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The ghost of MMA’s past: Will California adopt PRIDE-style judging rules?

By Zach Arnold | November 29, 2013

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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.

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?

Topics: CSAC, Media, MMA, Zach Arnold | 21 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

21 Responses to “The ghost of MMA’s past: Will California adopt PRIDE-style judging rules?”

  1. 45 Huddle says:

    1) The UFC took a long tine to build the correct foundation for their company. There is absolutely no chance of the UFC going away in the next decade.

    2) Fans look at PRIDE’s history with rosed colored glasses. They forget the corruption. They forget the hugr mismatches. They forget they really bad cards. And they forget how bad judving the entire fight is. PRIDE had many more bad decisions then the UFC ever did. One of the main reasons is because judging an entire fight is nearly impossible. It has to be broken up in order for judges to digest it better.

  2. bundt says:

    The joke of it all is that things aren’t really that bad. Fans can’t stand when the judges disagree with them, but fans on the whole don’t even try to meet the judges halfway. They can’t wrap their brains around the fact that the judges have to make a decision on a close round in the moment, to the best of their ability. In the case of the St. Pierre v Hendricks fight, the first round was close and reasonably could have been scored for either fighter. It was a reasonable decision, not a bad one.

    This is a sport, not a pure fight. If we want it to be a “real” fight why don’t we have the guys come in in their street clothes, give them a few shots and put some barstools in the octagon. All this shit about wanting to move towards some Nick Diaz inspired scoring criteria is asinine.

    The half point system is the stupidest, because its functionally the same as letting the judges give a wider range of whole number scores. That would be OK with me, but as soon as some fight ended in a draw where one guys face looked worse than the other, we’d be back in the same boat with all the crybaby media members and fans bitching to high heaven.

    PRIDE scoring was so awful, I don’t even want to get into that. Anyone remember Vitor v Herring? Nothing in the UFC comes to mind that is even close to how shitty that decision was. How about Ricco v Big Nog? Would it have been cool if Deigo had gotten the decision against Fitch? PRIDE scoring wasn’t even a real system, it was straight up shit. Remember when Henderson landed one punch on Ninja and undid a whole fight?

  3. Zheroen says:

    Yeah, I’m pretty sure that the idea that Andy Foster is trying to propose is for a PRIDE judging criteria that embraces the worst failings of that system which leads to the bad decisions listed above, as opposed to making a better system based on the criteria of the fight as a whole. He’s obviously deliberately going for corruption and worse decisions instead of trying to improve the currently-maligned system based on boxing. Well-spotted, 45 Huddle and bundt, nothing gets past you guys.

  4. Jonathan says:

    I have a problem calling it the “PRIDE Scoring System”. The truth of the matter is that people want to call it that just to juxtapose it next to the UFC, as though those two entities were still competing with one another.

    Give it a rest. The modern-day MMA fan probably has little to no clue who or what PRIDE was, and would definitely not have any clue what its’ scoring system entailed.

    And I agree wit Bundt, the decisions have not been that bad, it’s just that people cannot stand to disagree with the judges.

  5. frankp316 says:

    The real issue is that ACs and the UFC want decisions. That’s why they don’t want judges scoring 10-10 rounds under any circumstances. That’s the number one reason we see weird decisions. If a judge thinks a round is a tie, the judge should score it a tie. But who knows if they will ever be allowed to do that.

  6. 45 Huddle says:


    I liked your article from Fightline. Really nicely written and goes into great detail. You said:

    “The UFC’s audacious plan to run 54 shows in 2014 has to be cause for concern. They are running way too many shows and producing too much product. That has created a problem for UFC’s hardcore base in terms of selecting which shows are important and which are not. It also is blurring the lines for fans in trying to figure out which shows exactly are important.”

    It’s not just the number of shows. It is the scheduling of them. From the “Fight Nights” that have been announced for 2014, half are on Saturday and the other half are on Wednesday. They could run 65 shows in 2014, and if 50 of those shows were on Wednesday it would be a much better idea. Just like “WWE RAW” on Monday, fans would just tune in every Wednesday and get to see what the UFC is offering. It makes it simple and easy.

    But increasing the number of shows and having them randomly around the week is FREAKIN INSANE!! Especially when your main events are Saffiedine/Lim and Rockhold/Philippou.

    You just can’t sell random cards on random nights with main events like that. You can sell them as part of a weekly fight series where a 2 to 3 hour block is the time when you watch the UFC.


    While I am going off on what is wrong with the sport…. I think it is time to redo the weight classes. I have been a long time defender of the current weight system. I don’t believe the sport needs a Cruiserweight Division. But the amount of fighters who can easily move around the lower weight classes proves that not as many are needed. When a guy as big as Gray Maynard or Donald Cerrone say they can make 145…. Do we really need only 10 pounds between weight classes. A new class system needs to be implemented to avoid fighters moving around so much:

    Heavyweight: 265 lbs.
    Light Heavyweight: 205 lbs.
    Middleweight: 185 lbs.
    Welterweight: 170 lbs.
    Lightweight: 155 lbs.
    Featherweight: 140 lbs.
    Bantamweight: 125 lbs.
    Flyweight: 110 lbs. (For when they bring midgets to the UFC).

    • cutch says:

      The reason weight classes are closer together in Boxing at the lower weight classes is because of % of body weight, it’s a lot harder to cut 10 lbs at 135 as opposed to say 205lbers.

      Two guys failed to make weight on TUF this season and they fought at Bantamweight, some Brazilian Flyweight just died trying to make weight, if those weight classes were in effect, decent sized Bantamweights would try and cut to 125 and try and avoid much bigger guys like Chad Mendes.

      I would rather the fighters didn’t make crazy cuts or be forced to fight much larger men.

      Half the top 10 LHWs have either fought at 185 or are talking about moving down, the other half are all over 6ft 3 and cut from around 230lbs, shoud we scrap Light Heavyweight as well?

  7. edub says:

    The #1 thing I’ve been told numerous times, by numerous people, is you don’t score rounds 10-10. You pick a winner. I’ve only been a judge for a little over a year (and will soon be able to officiate) so I have no real sway with the discussion. However, the director of my commission fights in the UFC and he agrees that if a round is a draw it should be judged as such. So there is some light, IMO.

    On 10-8 rounds, they’re discouraged. Not greatly, but they are rarely given out.

  8. Diaz's cashed bowl says:

    I’d make a comment but I’m sure to get blasted by the cheery people who post here regularly.

  9. 45 Huddle says:


    From a business perspective, I’m sure Fertitta & White are still mad that their contract to Eddie Alvarez became public from the lawsuit. And they don’t want fighters to think they can just make it big in Bellator and then get a good payout if they are able to make their way out. And what better way to make that example then with a super boring wrestler.

    With that said…. The UFC makes enough money to pay out a larger contract here and there. And from a SPORTS perspective this is a huge steaming pile of garbage. You can’t claim that he “barely” beat Hieron as your reason for not signing him…. WHEN YOU SIGNED HIERON BACK TO THE UFC AFTER THAT FIGHT!!

    It also reinforces Zach’s story about the connection between the UFC and The WSOF.



    Are you kidding me? He is either lying his #ss off or he is being a horribly irresponsible promoter by not rewatching the fight.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      To add to my point about about Askren. I’m sure they don’t want him to sign for big money, then prove he can’t beat decent wrestlers with striking.

      But that is easy to resolve. Structure his contract where if he wins his first few fights then he gets the bigger pay increase. So he has to prove it. And then just match him up with a guy like Ellenberger, Woodley, Lombard, or a few others.

      So there is no reason he shouldn’t be with the UFC.

    • Jonathan says:

      After reading Dana White’s comments about Askren going to WSOF, I firmly believe that there is some sort of business relationship between the UFC and WSOF.

  10. me says:

    I believe the issue with scoring in the UFC is that takedowns alone are scored too highly and are seen as the ultimate in octagon control. I’ve seen plenty of times where Fighter A will dominate with striking, and circling around his opponent, but Fighter B will take the opponent down–really not offering much after the takedown–and be awarded the round.

    I don’t think that submission attempts are given their just due as well, as Fighter A can again be taken down by Fighter B, but Fighter A goes aggressive with their submission attempts maybe nearly lock in a hold, but because of the takedown, Fighter B is seen as having better octagon control.

    The UFC needs judges who truly understand the concept of Mixed Martial Arts. Takedowns are awesome to look at, and can be very effective, but if they don’t lead to the person initiating the takedown to improve their position or finishing the fight afterward, it by itself should not have the ability to sway a round otherwise dominated by takedown defense, superior striking and/or superior submission application.

    • tt says:

      i agree with everything you said. with regards to takedowns you see it at the end of many rounds, people will go for a meaningless take down because they know it will help them “secure” the round. and the grappling too, a solid submission attempt rarely seems to be accounted for, especially if the person is in bottom position. is it really that hard for judges to understand? most people are fairly new to the sport and seem to figure it out.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      “Takedowns are awesome to look at, and can be very effective, but if they don’t lead to the person initiating the takedown to improve their position or finishing the fight afterward, it by itself should not have the ability to sway a round otherwise dominated by takedown defense, superior striking and/or superior submission application.”

      1. Defense is not scored. You can block 20 shots in a round, get taken down once, and those blocks mean nothing and the takedown means something.

      2. You make it sound like a takedown is easy to pull off in MMA. It isn’t. It is extremely hard to get a takedown and keep your opponent on the ground. So in a round where fighters are close with both damage and number of strikes…. that takedown in the last 30 seconds should decide the round.

      3. I agree that submission attempts are not given enough credit by the judges. At the same time, a guy like Joe Rogan puts too much emphasis on guys moving their hips on the bottom and going for submissions that are never close to even happening.

      • Jonathan says:

        Are you referring to “rubber guard”, or “mission control” as he puts it? He acts like someone is pulling off an omoplata or a gogoplata when really are they are doing is hiking their legs up.

        I agree with you 45 Huddle.

  11. 45 Huddle says:

    Say good bye to Ben Askren as a serious contender for the rest of his career.

    Instead of signing with WSOF, he is going to ONE FC. Another place where there are no wrestlers to test him.

    What the UFC did was wrong. But if Askren really wanted to fight the best outside of the UFC, the WSOF has a bunch of solid Welterweights for him. ONE FC has nobody….

    • Bryan says:

      Where did you see that Askren is signing with One FC? All I could find is that he will be training with Evolve. Now Evolve and One FC may have a working relationship but was Askren’s signing with the promotion confirmed anywhere?

      • 45 Huddle says:

        From Ariel Helwani twitter…

        “@ONEFCMMA: ONE FC will be making some huge announcements this week! Stay tuned!” “Funky” news?

  12. rst says:

    Am I the only person who thought that PRIDE rules where pretty much arbitrary?


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