MMA Judging: You Know Less Than You Think — An Introduction

Following on from UFC 204 at the weekend the controversy around MMA judges decisions has erupted once more. This time regarding the main event between Michael Bisping and Dan Henderson. Far be it from me to appoint myself judge (no pun intended) and jury of the MMA fan base at large but it occurs to me that knowledgeable fans, analysts and EVEN FIGHTERS don’t seem to comprehend the actual judging criteria or methodology of a fight as a whole.

Don’t get me wrong, Dan Henderson put on a valiant performance in his title fight against Michael Bisping and easily won the first round with heavy counter punching, a knock down and ground and pound. However Michael Bisping easily edged him out over the following four rounds, particularly as Hendo began to tire. “What about the knockdown in round 2?” I hear you ask, well what about the fact that despite that Bisping outlanded him at a rate of more than 2:1? People so often focus on damage that they forget about the other facets of a fight including: Effective striking, grappling, aggression and Octagon control?

Each of these contributes to a portion of the 10 point must system and i doesn’t mean exactly what everyone seems to think. Progressing a fight towards it’s conclusion and imposing your game plan on someone are two ways of looking at it, but also maybe you’re doing less damage but significantly outlanding and not being there for return fire. This is also effective striking. The game isn’t rock’em sock’em robots, it’s how to land the most strikes while absorbing as little as possible. Footwork, pivots, head movement and even what people label as “running away” are elements of this as they allow a fighter to control the Octagon to their liking. Just look at Dominick Cruz, he’s dominant because you can’t catch him. GSP was a champion because he could control where the fight took place with his wrestling. Bisping being on his bike, and not being there to be hit is another example of winning rounds, as Jack Slack said, being able to put the pace that others can’t match is another tool in a fighter’s toolbox.

Finally, we’re no longer in the Pride FC era, fights are not judged as a whole piece, but in singular five minute segments. We do not look to judge who looks like the winner, as Johny Hendricks famously said after his 5 round classic with Georges St. Pierre, but how each round played out as an individual.

This is just a brief overview of the issues relating to MMA judging and I hope to branch out into a series focusing on some of the more important issues as my coach has recently completed and been certified as an IMMAF judge under Marc Goddard. In the future I’ll be addressing “stealing rounds” the Hendricks-GSP fight and many other parts that make up this crazy sport we love that make it whole.

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