Galvao, despite the damage that Galvao inflicted on Warren during the second round. Wolfe defended his call:
"He had three rounds to take Warren out if he really wanted to beat him — he had three rounds to dominate Warren, as well as Warren had three rounds to dominate him," Wolfe said. "It’s up to the fighter. … Don’t leave it in the hands of the judges, especially when it’s a close fight."
Yes, that’s a judge saying, "Don’t leave it in my hands." Wolfe mentions his credentials, but then essentially says, "Don’t make me do the job." Imagine being at work and telling that to your boss. How long would it be before you cleaned out your desk?
Jeff Blatnick, an Olympic gold medalist in wrestling and an early player in building the UFC, now serves as a well-respected MMA judge. He allowed reporter Jim Genia to shadow him through a regional MMA event in New Jersey, explaining some of the nuances to judging that fans can’t see from their seat in the stands or through their television screen.
"If a fighter winces from a landed punch, that means it scored," he says. "If I hear the whoosh of a foot dragging on a takedown, it’s a legitimate attempt at a takedown."
Blatnick acknowledges that there will be subjectivity among judges, because a judges has to compare apples and oranges. Does a takedown matter more than three elbows? How does a leg kick stack up next to a jab?
Judging is a problem in MMA, but one that is to be expected in a sport that has grown so much in a short time. Judges with backgrounds in wrestling or boxing or jiu-jitsu are having to learn the value of the other disciplines. What’s clear is the need for ongoing education for current and new judges. Some states, like New Jersey and Ohio, already have stringent requirements for judges. Other states need to catch up.
The good news is that MMA recognizes the problem exists, which is the first step in fixing any debacle. Recently retired UFC vet Ricardo Almeida plans to go into judging, hopefully starting a trend for former fighters.
Education and more qualified judges will help, but something that any fan of a judged sport need to realize is that subjectivity will always creep into the judges’ minds. Their decisions will forever be one more area of disagreement for MMA fans.