Photo by Esther Lin for MMAFighting.com
30-27 for Melvin Guillard? Seriously? UFC President Dana White, along with most mixed martial arts (MMA) fans who watched UFC 155 last night (Dec. 29, 2012) in Las Vegas, Nevada, were puzzled more than once when the judges scores were revealed post-fight.
Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) administers drug tests to all the fighters who compete within its jurisdiction. After seeing Adalaide Byrd's 30-27 scorecard in favor of Melvin Guillard at UFC 155 last night (Dec. 29, 2012), it ought to start drug-testing judges, too.
After officially divorcing boxing for good a few years ago -- for reasons too numerous to elucidate here -- one of the bigger reasons was inept clown like Byrd, whose body of work in that sport makes it a real head-scratcher as to why she's been allowed to infect mixed martial arts (MMA).
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White kept it loveably real at the post-card presser.
"The fight capital of the world. 30-27 Guillard? It's unacceptable. It's a joke. It's literally a joke," White said. "Seriously, the athletic commission must want to dig a fuckin' hole and bury themselves when someone says 30-27 Guillard."
Love him or hate him, White's often-colorful tirades offer up the kind of point-blank honesty fans wish more people in his position would deliver.
When MMA happens in bush-league states without a competent athletic commission, we all brace ourselves for the expectable torrent of bad officiating. I just pretend it's 1999 and the sport really hasn't taken root, that officials will be inept/incompetent to varying degrees given their limited understanding of the sport, and hope for the best.
Mainly, clear-cut knockouts and submissions that leave no doubt.
But, when crappy officiating casts a shadow over an entire event because of multiple bouts being affected by it, in Nevada, no less, it's apparent that the cancer that destroyed boxing for many of us has metastasized over to MMA, despite that state having no excuses. It isn't like Nevada doesn't have a history of holding MMA events or no clue on how to train people to work fights, whether as refs or judges.
Which brings us to the numerous problems UFC 155 had in that otherwise-reliable bastion of officiating (as much as any state can be, as it's all relative). In short, let us start with Byrd, a lifelong boxing hack with a grim litany of terrible decisions in that sport, whose ridiculous scorecard had Guillard winning all three rounds of a bout where the other two judges had Varner sweeping it unanimously (and correctly so).
Obviously, her qualifications to judge MMA are at the same level as boxing -- she's eminently incapable of judging either, in a reverse-perfection kind of way. The only assignment Byrd should be given is to judge a fight, at which point a real judge will score each round the opposite of how she scores it, in which case she would serve a vaguely meritable purpose.
Let's be blunt: state commissions are inherently political, rife with appointees, political hacks, and those whose connections to "The Right People" often overshadow their competence in actually doing the duties assigned them. Las Vegas is certainly not immune to this, and in lesser states -- where the fight game is largely an afterthought to the political bosses who make such appointments -- people running commissions often have little to no experience whatsoever required to do the job. That kind of ineptitude percolates downward, with the blind leading the blind. Yet Vegas has allowed Byrd to sit cageside at bouts, and that is a serious cause for concern -- people like her did a lot to make boxing the joke that it is today (I give you Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley, in case you forgot).
That is the only explanation I can give for Byrd being allowed to judge fights. Fortunately, her cluelessness was outweighed by the other two judges, who rightfully gave Varner the nod in a bout he obviously won.
In case you need a refresher, here's a look at Byrd's scorecards in the past from both sports:
- 95-95 for Kelly Pavlik-Alfonso Lopez. The other two judges had Pavlik winning 99-91 and 98-92.
- 29-28 for Marcus Aurelio over Clay Guida. The other judges had Guida winning 30-27.
- 30-27 for Juan Carlos Rocha over Jake Ellenberger. The other two judges had Ellenberger winning 29-28.
And on and on and on.
Let's end this here. I don't care who Byrd knows, who she's connected to (her husband is boxing official Robert Byrd), what drowning babies she's saved, or what compromising photos she may well be in possession of with prominent Nevada officials doing unsavory things with small children or animals (or both). She needs to go. It's obvious she's never going to understand combat sports, and the Nevada commission has done nothing to incentivize her to improve upon such a dismal record.
It didn't end there, either. Ref Chris Tognoni, a new face on the big-time Nevada fight scene, demonstrated complete cluelessness of the grappling game with a pair of senseless restarts of Yushin Okami while he was in side control atop Alan Belcher. After one restart, Belcher drilled Okami. And it's a good thing that he didn't knockout Okami there, as it would've stunk as badly as the restart where Roy Nelson got screwed against Andrei Arlovski in an identical situation.
Restarts have a function in MMA, which is to ensure consistency of action instead of a guy just sitting there riding out the clock. And given Okami's style, a restart from side control basically robs him his entire gameplan. I have no idea how Tognoni slipped into the elite ranks of Nevada refs, but he needs more training. Those restarts were completely unwarranted and seemingly a knee-jerk reaction to a ref, either panicking because the crowd was getting bored, or something unquantifiable, because Okami hadn't even been in either position for that long.
To close this piece, we can also wonder at how the hell Mark Smith was allowed to judge this card. Not only did he score Eddie Wineland vs. Brad Pickett 29-28 for Pickett (the other two officials correctly tabbed it 30-27 for Wineland), he also gave Leonard Garcia the same score against Max Holloway, where the other judges gave Holloway a 29-28 victory.
Apparently, Smith is giving points to guys like Pickett and Garcia for wading forward and getting beaten up.
And let's be clear: judges have bad days. I know this all too well myself. Having acted as an unofficial scorer for ESPN's boxing page, I'm well familiar with the perils of a snap decision to judge a round with less than one minute to decide, and no changing it afterward. But over the long haul, fundamental perceptions endure. And Nevada's judging problem reinforces the fact that it doesn't seem particularly interested in keeping the best people in place for a job where careers and livelihoods hang in the balance.
The good note on all three counts is that inept officiating didn't affect the outcomes of the fights. At least this time.
Until the demon's head arises -- and you know it will again, and soon -- Nevada has its work cut out for it to ensure its state commission doesn't sink back to bush-league status.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst