Open scoring in MMA has been a contentious subject for some years now. Over the past year promotions such as Invicta and LFA have been using it whilst holding their events in Kansas – the Kansas State Athletic Commission is currently the only commission that allows for this. Executive director of the commission, Adam Roorbach, has released the statistics from these events showing how open scoring has affected the fights. Firstly, though let’s get into some of the discussion around the subject.
UFC President Dana White holds the belief that it will cause bad 3rd rounds, as the leading fighter going into the last round will simply coast to victory. White also doesn’t like that it would take away the anticipation from a decision.
“When we do the fights, I have an idea of who I think won or lost or whatever, but when I’m standing there with the belt, I don’t know what Bruce Buffer is going to say,” White said. “He doesn’t tell me anything. The judges tell him, the commission do their thing, they tell him, and I’m standing there waiting to hear too, so I’m just as blown away as the fans are.”
Whilst these are very understandable qualms, coming from a man in the entertainment business, there are opposing thoughts to this narrative.
Firstly, open scoring could have the adverse effect on final rounds with the loosing fighter doggedly pursuing a finish, instead of possibly just trying to outpoint their opponent in the final round thinking they will win a decision. As well as this 2nd rounds may become more exciting with the losing fighter looking to get a round back. Taking this even further, knowing there is a tie going into the final round you will have both fighters pushing hard and not holding anything back.
More often than not a fighter that is losing will go into that last round thinking they are winning so don’t chase a stoppage. Even if they are told by their corner a lot of fighters won’t believe them. With open scoring it leaves no doubt in the fighter’s mind what they need to do in the final round. On top of this some corners aren’t totally honest with their fighters when they are losing or don’t forcefully put across that they are. Open scoring will leave no doubts of this.
At UFC 259 Thiago Santos’ corner were imploring him to go after Alexsandar Rakic, but he just seemed to ignore them and continue plodding his way to the decision loss. It’s hard to imagine that Santos didn’t think himself that he was winning that fight and just needed to continue doing what he was doing, as expressed by the way he fought. And this is to be expected if you’re a fighter, you don’t want to admit your losing.
The statistics from the events held in Kansas by Invicta and LFA back up some of these assumptions, as shown in this video by Combat Culture (Bloody Elbow).
The numbers paint a pretty picture for open scoring, in terms of entertainment, but as the video mentions, sample size for these statistics is so small it is hard to go by currently. But if the trials continue, we should have a better picture of the changes this will makes to fights. Also, it takes time for fighters to adjust and tactics relating to open scoring may appear and develop leading to vastly different results.
However, arguments for closed scoring are the ones that White raises. It may take away some of the suspense of a decision, which is massive in big fights and adds to the spectacle, keeping fans on the edge of their seats. With the argument of bad 3rd rounds it does seem logical that a fighter that knows they’re up on the scorecards will try their best to stall and ease through the round. We will have to wait and see if the data supports this view in the coming years.
There is also the possibility of judges being influenced by each other’s scores. If for example one of the three judges hears that the other judges have opposite scorecards to them that may put pressure on them to score similarly in close rounds. On top of this there is the possibility for local fans, supporting a local fighter, to revolt and start harassing a judge who gives rounds to the opposing fighter, affecting their ability to judge properly.
High profile fighters such as Max Holloway, Israel Adesanya and Dominick Reyes have all come out in support of open scoring. In Adesanya’s UFC 259 post-fight press conference, when informed about other promotions using open scoring he said: “That’s smart, let’s do that then. Why don’t we do it? That sounds really smart.”.
Those against include Joseph Benavidez, who worries about it killing the action.
“I don’t like the way it can change the way someone fights,” Benavidez said. “I’ve seen it in boxing. Someone knows they’re up by five rounds and they can kind of hang back and not give it their all. Also, the guy that’s down, he has to change his style and maybe compromise a few things.”
Now whilst this will do absolutely nothing to combat the issue of bad judging, it will help the fighter that is on the receiving end of this vice to be able to take matters into their own hands, and really chase a finish. Although this may only be a small improvement in this aspect, it is something. But the issue still remains to be the potential for corruption and poor judging in MMA, which needs athletic commissions to take action, and try to weed it out.
Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Bob Bennett holds similar values to White, but also raises the question of issues with the decision making of fighters, judges, and referees. With these two men being key to the possible implementation of open scoring at UFC events it’s hard to see it being implemented anytime soon, or ever.