Judging the Act of Judging

It seems like the concept of judging in MMA has become quite the hot topic. I think we’ve seen some problems from judging manifest themselves. Even certain (WINNING) fighters have criticized judging immediately after the fight. (See Josh Thomson)

I thought we’d take a look at the Nevada State Athletic Commission application for judges. To see the full application, click here.

Now, as you can see $50, a printer and 2 pictures of yourself will get you a license as a judge in the state of Nevada. I’m not sure if there is an application process beyond this, but it’s pretty much a pulse-check. They ask if you’re a felon, past disciplinary actions and financial interest in any fighters.

The lack of a few questions bother me. Previous experience? Emotional interest?

Previous experience-So I, Justin Ruff, could pay my $50 and be licensed to judge an MMA fight in Nevada. What experience do I have in MMA? I used to watch it with my dad. Now I watch it with my wife (and by “with my wife,” I mean while she sleeps) and talk about it with my cousin and other people I’ve met on Twitter. I’ve never stepped in the octagon. I never trained to become a fighter. (Though I did contact my local BJJ instructor once.) So would that make me qualified to be a judge? There is no right answer, but it is a philosophical aspect that should be considered.

I “score” the fights I’m watching on Twitter for the fun of it. It’s fun and it’s just one person’s opinion. I never claim to be official or know what I’m talking about. But the ramifications of somebody stepping in to a official judge’s chair in MMA with no real understanding of the sport is alarming.

Emotional interest-This past Saturday, I watched Josh Thomson beat Gesias Cavalcante. Again, I am not an unequalled expert on MMA, but regardless of how you saw the fight, there is no way Thomson won all three rounds. Yet one of the judges gave Thomson all three rounds. After the fight, being interviewed, Thomson (in very classy move) said there was no way that he won all three rounds and the judges needed a clinic (my paraphrase; no direct quote intended).

You see, there’s something ironic about this fight. Josh Thomson is from San Jose, California. This fight took place in-wait for it-San Jose, California against a Brazilian fighter from Rio de Janeiro. Now I am NOT implying any impropriety in this situation on the part of Thomson or the judge or anybody else in this sport. But if a fighter fights in a hometown, they really need to think about a judge’s ability to be impartial. When Joey Crawford referees a Sixers game, is he impartial? (We already know he has a problem with Tim Duncan.) What about a basebal umpire from Boston? You mean to tell me there’s going to be no favoritism for Red Sox-Yankees games? You going to tell me that a Cuban boxer is going to get the same fair shake from a Detroit crowd as the guy from Detroit?

If there was a thought that a judge had a personal bias against a certain lawyer in a criminal case, the judge would be removed. I’m thinking about the ability for an MMA judge to be impartial when faced with the “hometown guy,” and I just don’t see how they can do it.

Is the system perfect? Obviously not. Do I have a better choice than judges? Probably not. Maybe we need to examine who is chosen for judging with more scrutiny. Or maybe we have an independent audit of the judging. Maybe we make them support their answer.

One of the phrases Dana White nails into everybody’s heads is “Never leave it in the hands of the judges.” I know it’s not always easy to knockout your opponent or submit them, but that seems to be the number one way to not get screwed by the judges. It never rings more true than a night where Michael Bisping fights in England or a Shamrock in San Jose or Brock Lesnar in Minnesota. Let’s see what we can do to change this sport for the better.

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