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A simple four-point Battle Plan to upgrade officiating in boxing & mixed martial arts

By Zach Arnold | September 22, 2017

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There is a American crisis of confidence when it comes to officiating of boxing and Mixed Martial Arts, especially for high-profile championship fights.

There’s two ways to address the problem: 1) Personally go after the people in charge or 2) Create a plan simple enough for regulators to adopt that they can take credit for and not screw up.

In response to recent controversies, some behind-the-scenes boxing industry influencers are brainstorming a rough draft of a new four-point reformation plan on regulating officiating in combat sports. The idea is to increase transparency and cooperation among promoters and officials. The four-point plan would give current regulators a chance to significantly upgrade officiating without costly or time-consuming protocol implementations.

Based on our conversations with these individuals, the four prongs of the proposed reformation plan would implement the following changes:

First reformation prong: Referee and judge selection

Currently, athletic commission select their own officials from a broad pool of licensees. At athletic commission meetings, fighter camps can attempt to engage in a quasi voir dire process to strike an official from a fight. However, the final say goes to the Executive Officer/Director and the athletic commission board members.

The new proposal would be modeled on arbitration. The sanctioning body would provide two fighter camps a list of officials. Each camp can strike a couple of officials from the list, then give a numerical rank to the remaining judges and referees. The weeding out process would create an eventual list of officials to work the championship fight.

The list of officials agreed upon would be added to the bout agreement and approved by the athletic commission.

If neither camp can come to an agreement, the selection of officials would default to the Executive Officer/Director.

Second reformation prong: Backstage judges

NBA games have three on-court officials with an official in Secaucus, New Jersey working replay. Leagues like the NFL and NHL have a similar concept.

The new process, for championship fights, would involve athletic commissions having two options:

The judge backstage would have access to a television monitor with three main camera angles but no audio commentary. A commission official would be next to the backstage judge and report their score after each round.

Example: In the Canelo vs. GGG fight, three judges had different score cards but ultimately produced a draw. The fourth backstage judge would then have their score card act as the de facto tie-breaker (or cement the fight as a draw).

Third reformation prong: Mandatory post-fight media availability for officials

There is nothing worse than professional sports league shielding officials from the press after controversial decisions. It’s especially disgusting for championship prize fighting when athletes are sacrificing years off of their health only to get dump-trucked by a decision with no accountability.

The proposed plan would encourage athletic commissions to escort officials after a championship fight into a secured room with no friends, family, or press. The officials would then be transferred to the media room for a time period of 30 minutes to answer any and all questions about the fight they worked. On the record.

Fourth reformation prong: Peer review sessions

Hospitals have peer review committees where doctors are reviewed by a board of officials on their work. Each state has different levels of protected & privileged communication regarding what is said or written at such meetings. Nevada spells out their protected peer privilege laws here.

This fourth proposal has two routes: a public option and a private option.

The public option for peer review would involve athletic commissions creating their own sub-committee with active & retired licensees — fighters, referees, judges. The sub-committee would allow honest and open discussion between current officials and regulators without fear of punishment. The sub-committee could hold their own additional meetings with stakeholders.

The private option would involve all officials (judges & referees) working a fight card to attend post-fight informal peer review meetings. No other regulators from the athletic commission, fighters, press, or family members would be allowed to attend the meeting. A players-only type meeting. It would be a strictly off-the-record conversation. All officials would be required to leave audio & video recording/writing devices outside of the designated room. Nothing would be recorded. No Facebook photos. No social media selfies. No pen and paper.

The general theme is to create an environment where all officials hold each other accountable but do so in a way where regulators aren’t breathing down their neck or having moles/spies infiltrating the evaluation process.

This idea is only successful if the Executive Officer/Director rotates officials in-and-out of events rather than sticking with a regular crew. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and a clique mentality breeds when it’s the same officials booked over and over. Nobody ends up learning anything other than to backstab outsiders. It is currently a big problem with the major athletic commissions. It has to change.

In summary: Dramatic changes need to be made by American state athletic commissions in the way officiating is being handled. More power needs to be given to fighter camps and to other officials to discover who the best qualified candidates are.

There is no substitute for judging fights at ringside but it is only one location angle and perspective. With a backstage judge having access to multiple camera angles and less influences from outside the ring, a different much-needed perspective can be added to the mix.

Officials who work championship fights are paid more than standard undercard officials. With great power comes great responsibility and a need for greater accountability. There is no greater accountability than answering questions from an interested and energized press. There is no greater accountability than answering questions and receiving honest feedback from your peers. Peer responsibility, not peer pressure is what is needed. A diverse group of officials analyzing and reviewing performances after fight cards will increase learning and create a sustainable environment to train the next generation of officials.

Topics: Boxing, Media, MMA, Zach Arnold | 2 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

2 Responses to “A simple four-point Battle Plan to upgrade officiating in boxing & mixed martial arts”

  1. Diaz's packed bowl says:

    I have a better, simpler idea to change the way the scores are tabulated.
    Each round is scored by judges consensus.
    This way each round has an agreed upon winner which clarifies the final result.
    Ive been using this method for a while its more sensitive, and it works.

  2. Wes D says:

    I was talking to an official the other day and I thought he came up with a good thought. Have 5 officials score the fight, but at the end of the fight draw three numbers corresponding to each judge and the numbers draw are the ones that will count as the official score. While this may not eliminate an official that has a crappy score, it does not guarantee that he/she score card will be used.


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