Tomorrow’s a special day for the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) and its Executive Officer, Andy Foster. Mr. Foster recently invited media members from several outlets to effectively be a judge for a day at Bellator 136 – with the promotion’s approval, of course. We’ll sit cageside next to the licensed officials and score each fight. We’ll see what they see from the angle they see it, hear what they hear from the distance they hear it, all in an effort to advance the conversation on judging and improve the ability of those who write about scoring decisions to relate to the unique aspects of being a judge.
We’ll submit mock scorecards after each round, similar to a real official, and will be helped in this endeavor by Big John McCarthy who will lead a judging seminar before the event. Mr. Foster will also lead a short seminar on the current state of drug testing protocols and procedures in California.
A few short months ago, the CSAC had to deal with public blowback from what many called 2014’s “Robbery of the Year” in boxing – Oscar Escandon over Tyson Cave. Mr. Foster addressed the issue at the commission’s February meeting:
We as the commission and you as the officials hold the livelihood of these athletes in your hand…these fighters train for eight weeks, sometimes 10 weeks, sometimes even longer in camps, and we need you guys as the professional officials of this commission, the largest athletic commission in the United States, to train and put in the same dedication, put in the same effort, be in the gym, score on TV, do these types of things.
It’s clear that judging is on Mr. Foster’s mind. And with a 10-Point Must system and far fewer rounds to score, MMA could potentially be thought of as more susceptible to adverse judging decisions than boxing.
So what happens when people start poking and prodding around the world of judging? As the creator of a round-by-round judging algorithm, I expect skepticism and even hostility from those in the MMA industry who may not like the idea of a computer program scoring a fight. But my interactions with Mr. Foster have been quite different. I’ve found him to be accommodating and open-minded toward any idea he might be able to use as a tool to help evaluate and improve MMA judging. With that in mind, I asked Mr. Foster a few questions regarding tomorrow’s Media Day.
Why did you feel it was important to do an event like this for the media?
Training and transparency are positive and I think it is important for the California Commission to provide this to the media periodically.
Which aspects of being an MMA judge do the media perhaps not fully appreciate?
The angles that the judges sit at can alter a view of a fight. This truth is not fully appreciated until someone views a fight from a particular angle and then reviews the fight from the broadcast film. Also, the use of 10-10 and 10-8 scores for MMA-licensed judges sitting ringside is much more difficult to commit to than for the unofficial media scorekeepers. MMA licensed judges have a difficult time feeling comfortable scoring 10-10 and 10-8 (and for that matter 10-7), even if they are warranted. 10-9 is easy, and we are working hard to make sure that the judges are comfortable and educated so that they are properly scoring something other than 10-9 when it is warranted. When MMA fights are based on 30 points (or 50 for title fights), every point is incredibly important, with little room for error for the judge.
I think the media sometimes does not appreciate just how much pressure is on a judge and how hard they train to get the score correct.
For the record, I’ve entered thousands of official MMA scores into spreadsheets and have so far personally observed only one 10-7 score (Marcos Rosales’ 2nd round score of Forrest Petz over Sammy Morgan at UFC Fight Night 6 which, incidentally, was scored 10-8 by Nelson Hamilton and 10-9 by Adalaide Byrd).
Ideally, what would you like to see come out of this experiment?
I hope that we all can learn from this. I certainly read the various media sites on close fights and review the ‘play by play’ comments so I can better analyze what various writers valued in the fight and compare it to my view of the fight. The most important aspect of scoring is to make sure the right athlete wins. [Emphasis in original] There needs to be a continued effort toward consistency on scoring criteria based on the 2012 ABC MMA judging criteria revisions. I do not view this as an experiment, but rather a continuation of the conversation on ensuring the judges scoring these fights and the media covering these fights can agree on some level of objectivity in the highly subjective exercise of scoring a fight.
Can we shadow referee next?
When evaluating strange judging decisions, one can easily speculate on the factors that might have led a judge to score a fight in a seemingly unusual way. Did they have bad angles, not use their monitor enough (if available), have a hard time telling what landed effectively and what was blocked, hear sounds making them think certain strikes were more damaging, sneak peeks at the crowd or ringcard girls, or my personal favorite, accidentally write their scores in the wrong column? Tomorrow’s Bellator event should help improve our perspectives on many of these issues and hopefully generate some new insights as well.
Sorry Bellator fans, but here’s hoping we get a fight card of 13 glorious decisions.
Paul is Bloody Elbow’s analytics writer. Follow him at @MMAanalytics.
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