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By: Jason Amadi, MMATorch Columnist
This past weekend's UFC 131 event made it painfully obvious that mixed martial arts athletes just can't rely on judges for an equitable decision. By this point, most people should have already come to the realization that athletic commissions clearing house and installing judges who never make mistakes is simply a pipe dream.
If anything, UFC 131 should have put an end to the hope that ex-fighters equipped with monitors would one day descend from the heavens and hand out the scorecards that the mixed martial arts world has been waiting for. Dave Hagen, Bill Mahood, and Jason Darrah are three former fighters who screwed Michihiro Omigawa out of a victory, and if not for the UFC awarding him his win bonus anyway, would have cost him thousands of dollars in the process.
The unfortunate reality is that there isn't a permanent fix for MMA's judging woes, but the best possible solution would probably be open scoring. Other than the suspense of seeing if a judge is going to screw a fighter or not, there is no real reason for a fighter not to be apprised of official scorecards heading into the second, third, fourth, and fifth rounds. In fact, withholding faulty scorecards is the only thing preventing the fighter from doing anything about it. The fact is, you can't effectively strategize for a comeback if you don't know you're behind.
In every other, dare I say, "real sport," athletes are aware of the score for the entirety of the contest. What logical reason is there for keeping fighters in the dark about scores that have already been officially rendered and already count against them? After all, the average mixed martial arts contest is only three rounds and most scorecards are either 30-27 or 29-28, so it isn't as if fighters can't already build up a 2-0 lead and then coast.
Think of how many fights would have had different outcomes if the fighters were aware that their method of attack wasn't scoring big points with the judges. What if Mauricio "Shogun" Rua were made aware that his leg kick heavy offense wasn't scoring him too many points with Cecil Peoples? What if Lyoto Machida had been aware that he dropped the first and second rounds to Quinton Jackson? What if any of Joe Warren's opponents knew they pretty much needed a stoppage because judges don't score against Joe Warren?
Another problem that open scoring would solve is judge anonymity. Judges' names are only read before a fight and then when entire scorecards are announced at the very end. If the general audience actually was aware that Dave Hagen had his eyes closed for the first round of virtually every fight he scored at UFC 131, then they would be able to point their vitriol in his direction and not blame nameless, faceless, "judges." Perhaps if the athletic commissions got enough emails about particularly incompetent judges, they would be more likely to have less tolerance for inexcusable scorecards.
Historically, the biggest argument against open scoring is that it takes away the "excitement" from the scores being read at the end of the fight. To those people I simply say, get over it. Mixed martial arts is either a sport or it isn't; it's either an athletic competition or it is not. You simply can't argue that mixed martial arts athletes deserve fair, equitable decisions and but also maintain that they should go blindly into each round not knowing how effectively their style is scoring.
I don't really need to pontificate whether or not MMA is a sport – I know it is. But how many "real sports" don't have scoreboards? How many "real sports" keep the scores a secret until the end just for kicks? I know MMA is a sport, but it would be nice if it started to act like one.
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Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
STAFF COLUMNISTS: Shawn Ennis - Jason Amadi
Frank Hyden - Rich Hansen
Chris Park - Matt Pelkey
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