Is it time for change in MMA scoring?Posted on March 19, 2013, 12:13 PM by Mike Drahota
Recently everyone from fans to fighters to UFC President Dana White has expressed issues with the current MMA scoring system in place. While it’s true that many bouts have been controversial at decision time, not all have been scored on an extremely consistent basis. That seems to show each fight is subject to the preferences of the judges in place.
One instance that comes to mind recently is the Johny Hendricks vs. Carlos Condit bout at UFC 158. While many think it was the best fight of 2013 so far, many others disagreed upon the outcome, which had Johny Hendricks winning by unanimous decision.
Hendricks may have won the fight on the strength of his wrestling, taking Condit down an alarming 12 times. But there’s a different side of the tale, as Condit was effectively getting back to his feet after many of them. He was also, as Joe Rogan noted during the fight, seeming to do more damage from the bottom than Hendricks was inflicting from the top.
Which brings us to the debate at hand. Is wrestling being scored altogether too highly in MMA? Sure, Octagon control and aggressiveness are two of the main criteria used to judge fights, but are takedowns being used just to score points rather than finish a fight? It could be argued in some cases they are. When a fighter gets a takedown but does next to nothing with it, some judges may give this a bit too much importance.
I’m not saying Johny Hendricks was doing that, because he was fighting all-out the whole time. He won and absolutely deserves the next title shot. Condit is just simply that good to be able to get up quickly and also not get knocked out on the feet. If damage is heavily weighed, which I think it should be, takedowns could take a backseat.
Take the controversial lightweight title fight between Benson Henderson and Frankie Edgar last year. While Henderson landed a good amount of leg kicks, I thought it was Edgar who was more active with his boxing. He also won out in the wrestling area. Although Edgar lost again, I think this is an instance where wrestling, in a close fight, could have actually been justified as a deciding factor like it was for Johny Hendricks last Saturday.
That brings us to UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre, who although ultimately well-rounded in wrestling, submissions, and striking, has largely used his wrestling in his recent string of dominant decision victories. While he is no doubt one of the world’s finest martial artists, perhaps taking second only to Anderson Silva, fans and media have begun to grow tired of his predictable gameplans.
GSP is one of the best, that’s not on trial. But his mindset seemed to changed that night he was knocked out by Matt Serra in one of the sport’s biggest upsets ever. He went from an unpredictable finisher to a wrestler who used top control to grind you out. At this point, I think opponents know what’s coming. They just can’t stop it. I understand the point of view that believes GSP’s fights to be so hyped that another decision is simply not enough. But it is called ‘Mixed’ Martial Arts, so the debate is a back-and-forth one.
Perhaps the UFC is noticing this too, as GSP actually fell a spot in the rankings after thoroughly defeating Nick Diaz at UFC 158. Jon Jones, an avid finisher of bouts, took his place. And Jon Fitch got cut due to his largely unentertaining style (although not officially). It’s no secret that Dana White wants fighters who ‘bring it’ every time out, not boring lay-and-prayers.
Overall it’s up to the athletic commission’s judges to decide what is and is not valued in terms of MMA scoring. However, in a sport where you could lose your job at any time, more fighters may utilize that safety blanket of wrestling rather than risking a finish only to lose. That could be a double-edged sword that gets you cut faster than a loss as well.
So is there a huge need for scoring changes in MMA? I would say there is a need for more specific, situational-based judging. Take into account the actual bearing that the takedowns have on the fight, not just the takedowns themselves. Focus on damage done and intent to finish a fight. Striking may be more exciting, but it can be used to keep opponents at bay as well. There are so many fighters in the UFC now that there’s such a small margin of error for young prospects.
Ultimately, you still can’t play it safe and win the favor of the fans and Dana White. There is definitely a need for more overall consistency in judging. Either way, scoring in MMA has gotten a bit confusing. Do you think there is a need for overarching change? And if so, how would you implement it?