Guest post by Evolve MMA, Asia’s premier championship brand for martial arts. It has the most number of world champions on the planet. Named as the #1 ranked martial arts organization in Asia by CNN, Yahoo! Sports, FOX Sports, Evolve MMA is top rated MMA gym in Singapore.
Controversial scorecards have always been a problem in combat sports, and mixed martial arts is not exempt from this reality. Given the many metrics used to score MMA fights like effective aggression, ground control, and cage control, this is an inescapable reality. These metrics are subjective, often leading judges to rate the same fight differently.
One of the things that have been proposed to help reduce the impact of controversial fight cards is to adopt an open scoring system.
What is Open Notation?
The conventional way of scoring mixed martial arts competitions involves judges scoring each round independently using a 10-point scoring system and counting the winner of each round to determine the winner of the fight.
The scores for each round are only known to each judge until the score cards are added up at the end of the bout. This leaves the fighters and their corners guessing who is the winner of each round. MMA fighters like Max Holloway have been vocal enough to switch to a rating system that gives fighters more real-time information during fights.
With an open scoring system, judges should share their scores for each round as the fight progresses. This way, fans and fighters would have a clear idea of who wins the fight. This is a huge advantage for fighters because it lets them know when to step things up a notch to make up for lost rounds.
Although open scoring seems like the obvious progression for mixed martial arts, there are good arguments against using such a system. These include:
1) It can lead to less entertaining fights
Mixed martial arts is more than just a sport. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry that makes money by entertaining fans. An open scoring system can make battles less entertaining.
For example, a fighter who knows he is two rounds ahead on the judges’ scorecards may decide to take the third and final round out of a fight. This is already happening in the current rating system when some fighters know they are clearly ahead on the scorecards. The practice of eliminating rounds will no doubt become more common under an open scoring system.
2) Leaves judges exposed to outside influences
Real-time open scoring could leave judges vulnerable to influence from promoters, coaches, fans and fighters. This is already happening in sports like tennis, where judges receive plenty of abuse for controversial decisions. MMA fans are known to be quite vocal when they disagree with scorecards, and that wouldn’t change with an open score.
Imagine a judge scoring the first round of a fight for Fighter A and receiving loud boos from the crowd and harsh words from the promoter. This judge is less likely to stick to the same criteria they used to score this round for subsequent rounds, as they might try to appease those who disagree with their scores. Some sports commissions have proposed ways around this problem.
For example, the Kansas Athletic Commission offered to collect scores from every round and show them to corners and promoters. The names of the judges would not appear on the list, just the scores. This way the fighter knows where he stands and the judges don’t have to worry about being harassed by fans or coaches during or after the fight.
While there are valid arguments against moving to open grading systems, many would argue that the benefits of using an open grading system outweigh the disadvantages. SSome of the arguments in favor of open notation include:
1) Enable more effective strategies
We’ve all watched fights where we suspected a fighter’s corner was either lying to them or ignoring how the fight was going. From our perspective, the fighter is down on the scorecards, but his corner thinks differently. The fighter then assumes victory is assured and stops during the third round. They are left in shock when the announcer reveals that the scores favor the other fighter.
MMA fighters have a lot on their plate every time they step into the cage, and many argue that they have a right to know how well or badly they are performing during their fights. While this has the potential to lead to less entertaining fights, it can also make fights more entertaining.
Suppose we have a fighter who has lost two rounds. Under an open score, they are aware that they need a stoppage to win the fight, so they come out of the break looking for a stoppage. The fans get an entertaining fight and the fighter gives himself one last chance to win the fight.
Under the current scoring system, the fighter may think they’ve only lost one round and try to fight to the point during the third round, effectively sealing their defeat. MMA fighters often get win bonuses that match their purses, so winning or losing a fight makes a huge financial difference. A loss can also have a significant impact on a fighter’s career trajectory.
2) May lead to more accurate scoring
Open scoring in MMA would likely include promoters sharing round scores with broadcasters so fans watching on TV can follow along. Scores will likely not be announced on site as crowd reaction may end up influencing the judges.
MMA scorecards usually go under the radar because many fights end in stoppage, and the judges usually get the scores right. Controversial scorecards are the only ones that often come under scrutiny due to the negative responses judges scorecards get.
With open scoring, fans watching on TV can see scoreboards as the fight progresses, so controversial scores are more likely to be noticed even if they don’t have a score. impact on combat results. Judges with a tendency to return controversial scores can be detected and addressed before they negatively impact the results of a fight or the trajectory of a fighter’s career. This should lead to better scoring, as the judges find themselves under more scrutiny.