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7 ways to better understand MMA judging

Not every judge's decision in a UFC fight, or in any MMA fight for that matter, feels like the right one. But, they don't all deserve the wrath of fans in the arena or social media, either.

There's the old adage in MMA, and in boxing, that says never let a fight go to the judges. Good in theory, but not always possible. So are here are seven things to think about the next time you watch a fight that goes the distance and yields a decision you disagree with.

Every round is its own fight

Whether a fight is three or five rounds,
Photo Credit: Mario Gonzalez

Whether a fight is three or five rounds, each acts as its own individual fight in terms of judging. Just because one fighter dominates the first round and their wins the second round by a thinner margin doesn't mean they're not even heading into the third round.

Judges don't see what you see

Television spoiled the MMA viewer at home. The
Photo Credit: Mario Gonzalez

Television spoiled the MMA viewer at home. The TV viewer has no obstructed view through a fence or padding and doesn't have to look across the entire cage to determine damage. Instead, they get the best view possible through multiple camera angles. While the UFC provides monitors for judges to use cageside, that is not a requirement. Also, the UFC is the only MMA promotion to provide such technology for judges.

Understanding time

Fighters get one minute in between rounds to
Photo Credit: Mario Gonzalez

Fighters get one minute in between rounds to rest, recover and repair themselves in the corner. The TV viewer gets that same minute for commercials or whatever. The cageside judge has anywhere from 1-20 seconds to render a score for the round before the outside referee comes walking around to collect their cards. There’s no time to deliberate.

“Action” vs. “Result”

A judge is supposed to assess the result
Photo Credit: Mario Gonzalez

A judge is supposed to assess the result of the action, not the action itself. So, the more active strike-throwing fighter doesn’t necessarily mean they should win a round. It’s about determining the result of those strikes and assessing who landed the more damaging blows.

Defense doesn’t win championships

A fighter can stuff every takedown, fend off
Photo Credit: Mario Gonzalez

A fighter can stuff every takedown, fend off every submission attempt and block a lot of strikes, but those aren’t going to help the fighter win a round. Judges don’t score on defense. It’s about offense.

Geography

Multiple cameras put the viewer right in the
Photo Credit: Mario Gonzalez

Multiple cameras put the viewer right in the middle of the action regardless of where the fighters are located inside the cage. A judge must remain in their chair for the entire fight. So, if the action is happening on the far side of the cage and the fighter has his back toward a particular judge, there’s no real way for the judge to determine if a fighter is snapping his head back because he was hit with or a punch or because he’s avoiding it.

Takedowns can be overrated

MMA is a sport that allows fighters to
Photo Credit: Mario Gonzalez

MMA is a sport that allows fighters to be on their back. In and of itself, that’s not a negative or disadvantageous position. So, while takedowns are nice, the more experienced MMA judges look at what came about from that takedown. What did the fighter do with it? Did their opponent get right back up? Did they inflict any damage or attempt any submissions from that takedown? Again, it’s assessing result over action.

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