The Association Of Boxing Commissions Makes some Big Changes to MMA Judging Criteria


“THE ABC IS CHANGING….oh…the MMA judging…No, no, that’s cool too…”

As some of you may know, I am working towards my master’s degree when I’m not writing for Cage Potato and currently preparing to defend my thesis. Because of this, I have been dragged into more semantics arguments than a person should ever admit to. I’ve had to defend every little “a” that could have been a “the” with Griffinesque tenacity – and I haven’t even defended the damn thing yet. Anyone who has ever attended graduate school can sympathize.

So when The Association Of Boxing Commissions (ABC) announced their newest revisions to the MMA Judging criteria at their annual conference, I read the document with skepticism. The fact that one of the new revisions removed the word “damage” from the scoring criteria partially so that opponents of MMA sanctioning can no longer point to the rulebook and say “LOOK, DAMAGING YOUR OPPONENT IS A RULE!” didn’t exactly help matters. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that some of the rule changes are actually pretty damn important.

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For starters, those of you who complain about guys backpedaling their ways to victory (I’m looking directly at you, Nick Diaz fans) will be happy to know that  ”effective defense” has been removed as a criterion for scoring a round. While Kalib Starnes would be pretty bummed about this one if he was still competing, I say good riddance. Honestly, I doubt many of you reading this even knew what “effective defense” meant in the first place. Frankly, I doubt anyone – judges included – agreed on whether it was more important than “aggression” when deciding which fighter won the round, or whether “effective defense” was part of “cage control” or not. It was far too open for debate to begin with, so taking it out of the rules should help judges make more consistent decisions.

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Most importantly, striking and grappling are now given equal weight. I think we can all agree that it’s about time for this one. In theory, this means no more decisions like Johnson vs. Torres where the guy on top wins the round, regardless of how many submission attempts he’s trying to defend against. In theory, this puts effective striking and effective grappling on the same level. In theory, this may be the most significant rule change since the implementation of weight classes.

There’s just one problem that I see:

Too obvious?

This criteria is still in the hands of judges who, let’s face it, don’t always know what they’re even looking for in the first place. Take Cecil Peoples’ infamous “Leg kicks don’t finish fights” monstrosity: How do any of these rule changes change the fact that a person who is allowed to judge our sport doesn’t consider a leg kick to be an effective strike? They don’t. While the rule changes are a welcomed improvement when in the hands of judges who know what they’re looking for, they’re still pretty meaningless in the hands of judges who simply aren’t qualified.

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In fairness though, the new revisions also clarify what constitutes effective striking, grappling, aggression and cage control. Likewise, the new revisions also tell judges how to score rounds as well (i.e. what warrants a 10-10 round; etc.), so perhaps we’ll start to see some more consistency in that department as well.

Time will tell how these rule changes actually affect the outcomes of fights, but there’s reason to be both optimistic and cynical as an MMA fan. The question now is, what side are you on?