By Zach Arnold | March 9, 2013
After our article about the scoring controversy in the Doug Marshall fight last Thursday, an important reader of ours reached out to us to talk about the subject of fight scoring. Scott Morley of ijudgefights.com (on Twitter @smorleymma) is an MMA judge and founder of AsiaFights. He earned a masters degree at the International Space University and won the Google Student Lunar X Prize.
In other words, maybe it does take a rocket scientist to figure out how to fix the crappy fits of bout scoring we see in boxing & Mixed Martial Arts.
Here is the company’s blurb about their their fan-friendly fight-scoring App:
iJudgeFights is a live round-by-round scoring platform for fans of Mixed Martial Arts. It is somewhere between a social network and a Second Screen application in conception and is intended to allow arm-chair judges and leading insiders such as yourself the ability weigh in on any fight and have their voices heard.
Scores can be quickly and easily entered between rounds and shared across social networks. Scorecards can be saved and viewed by friends. Users can compare their scores with the official judges, their friends and leading MMA insiders.
In addition to 10 point must numerical scores, users can enter track which fighter they believed got the better of whom in striking, grappling, aggression, and control, as well Fight of the Night and several other metrics.
iJudgeFights is helmed by four passionate MMA fans, who have spent years traveling the globe in pursuit of a great fight. It is our aim to help make Mixed Martial Arts the biggest sport in the world.
iJudge Ltd is a media firm focused on providing more ways for fans to engage with their favorite programs and events. In February 2012, our first app, iJudgeFights won the Shanghai Startup Sauna, a seed acceleration contest for tech startups. IjudgeFights is also a graduate of Springboard Mobile.
A prototype has been in operation since the last year and new features and bug fixes are added every week.
With this as the background, we talked with Scott about his App and asked some key questions regarding the differences between how fans score fights versus how the professional judges score fights. The nuances may surprise you.
How did you become an MMA judge and what kind of shows have you worked?
I’ve been living with my brother in Shanghai, China for the past four years. We’ve been huge fight fans since the very beginning, so whenever opportunities come up around Asia to go see fights, we try to catch them. That is how met Mike Haskamp and Chris Pollack, the owners of Legend FC in Hong Kong. We got to know them over time and eventually they asked us to judge at some of their fights. We’ve done five shows with them and I have done a few more at smaller promotions around Asia. I should mention that I’m ‘retired’ from official judging. It’s been a lot of fun, but I prefer working on the app now.
How accurate would you say fans are in judging fights with your App versus the traditional judges at shows?
It’s important to understand that we created this app because we wanted to figure out how to make judging better, not because we thought we already had the answers. So it’s not really for us to be the arbiters of what is ‘accurate’. My personal opinion though is that our users have more than held their own against the officials. Since we launched the app in October, the official judges have provided me with more head scratching moments than our users. For example iJudgeFights users scored Gomi vs. Sanchez in favor of Gomi and Aliev vs. Marshall in favor of Aliev.
We also see the app as a training tool for judges because they can practice scoring the fights and share their scorecards among their colleagues to get feedback. We have been working with veteran MMA referee Jerin Valel and his students to help foster this kind of interaction.
ESPN encourages viewers to use Facebook to judge boxing fights and some TV shows ask fans to use Twitter hashtags to score. Why does an App like yours get a more accurate account than traditional social media?
One of the things we set out to do was to make the user experience similar to an official’s and really put a virtual scorecard in the user’s hand. That means no changing your score after you’ve submitted it, and no viewing other people’s round scores before viewing your own.
We also wanted our users to think about the judging criteria, not just score based on emotion. That’s why we ask them to select who ‘won’ each category of scoring criteria in the Unified Rules; Striking, Grappling, Aggression and Cage/Ring Control. This voting does not have an impact on the user consensus score, but it does make the user think about why they are scoring the round the way they have. You can also share your scores on Twitter and Facebook, which can encourage a lot of debate.
The idea is that the user sentiment reflects a considered, thoughtful approach and not a knee-jerk reaction. Our community is not yet large enough to prove it, but my hunch is that a very-large and highly engaged user base could prove just as accurate as ringside officials.
Why do you think judges at shows get so easily tricked (e.g. Marshall/Aliev) under the Unified Rules when it comes to scoring fights? Do you think the fans understand the rules better than the pros?
I have spoken with Big John McCarthy about this on a number of occasions. John is always quick to point out that the rules were really cobbled together as a compromise between defining a useful set of rules while keeping scary language such as ‘damage’ out of the rulebook, as it scared legislators. The result is a rule set that is ambiguous and allows two people watching the same fight to reach vastly different conclusions.
On the other hand, sometimes judges just do a crappy job. Maybe they had a bad day before arriving at the arena, or they got distracted because they’re late on their mortgage. I think the most common thing I have seen is judges getting sucked into crowd reactions. I’ve noticed this more as an observer at small regional shows, which are often headlined by a hometown hero versus an outsider. The hero gets roars from the crowd for every glancing blow, and every solid blow from the outsider is met with stony silence. It can affect some judges, unfortunately. This has been my experience in Asia, I have not attended smaller shows in North America yet. I would be surprised if GSP or Anderson Silva weren’t receiving a similar advantage.
Do you think if PRIDE rules were used for judging that we would have a more accurate set-up for judges to get decisions right or is it a matter of human error (i.e. the fans just know the sport better than those getting paid to judge)?
Answering questions like this is one of the reasons why we made the iJudgeFights app. We plan on eventually allowing users to score the fight using alternative scoring methods such as PRIDE or the half point system. As a fanboy, the PRIDE rules certainly have their appeal, but I honestly don’t know what the best approach is.
What do you make of the leagues (like Bellator) promoting the use of a fan App to do scoring and announce those results on TV? Does it enhance the product, build credibility, or create confusion when the judges announce a different score than what the fans think happened?
We wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing if we didn’t think that that was a great approach. Our vision for the app is to integrate user generated data within the broadcast. We think it makes the fights more engaging, and provides a great way for fans to express their opinions.
We have reached an agreement with Legend FC to integrate user data beginning with their next event. If all goes well it will coincide with the launch of our Chinese language version.
If fan voting (via your iJudgeFights App or the Bellator App) was weighted into the actual decision making by athletic commissions to determine a winner, what percentage would you weight fan voting? How can we be sure that fan voting isn’t rigged or hacked in favor of one fighter?
This is something the team has talked about quite a bit. My initial feeling was this was an “entertainment purposes only” app, which would enhance the user-experience, but not impact the outcome of the fight. However since the app launched, I feel like our community has been quite consistent with overall judging quality even as the user base has grown.
It’s early days yet but if we continue getting consistent, credible consensus scores, I would be very interested in seeing a promotion experiment with allowing fans to score the fights. We’ve already had talks with a couple of promotions about using the app this way, but nothing is imminent.
With regard to how to weight fan scores, I think the mechanics of how it would work would be sorted out through a discussion among the MMA community, and all the stakeholders within. I don’t think it’s a conversation many people are having, but they ought to, because the current situation seems to be satisfying nobody.