Let's just start by making one thing perfectly clear. Judges are human beings and human beings are inherently flawed. That, combined with the subjective nature of the criteria currently in place, and there will always -- and I mean always -- be problems with judging in mixed martial arts competition.
The debate usually comes and goes and the whispers for change typically only turn into screams when the majority of fans and media feel the necessary outrage at a particular decision.
However, with the increasing amount of seemingly indefensible outcomes in closely contested and deeply meaningful bouts, the issue is getting more and more attention.
For a recent example, let's look at Urijah Faber and his situation.
"The California Kid" fought Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz in the main event of UFC 132 just this past Saturday, July 2, 2011, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It was a tight contest, with Cruz utilizing his usual high volume stick-and-move style, while Faber countered with his unorthodox striking that seemed to land with far more power.
By the time all was said and done after five rounds and 25 minutes of action, there was debate as to who the judges would award the decision to. Faber felt as though he did enough to win the fight, as did I, but the cage-side judges disagreed and Cruz retained his title.
In fact, one judge scored all five rounds in favor of the champion.
How could this be? Naturally, Faber could not give a total and complete assessment of the fight until he could view it as an outsider instead of a participant. Once he did so, he backed off a bit and understood why Cruz was awarded the decision but he's also pondering bigger things thanks to his loss.
Like a complete overhaul of his fighting style.
Here's what Faber had to say to Bruce Buffer on his radio show (transcription via Fight Opinion):
"I felt like I won right after the fight, that was my initial feeling. I think that's because I didn't really get hurt in the fight and I feel like I hurt him a couple of times. But you can't really complain about a close fight, you know, it's up to discretion and although it feels like most people don't really, most people... don't really, uhhh... don't really know what the judges are talking about. I mean, it feels like these days the MMA judges are so off the rocker, like you don't really know what you're trying to do out there, you know. It'd be great if we had like some consistency but Dominick fought a good fight, I fought a good fight, I tried to go for the finish, I don't really think about decisions very much and I think I need to start being a little more cognizant of that, you know. I definitely feel like I could have been more of a person that put on the appearance of winning the fight rather than trying to finish the fight and I think that was the difference."
Nobody's heart should be bleeding for Urijah Faber not winning his fight against Dominick Cruz.
That said, it would be a damn shame if he decided to change his tactics to account for some sort of phantom criteria for scoring. Especially when no one judge seems to agree with another on the proper way to decide a winner in each round.
Now imagine the wider implications here. Faber isn't even a victim of a poor decision and he's debating whether or not to switch up what he's doing to "make it look like" he's winning as opposed to naturally attacking with his usual determination to finish.
There's not a shadow of a doubt a fair amount of his fellow fighters will consider doing the same.
What will we be left with then? Point fighters that take no risk? Tactical chess matches in lieu of the slobberknockers we all know and (usually) love? Some of the greatest fights of all time have ended in decision but do we really want to increase the involvement of the sometimes incompetent judges?
No, I think it's safe to say, we do not. You know who else doesn't? B.J. Penn. But he's gone one step further and come up with a creative solution of his own.
"Get rid of the belts, get rid of the judges, first thing, right off the bat. Any fight that goes to a decision should just be an automatic draw. You get rid of the judges, get rid of the belts. The only way you can win a fight is by finishing your guy, the only way you can lose is by getting finished. You put all the guys with the most draws on the bottom of the pay scale. You put all the guys with the most wins and least losses and least draws at the top of the pay scale and you fit it down the middle accordingly. No one will want to go to decision, no one will try to fight for points because you can't win unless you finish the guy and then we really find out who the best is."
A bit radical but it has potential, no?
His notion that any fight that goes to decision ends in a draw is simply there because of time constraints. Obviously, time limits must remain in place.
His theory, of course, is that fighters will no longer do what Faber alluded to Cruz doing in their main event showdown -- they'll fight to win instead of fighting not to lose.
"The Prodigy" also believes UFC President Dana White and company can help things along by structuring each division with a pay scale that is totally and completely dependent upon wins and losses but also, most importantly, finishes.
Let's just ignore his idea to get rid of the belts because, let's face it, that's just ludicrous.
Is there any real merit to his thoughts? After all, if it helps to avoid controversy with potentially unqualified judges deciding the fate of men who don't make a lot of money to begin with, then it should be a smashing success, right?
The judges, unfortunately, are a necessary evil. They aren't going away ... ever. It's fun to imagine a world with Penn's rules but wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up first.
What is actually necessary to fix the issues plaguing MMA judging is up for debate. Ask three people how to fix the problem and you'll likely get three different solutions and that's precisely the conundrum at play here.
Fighters shouldn't have to finish a fight to ensure victory. They shouldn't need to worry about "leaving it in the hands of the judges." It's not outrageous to think that judges should be able to adequately execute their task with proper knowledge and implementation.
But we should all also understand that room must be made for human error, as there will inevitably be plenty to go around.
Should Faber change his fighting style? Is Penn spending too much time in the Hawaiian sun? Is there a viable solution to judging in MMA?
You tell me, Maniacs.