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“Open Scoring System” Will Only Worsen MMA’s Judging Problems

“Open Scoring System” Will Only Worsen MMA’s Judging Problems

Want to know how to upset legions of fight fans?

Here’s how: have two of the biggest MMA bouts of the year end in unpopular decisions.

Jon Jones light heavyweight title defense over Alexander Gustafsson in September was a close affair which most fans judged in favor of the challenger Gustafsson, yet Jones would earn the decision victory and keep his belt. I’d argue it was a great performance by both, and too close to call a robbery, but many disagreed.

Earlier this month, UFC welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre found himself in a dogfight with Johny Hendricks, and again many observers felt the challenger had done enough to take home the belt. The judges disagreed and gave the decision to St-Pierre.

Fans are upset and looking for solutions. They’re tired of feeling one way at the final bell, then getting what they perceive as a shock at the end of a bout. They want justice in these, what were the biggest UFC fights of the year, along with Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos and Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman.

(Both of those two ended in decisive knockout victories, but only Silva vs. Weidman would end without controversy, as many argue Dos Santos took too much punishment and the bout should have ended been halted earlier than it was. That’s for another time, though.)

One of the proposed remedies to the frustration is an “open scoring system” where the judges’ scorecards are announced to the live audience after each completed round.

It sounds nice.

It’s a terrible idea though.

In practice, it’s a nightmare. It has been tested in the boxing world, and proven to create problems.

Boxing: Mayweather vs Alvarez-Weigh-in

Prior to his bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr in September, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez challenged Austin Trout for his WBO Super Welterweight title back in April. That evening would be many of our first experiences with “open scoring,” and it wasn’t a positive one. Alvarez amassed an early lead against Trout, perhaps an unfairly wide one, and coasted to victory. Fans were robbed of any drama that could have unfolded in the bout.

Today, Ben Fowlkes of MMAJunkie quoted Keith Kizer’s additional concerns about the measure. Don’t like hometown decisions? Kizer has concerns that an open judging system could influence further, with cascades of boo’s (or worse) convincing judges to turn in a scorecard which favors the more popular (and not necessarily the deserving) fighter.

Kizer proposes another situation: that unique situation where a fighter in combative sports is fouled and chooses not to continue, but can win the bout on the scorecards. Here’s where an open scoring system could cheat fans and fighters alike. A fighter announced as winning a back and forth bout who is hit by an accidental head butt (for example) will have all the more reason to claim s/he can’t continue. If it goes to the scorecards, that fighter will know that their victory is certain.

“Either he’s telling the truth, but, you know, you and I won’t believe him,” Kizer said. “Or he isn’t telling the truth, and he managed to keep the belt because he knew he was ahead on the scorecards.”

So many ways it can go wrong.

MMA judging could use improvement, sure. The way to do so is to better educate the judges on scoring criteria. It’s not to broadcast their decisions prior to the bouts conclusion.

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