MMA, or more specifically the UFC, has been growing by leaps and bounds since The Ultimate Fighter debuted on Spike and drew in a significant audience with the Monday Night RAW lead in it enjoyed. Then the Finale happened with the epic Forrest Griffin vs Stephan Bonnar fight and the sport really took off. More eyes coming to the sport though, also means more scrutiny on the issues the sport faces. And there is no issue bigger than judging.
Big John McCarthy has been around since the early days of the sport, all the way back to the beginning, in fact, he's partly responsible for the judging criteria that were initially put in place. Now he's come out against the way fights are judged and calls for some much needed change. From an interview he did with MMA Canada and via Fighters Only:
"The judging standards for MMA now are the same ones that Jeff Blatnick and I put in place before UFC 22. Well, the sport’s evolved a lot and even back then when we put that in, we had put certain things that they had to take out because it was a lot of political pressure against the sport at the time and the owner of it, one of the things we had was damage. The amount of damage one fighter does to another was an important aspect of it and he absolutely took it out, he said I can’t do that, we have enough problems, do you want me to in writing say that what one of the things judges are looking for is damage?"
"So, there’s things that need to come about. There needs to be a change… But it can’t be just damage, and a lot of times when we talk about damage, people get the idea of the way a guy is lumped up or something like that. Well, that means striking and there has to be also the damage of what submissions do, because with MMA there’s so many elements to it."
"We don’t want to be telling the fighter how they have to fight. That would wreck the sport and it’s wrong and it’s what a lot of judges are actually kinda doing by the way they’re judging the fights now, they’re not giving credit to certain things. They’re giving a lot of credits for takedowns when the takedown doesn’t lead to anything or they’re giving credit to a guy who’s punching but is actually having to defend most of the time to a guy who’s doing submission. So the big thing is we need to hone things in and make it to where the fighters know exactly what they need to do in the fight and the judges know exactly what the fighters should be doing."
One of the things that makes this so bad is the fact that, at least in my estimation, some of the best fights in the history of the sport have gone to decision. In fact, what is widely regarded as the most important fight in UFC history went to decision and a controversial one at that. Every single time I watch that Griffin-Bonnar fight I score it 29-28 Bonnar, as opposed to the credited winner, Griffin. Think of how many great fights, in big situations, have gone to decision. Quinton Jackson vs Forrest Griffin for the Light Heavyweight title at UFC 86. Rich Franklin vs Dan Henderson at UFC 93. Chuck Liddell vs Keith Jardine at UFC 76. Frankie Edgar vs B.J. Penn for the Lightweight title at UFC 112. All amazing fights that went to decision with varying levels of controversy. No matter how much water cooler talk it may generate the next day, bad decisions and poor judging are detrimental to the sport as a whole.
The sooner the powers that be find a better way to judge, or at least a more universally accepted method, is the sooner the sport continues in the direction it started 5 years ago; on a collision course with mainstream acceptance. I don't have the answers and maybe John McCarthy doesn't either. Hell, maybe no one does. But someone has to try because the current system in place is unacceptable.