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CSAC Executive Officer open letter for change: 'Judging system used to score MMA requires evolution'

Andy Foster, Executive Officer California State Athletic Commission (CSAC), is calling for mixed martial arts (MMA) judging change in the wake of high-profile, controversial decisions in the main events of UFC 165 and 167, among others. Below is his un-edited open letter, which he shared with's C.J. Tuttle earlier this evening.

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sp

There are times when reasonable people disagree over who won a particular fight. But there are, in Mixed Martial Arts, too many times when it is clear that who "won" the fight is different than what the score reflects.

The judging system used to score Mixed Martial Arts needs to evolve into something better.

The 10-9 system, developed and used in boxing, is not performing adequately in mixed martial arts. Why? The 10-9 must system used in boxing and MMA scores each round independently. Professional boxing is scheduled in even increments of 4, 6, 8, 10, or 12 (championship) rounds. Professional Mixed Martial Arts is scheduled in odd increments of 3 or 5 (championship) rounds.

In addition, MMA rounds are 5 minutes in duration, where boxing is only 3 minutes. The less number of rounds and increased duration per round in mixed martial arts creates a situation where a judge is required to score an individual round taking into account significantly more information that yields a much heavier weighted effect on the overall result of the fight.

For example, like we have recently seen, one competitor can win two rounds with a much larger margin, and the judges see the other competitor winning the other three rounds at a very close margin. The result is the winner on the scorecards is not the winner of the actual fight.

Again, I ask why?

A major reason is the lack of objectivity in scorning a 10-8 round in MMA. In boxing, 2 points are deducted (almost always) for a knockdown, and the judges in boxing are informed by the referee if the knockdown occurs. The boxing referee rules either a slip or knockdown, letting the judges know whether to deduct the 2 points.

No such objective criterion exists in MMA (nor should there be).

MMA is much more dynamic with literally geometrically increasing ways to "effectively strike" and "effectively grapple". This lack of an objective measure of a 10-8 round in mixed martial arts has contributed to the "incorrect" decisions in the sport and the hesitation of a judge to write down 10-8 as the score.

Also troubling is the lack of an objective criteria for a 10-8 round creates an environment where it is possible that one judge scores a fight 10-8, the other two 10-9, and the end result on the final scorecard can create absurd or even bizarre results. The very nature of judging, if performed by trained and educated judges, is appropriately subjective, however, requiring judges to subjectively assess a 10-8 round based upon "effective striking" and "effective grappling" without a clear objective indicator like in boxing is unfair to the judge but more importantly it is unfair to the athlete being assessed.

We can and must do better.

There are probably hundreds of good ideas on how to fix this, and I don’t claim to have a monopoly on them, but one thought might be that the 10-9 system is still used, but it is not the "official" determinator of who won the fight. The judge could score each round independently using the 10-9 system just as the unified rules of mixed martial arts requires, however, at the end of the fight the official judges score card would not be numerical, but rather a question "Who won the fight?"

This final official scorecard would allow the judges to take the entire fight into consideration and, with trained and educated judges, should create the correct result at a higher percentage than is currently realized. Using the 10-9 system in an unofficial capacity would allow regulators and members of the media to continually monitor the judges selected to ensure that these judges are competent and scoring "correctly" using the numerical 10-9 system.

This system would be a merger between the pre regulation past of scoring the entire fight in totality and the commission regulated present of using a boxing system to score mixed martial arts. Mixed Martial Artists train very hard, make many sacrifices, and take risks to their personal health and safety when competeing.

It is disturbing when a fighter who clearly has performed better than his opponent loses because of a flawed scoring system. It is essential that state athletic commissions select the MOST qualified officials available and provide a system of scoring that produces the correct result.

Without selecting the most qualified officials available, officials who have an almost expert knowledge of striking and grappling arts, any scoring system will fail. I am publicly requesting that the Association of Boxing Commission’s mixed martial arts judging committee call a public meeting so we can begin dialogue about making sensible changes to the judging system used to score mixed martial arts.

This meeting should include all the stakeholders – regulators, promoters, athletes, media, and members of the public. The market is demanding improvements, and if we don’t produce them, the sport will suffer. They want to know "Who won the fight?"

And we need to be able to tell them.

-- Andy Foster
Executive Officer California State Athletic Commission (CSAC)

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