Know the Score – Part Two – Effective Grappling

Last week we talked about the first element that MMA judges should be scoring a round by, Effective Striking. Assuming that there was no clear advantage to either competitor in the striking department OR that the round was mostly contested in a grappling environment* the judges would consider which fighter had the advantage in terms of Effective Grappling.

* – it’s worth remembering that strikes from a grappling position count just as much towards effective striking as strikes from a traditional boxing stance. Thereby, if a fighter gets a takedown from the bell and spends the whole round landing significant ground and pound strikes, then they actually win the round on account of the strikes first and foremost.

Again, the key word here is EFFECTIVE as having grappling control but actually being the defending or passive competitor shouldn’t win you the round. Effective grappling is defined as the successful execution of legal manoeuvres, including but not limited to takedowns from a standing position, passing guard to mount positions, (side control, full mount, back control, north-south, crucifix etc.) and also a threatening and active guard from a competitor on a bottom position.

What this means is that if one fighter gets a takedown and then holds his opponent down without advancing position or landing meaningful strikes, they should still win the round.

Of course, such ‘lay and pray’ tactics tend to not be popular with fans, and in my eyes are not in the spirit of the sport and if a top fighter is genuinely being inactive and playing safe (as attempting to advance position or throw strikes opens you to being swept or submission attempts) then the fight should be stood up and reset on the feet.

I’m inclined to think that a combination of ignorance on the part of striking and wrestling inclined judges and fans and a general inconsistency of refereeing has made this a bigger issue than it needs to be.

If casual fans and judges were more educated on what constitutes meaningful ground work and referees were more consistent in terms of stand ups, we wouldn’t hear half as many complaints about lay and pray tactics.

Of course, if a fighter is being passive and inactive and the referee chooses not to stand them up, the judge must score the round on the action presented and award the win to the fighter who got the takedown and secured top position…

…unless, that fighter then spent the rest of the round defending submissions from the bottom. In that case, while they did secure the takedown it can hardly count as effective grappling as they have been on the back foot (figuratively speaking) for the bulk of the round.

This does take us into a grey area, where one judge can see the takedown as the more effective grappling and one sees the active guard as the better example of effective grappling. Education as to the techniques of the multiple disciplines used in MMA is the only way this will improve.

The fact that some judges can’t seem tell to the difference between a BJJ guy pulling guard and him being taken down and then proceeding to score a round in favour of the guy in top position who is actually defending is a standout example.

A match between equally matched grapplers is rarely so clear cut as to one fighter getting top position and staying there and in the process of takedowns, reversals, sweeps, submission attempts, escapes and everything in between the position can be extremely fluid. In such a round, it’s incumbent on the judges to see who got their own way more often, which competitor was the initiator and which was the reactor and who came closer to dominant or potentially match ending positions.

However, in the event that a round has elapsed where the judge cannot award a fighter superiority in terms of effective striking or grappling, there are more criteria they can use and we’ll come back to them next week when we talk about ‘fighting area control’ and ‘effective aggression and defence.’

Between now and then, there are plenty exciting grapplers on this week’s UFC and Cage Warriors cards and I would definitely expect some great examples of effective grappling from Benson Henderson, Nate Diaz, Rory MacDonald, BJ Penn, Paul McVeigh and Wilson Reis this weekend.

Consider it homework…

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