Objectivity in Scoring

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We found ourselves involved in some pretty heated debates in the days following UFC 157, a lot of it regarding the scoring of the Dan Henderson-Lyoto Machida fight and to a lesser degree, the Dennis Bermudez-Matt Grice fight (which I scored 29-28 Grice, but on reviewing could have accepted the same score either way or a draw) and it got me to thinking that so much of how people tend to score fights tends to swing in the direction of who they wanted to win before the fight started, or who they thought SHOULD win thanks to in built preferences of style.

Often, fans (and I’d assume judges) go into bouts with a preferred fighter and subconsciously or not, tend to look to score that fighter more favourably than the other, convincing themselves that their strikes were more significant, their grappling more effective and their command of the fighting area greater even if they were objectively equal.

Even without a pre-existing preference, it’s a truism that fans (more than judges) tend to favour ‘aggression’ over things like effective striking and grappling with the idea that someone who is moving forward and swinging big should be winning as the other guy is ‘running away.’

This isn’t necessarily true. Fights should be scored on these elements, in this order – EFFECTIVE striking, EFFECTIVE grappling, fighting area control and lastly EFFECTIVE aggression and defence.

The key word through most of that (which is why it is capitalised) is EFFECTIVE.

Basically, you can move forward, throw as many punches, attempt as many takedowns as you like and generally be ‘on the front foot’ but if you aren’t landing or securing them, then none of it is really effective, and as such DOESN’T SCORE.

Some fighters adopt a defensive striking game, which generally comes across poorly to casual fans (and Dana White) as they think it’s a wussy approach. This is untrue, and it’s a perfectly legitimate tactic, whereby if you can land counter strikes and jabs while evading you’re more aggressive opponents wilder swings, then you’re striking is more effective and wins you the round.

Of course, this approach isn’t without it’s risks as you’re unlikely to ever earn a 10-8 round and KOs are less likely unless you’re opponent all but runs into you’re counter striking (see Forrest Griffin against Anderson Silva and Rashad Evans against Lyoto Machida) and it doesn’t make promoters too keen to offer you title shots (it’s telling that Lyoto Machida only received his first UFC title shot after his stunning KO of Thiago Silva, despite being 5-0 in the promotion prior to that and with career wins over Stephan Bonnar, Rich Franklin, BJ Penn and Tito Ortiz.)

In order for counter striking to work, your reactions and movement must be superior to your opponents, so it’s not something that a technically unskilled or mentally weak fighter could adopt with any real hope of success. Thus, if you manage to evade your opponent’s more aggressive wild swings and tag them occasionally, then you deserve to win the round, even though you’ve been on the back foot.

Kumite’s own @RossStevenson watched the match that caused this discussion, again and his scoring notes for UFC 157’s Henderson vs. Machida bout are as follows…

Rd. 1 – 10-9 Machida – Pretty even up until the TD at the end which was the difference. Effective grappling scores above aggression, Machida takes the round

Rd. 2 – 10-9 Machida – Very Close round but Machida landed some counter punches, knee’s and kicks while Dan was swinging at mid air and only landed a few soft kicks.

Rd. 3 – 10-9 Hendo – Striking again fairly even but Dan got the takedown which was the difference in this round.

Result: 29-28 Machida

So, viewed objectively Machida’s evasive tactics stopped Henderson from scoring an advantage in grappling or striking in the first two rounds. Machida then steals the rounds with a takedown and good striking display, while Hendo shows how fine a line that strategy is by taking the final frame.

I’ve spent longer than I wanted discussing one match, but the point is that a lot of people favour aggression and evidently hunting for a knockout over things like movement, the actual number of strikes landed and who is actually getting their own way. This is wrong.

Similarly, a lot of folk wanted Henderson – as the knockout toting American hero, fresh(ish) off a Match of the Year performance and one of the more interesting challenges left for Jon Jones – to win, and that influenced their perception of the match.

Judges need to be above that.

Judges need to remain objective. They need to have the knowledge of MIXED martial arts to properly score the action taking place in different areas and account for different tactics, rather than blindly favouring boxing or wrestling because that is what they are most familiar with or reckless aggression because the promoters like a slugfest. They need to remain apart from national loyalties, the effect of the crowd and even personal prejudice as to style or fighter character.

When I score fights, there’s usually how I’d score as a fan, favouring the disciplines and fighters I like and how I’d score as a judge

One is not like the other, and the folks who have fighters careers in their hands need to remove their own emotion from the process and score by the letter and law of the rules.

They always say, don’t let it go to the judges and so long as many judges clearly fail to keep their objectivity, that remains good advice.

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