In the aftermath of the controversial Lawler/Condit decision in UFC 195, there has been a renewed debate about the viability of the 10-Point Must Scoring System used in boxing and MMA. It’s essential to acknowledge that all scoring systems are flawed, not necessarily because the system is wanting, but because human judges are ultimately responsible for the outcomes. There is currently no fixed, objective mechanism to accomplish a score strictly based upon a fighter’s “measurable performance.”
In the 10-Point Must System the judges must give the winner of each round ten points, with the loser receiving whatever the judges determine is appropriate. The vast majority of rounds in both boxing and MMA are scored 10-9. In boxing, however, when any part of a combatant’s body - except the soles of their shoes - touches the canvas as a result of a punch, that fighter receives a one-point deduction. Since MMA does not score knockdowns, takedowns, clinches, grappling, and ground control in quite the same way, the determinations of the judges become much more subjective. It’s this subjectivity that results in some of the most catastrophic decisions.
As far as boxing is concerned, I’ve always preferred the Five-Point Must System. Rounds are rarely scored more than three points apart, and there are never ten degrees of separation between ring performances. If a fight is so unbalanced that it moves into the realm of 10-6, or lower, it’s usually stopped, even if the three-knockdown rule has been waived.
In MMA there are multiple ways to win, so there should be additional criteria for gaining or losing points. Thus, MMA would actually seem to be better adapted to a ten-point system, or even higher. But it’s how those points are deducted or attributed that makes the difference. Takedowns and knockdowns could be scored more as they are in boxing, with a one-point deduction for each. Fighters could retain points by controlling clinches and maintaining dominant positions on the ground, allowing a powerful ground game to be equally reflected in the scores. Again, it’s not only the scoring system that’s deficient, it’s the judges’ inability to discern and numerically characterize the dominance of one fighter over another in a manner that’s consistent and free of subjectivity.
Veteran referee Arthur Mercanti, Sr., was one of the most influential forces in clarifying the criteria used to judge boxing matches. He was a product of the days when referees also acted as judges. A ref’s proximity to the fight, and the ability to view it from different angles brought some of the best scoring boxing has known.
Mercanti and his contemporaries defined precisely what should be considered when scoring a fight. There are essentially four categories: punches landed, effective aggressiveness, defense, and ring generalship. MMA shares these considerations.
From a judge’s perspective, every fight should be broken into one-minute segments. In MMA, that means five one-minute blocks to be scored individually. If one fighter prevails in a majority of those segments, he wins the round.
Example: if Fighter A is dominant in 3 minutes and 30 seconds of a round, he must be awarded the round, regardless of Fighter B’s dominance in the remaining 90 seconds - unless such dominance includes knockdowns or takedowns sufficient to offset the other fighter’s score. However, what may be perceived as “harder punches” by Fighter B cannot, by themselves, override Fighter A’s 3 minutes and 30 seconds of dominance. This egregious misconception about the power of delivered punches - evident in both judging and fight commentary - can be accurately blamed for some of the worst decisions in combat sports.
Giving a fighter an advantage because his punches are perceived to be harder cannot be justified. Nobody except the participants can determine the power of a punch unless it results in a knockdown or knockout, or if one of the fighters is obviously stunned. The technology does not currently exist to place sensors on the contestants to scientifically measure the foot-pounds of energy generated by punches. Therefore, this subjective evaluation should be banished from combat sports, and judges who employ it should be drummed out of the fight game. If we are ever to have a fair, more scientific scoring system, Old School thinking must be discarded. The resistance will be enormous, but it must be accomplished, nonetheless.
This is where technology comes into play. Judges should have access to instant replay video and punch statistics before making a final determination. After all, they are only viewing the fight from one angle. While such a practice might delay decisions, it would go a long way toward more equitable conclusions. Photo finishes decide horse races and instant replays change the outcomes of football games. We use technology in every aspect of our lives to help us make better-informed decisions. It’s time to bring that technology into combat sports as well.
Other essays and articles by Charles Long
can be found in the boxing and MMA
sections of Convicted Artist. He is the author
of “Adventures in the Scream Trade - Scenes
from an Operatic Life,” available from
Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
"Adventures in the Scream Trade - Scenes
from an Operatic Life" available for preview