The Confusing Art of Scoring UFC Fights
The UFC delivered a reasonable card of fights for its 247 show. Attendance numbers were high, and pay-per-view numbers should please company shareholders. The night will go down in infamy though, for some very strange and contentious scoring decisions.
Prizefighters of all stripes generally hate those who score their bouts. Who are these no-name? Have they ever stepped foot inside a ring? Do they know what it feels like to be punched in the face? Some fighters will take extraordinary risks in the hope of finishing a fight via knockout, thus removing the possibility of erroneous judging. Fighters will often ask their cornermen if they won a particular round, and nobody can ever be sure. “Don’t leave it in the hands of the judges kid. Go for the knockout,” is typical coaching advice.
Courtside judges have the power to make or break careers. They render decisions that can determine whether a fighter is ultimately showered with millions of dollars, or consigned to the scrapheap with all the other failed coulda-been contenders. So how do they determine the winner of a fight? How transparent is the process?
UFC judges follow the same scoring system as boxing judges. At the end of a round the dominant fighter is awarded 10 points, and the opponent is generally awarded 9 points. In an especially lopsided round, the score might be 10 for the winner and 8 for the loser. A drawn round would be scored at 10 points apiece. Fighter A might outland fighter B by 12 punches in round 1 and score a 10 – 9 in his favour. Fighter B might then outland fighter A by 3 punches in round 2, and the fight will be dead even going into the 3rd. There is no carry-over from one round to the next.
UFC rounds are judged based on effective striking and grappling, aggression and octagon control, in that order. Other than that judges are pretty much free to do their thing. They are faceless, come from a range of sporting backgrounds, and never shed light on their decisions. The 3 judges are positioned on different sides of the octagon so that all angles are hopefully covered.
The UFC 247 main event was a tremendous title bout. The action was fast, furious, and well poised. Upcoming, undefeated challenger Dominic Reyes started strong and looked to easily win the first 2 rounds. He was unafraid of reigning champion Jon Jones’ towering reputation as one of the greatest fighters of all time and came up swinging. Statistically, he also won the 3rd round, and thus had the 5 round contest sewn up if he could avoid being knocked out, or submitted.
His output slowed noticeably in the 4th and 5th, but he went the distance and expected to be awarded the light-heavyweight belt for his efforts. This did not occur. The ref lifted Jones’ arm in victory, and Reyes looked like the victim of outright burglary. Two of the judges gave Jones the fight 3 rounds to 2, while Joe Solis inexplicably gave it to Jones 4 rounds to 1. Solis was responsible for another curious decision earlier in the night when he awarded Andre Ewell 3 rounds to 0 victory over Jonathan Martinez when the other judges had it 2 rounds to 1 the other way.
Fight commentators are put in an unenviable position when they encounter strange scoring decisions. They are company employees and highlighting incorrect outcomes can be viewed as damaging to the brand. The UFC 247 commentators bravely voiced their disagreement with the night’s curious results, and even repeatedly called out a judge who was staring at the floor while a fight he was supposed to be adjudicating was in full swing.
So how did the judges award the fight to Jones while most of the audience had it scored to Reyes? Jones turned in one of his better performances in recent times. He was composed, dangerous, and applied relentless pressure throughout the contest. He wore the clean Reyes shots without flinching and finished the stronger. The striking numbers for rounds 1, 2, and 3 were against him, but he marched continually forward. He scored no takedowns in the first 3 rounds, so the judges thought his aggressive pressure outweighed Reyes’ superior striking output.
Other factors that can influence judges is a prevailing notion that a challenger must decisively take the belt from the champion, and close rounds should fall toward the incumbent. Some judges also seem to place extra emphasis on the last round of a fight. If the prior rounds were close, they lean toward the fighter that finishes the hardest. These 3 factors all somewhat explain the Jones victory. The fights were also held in Houston Texas, a location renowned for its historically poor judging, and numerical discrepancies are often expected when the UFC heads south.
So, the scoring chips fell the way of Jon Jones at 247. He got lucky, battled gamely, kept his remarkable streak alive, and marches toward the next challenge. Reyes is demanding a rematch, and that is a fight that makes sense and should generate strong sales. Reyes will enter at coin flip odds and full of confidence. He should be better conditioned and determined to keep destiny within his grasp. If unable to score the knockout, he should be mindful to win the 5th round at all costs. He should also insist on a Las Vegas location. The Nevada Athletic Commission is less known for its wild flights of judging fancy than the Texas equivalent.