Sunday, October 25, 2009

By MMA analyst Joseph Lupoli

Sometimes, you look at a product and you just shake your head.

You think back to when the product was first made available. It was almost perfect, but it wasn’t legal. Through time and hard work the product was greatly altered so that it could be legalized. And now it is a best seller.

Yet, somewhere during the process of modification, the product became substandard—its flaws stuck out like a sore thumb.

You still like the product and you have fashioned ideas on how to eliminate its shortcomings, but the majority of people simply wouldn’t think of altering the product. They see the same flaws you see, but they’re satisfied with the status quo because it’s legal—it’s easily attainable.

What’s the product, you ask? It is the UFC and its very substandard scoring system.

Recently, one of Bleacher Report’s top writers, Jad Semaan, penned a pair of brilliant articles titled, New Rules, Part One: Methods to Improve the Judging System in MMA and, Methods to Improve MMA Judging, Part Two

Now, I would like to offer my take on this central issue.

As fans, we know that any MMA organization which employs judges to score fights, controversial decisions will happen. So why did I select the UFC? It’s simple.

Unlike many MMA organizations, UFC contracted fighters are not generally given a lot of leeway. It is not acceptable for a fighter lose a couple of key fights at key times, especially if a lot of money (and hype) was invested in him.

If he fails once too often, he may be fired. And who really wants to see a good UFC fighter terminated or demoted because he won a couple of big money fights, only to lose the decisions?

One enormous UFC obstacle is The State Athletic Commissions. They have forced their ten-point must boxing system for scoring on the UFC. To make matters worse, some UFC judges are also former or current boxing judges. Hmm...

If boxing and Mixed Martial Arts are completely different combat sports, why should MMA judging fall under the umbrella of the boxing scoring system? This problem calls for nothing less than a complete scoring system overhaul. The UFC must find a way to distance the boxing-like mindsets of MMA judges.

As Jad Semaan suggested, increasing the number of judges from three to say, five, will likely reduce the number of controversial decisions. Five judges is a terrific idea and it’s a great start, but neither Jad nor I think it’s enough. Suspect decisions might still worm their way through the cracks.

Perhaps expanding the number of rounds or changing the length of each round may lead the way to improved judging accuracy. Still, where ever there are judges, human error will subsist. And when UFC fighter’s careers are at stake, half measures simply won’t do.

If the old axiom, "history repeats itself" holds merit, an entire UFC overhaul might be necessary. Sometimes an architect must reevaluate his foundation in order to continue building upward.

Let’s take a look at some options which could be presented to the States Athletic Commissions attention for perusal.

The introduction of ‘protective’ gloves changed the destiny of MMA. Gloves encouraged more stand-up fighting. Gloves increased the likelihood that more fights would go the distance. Gloves made fight-ending submissions harder to execute.

I propose the exclusion of gloves. Bare hands would encourage kicking, standing elbows, and more submission attempts. Consequently, most fights would end sooner and without compromising fighter safety. I also propose this option: a 30-minute (single round) fight. It would keep the judges away. If the final bell rings, it's a draw.

Are these ideas Radical? You bet. But the beauty of it is: simplicity, exciting fights, and cut-and-dry winners.

Unlike the UFC days of old, when nobody understood anything about anything, today's top fighters are truly gifted athletes. They ought to know enough not to punch their opponents to the head while on the ground. They should take care and avoid broken hands by utilizing palm strikes and hammer fists.

If some fighters still insist on punching their opponents to the head while on the ground, their fractured hands will send clear a message to other fighters: Thou shalt not breaketh one's hands by punching your opponents melon.

If the judges are to be kept away from the UFC, the organization must revert back to actual fighting.

The product must lose its excess fat. No gloves, no rounds, and just the following five rules: No biting; no eye-gouging; no fish-hooking; no elbows to the head, and no groin strikes. However, knees and stomps to the head should be permitted, so long as the fighters do not grab the fence for leverage.

No elbows to the head while on the ground should be an absolute rule. Some fighters, (Kenny Florian, for example) throw short, rapid-fire elbow smashes to turn fights into cutting contests. If you're winning a fight big, but your opponent drives your cheek through your molars with elbows, and the referee stops the fight because you're bleeding like Niagara Falls, would you be happy?

Elbows should be allowed only if there's no rounds and no time limit. With no time limit, fighters would need more methods at their disposal to end fights more expediently.

It is important to note that no UFC fighter was ever seriously injured even prior to the induction of judges, the plethora of rules, rounds, and gloves. And with the original three rules of the UFC and its grueling tournament format, the fighters were still okay, save for some nasty looking superficial cuts and a broken hand or two.

I really doubt that bare-knuckle UFC fights, even today, given the five aforementioned rules and no time limit, would last more than ten or fifteen minutes each on average. The referees would restart any fight that stalls. And a yellow card system for stalling or rule infractions would surely keep the action going.

And so what if a UFC event takes longer than its allotted 140-minutes? How hard would it be for Dana White to cut a deal with PPV? I don’t think the UFC fans would mind seeing more fights with more action.

Even if this rather extreme trial test should fail, and it turns out that some fights still last a long time, I'm still against rounds. Perhaps the 30-minute time limit should be instituted, at least on an experimental basis.

To keep the offense moving crisply the referees need to be interactive—they should issue more concise warnings, and stand the fighters up sooner during ground stalls and fence clinches.

As I touched on, each yellow card issued means a 10 percent purse deduction. This rule should keep the action pretty intense, especially when the fighters know that a third yellow card will result in a disqualification.

As a battle wears on and fatigue sets in, the fight will slow down—as it should. However, if a fighter stops moving despite the verbal warnings and two yellow cards, the referee should pull a third yellow card and stop the fight, declaring the aggressor the victor by disqualification.

The third yellow card ought to be shown sparingly, but fighters should know that it will be pulled if they flagrantly stall or break the rules.

The referee's primary function, besides ensuring fighter safety and enforcing the rules, is to make sure the fighters are engaging each other at all times.

I'm trying to visualize how the Sakuraba vs. Royce Gracie ninety-minute marathon might have gone if: there were no rounds and no gloves in Pride FC. I really believe the fight would have gone to the ground fairly soon. Somebody would have been submitted within twenty-minutes or so.

I don't believe that many UFC fights will go more than thirty-minutes even with the time cap, so long as the referees work hard to keep the action going. But invariably some fights will last for some time. A series of three five-minute overtimes would help to insure a final victor. The minutes should be tacked-on as the combatants fight.

Round breaks would defeat the purpose. The breaks will refresh the fighters, and increase the odds that the fight will last even longer. Then fighter safety becomes at risk. In the rare event a fight does goes the whole 45 minutes, it is ruled a draw.

Also, it's important to note that there is very little risk of breaking your hand on a moving opponent during stand-up exchanges. Here's why: the face is a lot softer (especially with a mouthpiece in) than is than the back of the head when a fight goes on the ground.

Yes, these would be drastic renovations indeed. My theories are far-reaching. The UFC would wind up going full circle, but not without significant modifications.

What you have read here is merely a rough sketch—a series of proposals in which to improve or remove the inadequate UFC scoring system. Are there other opinions? Yes, I am certain. Feel free to add your comments.



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