By Zach Arnold | November 29, 2013
Black Friday Beatdowns isn’t my beat, so let’s focus on another story.
A couple of days ago, the estimable Jim Genia asked me to write on whether or not I thought UFC could fade away like PRIDE given Zuffa’s decreasing ratings & PPV buys. The short answer is no. The long answer? UFC won’t die like PRIDE but the rest of MMA might. Such a scenario would require Viacom to pull the plug on Bellator and for other promotions to be swallowed up in a UFC-type developmental system. Not entirely impossible given how many promotions have failed over the last decade.
As I was writing about that topic, MMA Mania published this open letter from California State Athletic Commission Executive Officer Andy Foster: Judging system used to score MMA requires evolution.
Andy Foster’s proposal is simple: Keep the 10-point must scoring system for MMA judges but make those scores non-binding. Have judges pick a winner based on which fighter they thought overall won the bout. If there’s controversy (and there would be plenty), then the 10-point must system scorecards could be reviewed to see why judges picked the winners they did.
There are some good and bad consequences of shifting away from the 10-point system to the PRIDE scoring system. However, one thing is clear — since that open letter was published on Tuesday, Sacramento has been reportedly overwhelemed with reaction to the idea of going to a PRIDE-style scoring system. I can’t give a percentage on how much of the feedback has been positive versus negative, but I know the positive feedback has been high.
This point made by Andy Foster hits home to the heart of the debate:
For example, like we have recently seen, one competitor can win two rounds with a much larger margin, and the judges see the other competitor winning the other three rounds at a very close margin. The result is the winner on the scorecards is not the winner of the actual fight.
Examples discussed include the Gilbert Melendez/Ben Henderson and Eddie Alvarez/Michael Chandler fights.
Andy Foster, finally a commissioner who sees flaws in MMA's scoring system and who wants to make changes to it. Good to see.
— Adam Martin (@MMAdamMartin) November 27, 2013
What makes the argument complicated is that judges are often discouraged in certain states from issuing 10-8 or 10-10 rounds. If there wasn’t such hostility to issuing a 10-10 round, we’d see a lot more of them. But they are hardly used by judges because of fear of retribution from their political bosses. Nelson Hamilton proposed the half-point scoring system and it’s essentially dead in the water because the major commission states view such a scoring system, as used in CAMO, as muddying the waters even further. The logic goes as follows: if judges are bad enough at scoring fights with the 10-point must system, how on Earth would they not screw up even more if they judged fights on the half-point system?
So, the half-point judging system is basically dead in the water (politically-speaking). And there’s growing frustration with the 10-point must system. Which leads us to Andy Foster’s proposal. He pointed out the positives in his open letter.
However, adopting a non-binding 10-point must system combined with the PRIDE “pick a overall winner” system presents its own issues. It won’t stop incompetence or corruption. It might help both out to a degree but it’s not foolproof. Judges who come in bought off or with a bias towards one type of style over another will figure out a way to screw over fighters using the PRIDE system. When PRIDE was active as an organization, a lot of influencers at ring side were betting on fights and you can bet the pressure was palpable on judges in certain fights.
If a fight is very close to score, most judges will just fall back on their 10-point must system score cards to pick a winner. You can’t fix incompetence. Judges either know the sport and/or adapt to the learning curve or they don’t, no matter what scoring system is in place.
What isn’t in dispute is that there is a strong appetite to change the status quo and going to a PRIDE-style scoring system can’t make things worse. Right?
Exit question: We know that boxing dominates the revenue that California’s commission takes in but the energy on the regulatory side has been on the MMA side of the equation. Boxing people behind the scenes are completely confounded by this. Do people understand the significance of California, the largest commission in the United States, becoming an MMA-first entity on a historical level?