Monday, December 13, 2010

Fixing decisions in MMA -- fire the judges

I was looking at, briefly, and I'm now wondering why judges exist at all. Seriously.

I play a lot of games, as people know, not just video games that I talk about but also role-playing games offline. My education is in philosophy. I think I have a pretty good idea of what "fair" is. Roughly speaking in the context of a game, fair is a set of rules that is clear and explicit, understood by all the parties in question, designed to test the traits the people in the game wish to see tested. Right now, MMA judging is mostly a black box. Judges, if they have to discuss their decisions at all, do so behind closed doors with their superior . . . who might not, themselves, be able to accurately judge a fight. What you need to make this fair is a system where everyone understands, from the beginning, what they're getting into.

In particular, I think "scoring points" should be non-metaphorical. You'd start with a survey of fights to create a scoring metric. There are already organizations out there that count blows, their power, their location, takedowns and attempts, submissions and attempts, knockdowns, reversals, dominate positions, all that. In such a system, to determine the winner for a given round, you'd just plug the numbers into the formula. The other side would spit out the winner of the round and the number of points in the ten point must system. Give a margin of error, additionally, and if the fight falls inside that margin of error, call the round a draw, and rules for if the fight is a draw that, y'know, whoever has the most points overall wins unless that also falls within the margin of error, at which case the fight is considered a draw.

The rules would, of course, be slightly arbitrary, as are all rules. How do you really compare a takedown with a jab? But right now, it's almost totally arbitrary. The judge just . . . sorta decides. The fighters, themselves, have no idea what the judges are looking for -- some like boxers, some like wrestlers, some like submission fighters. But in a point based system, it'd just be out there. If you wanted to win on points, you'd know what you had to do to score points and deny your opponent the opportunity to score points. Sure, you might be going for a knockout or submission and, y'know, fuck points, but in those fights that went to decision, the criteria of the decision would be clear from the outset.

(The points could be manipulated, of course, to create the fights that people want to see. Fighters not doing enough takedowns to make people happy? Make a good slam worth more points. Stuff like that.)

The judges that MMA has now? They're okay at doing the obvious fights, but who isn't? You don't need to be a subtle aficionado of MMA to know that GSP beat Koscheck. You do need to be a subtle aficionado for stuff like the Rampage Jackson vs. Dragon Machida fight. A clear points based system would mostly remove doubt. Only in the most rarefied cases would the scoring be debatable because, by design, fights within the margin of error would be called draws. Just acknowledge that a small number are going to be too close to call. That would be, I think, much better than relying on arbitrary decisions made behind closed doors.

For a while, you could do them both and see how the judges compare to the system based on objective fight metrics. I'd be a thousand dollars that the fans and fighters would massively prefer the system based on fight metrics because of it's clarity and relative objectivity.

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