Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Nam Phan vs. Leonard Garcia and what to do about lousy MMA judges

Nam Phan beat Leonard Garcia, easily and obviously, to everyone but the judges. It's not precisely a secret that the Nevada State Athletics Comission doesn't take MMA seriously. The judges stink. The lousy call on the Phan-Garcia fight highlights that fact. Joe Rogan has openly criticized the judges and asked for a letter writing campaign.

Yeah, Joe, good plan. Email letter writing campaigns are so known for their massive effectiveness. The NSAC will dump the letters into the trash, especially considering a large number of them will be profanity-laced incoherent rants. Just read the comments section of any MMA board. These people, as a rule, are not going to write nuanced, subtle letters about the inadequacies of the NSAC judging of MMA, pointing out the randomness, lack of visible criteria for selection judges and lack of transparency and accountability in the judging process. They're gonna be, "Fuck you for robbing Phan!" Many won't even be that coherent. It won't take many incomprehensible, bitter, ugly rants to invalidate the whole process.

I read somewhere, suggested sarcastically, that perhaps the fighters should picket the NSAC. That's actually a pretty damn good idea. Las Vegas is very bad-press-phobic and a bunch of MMA fighters do business in LV and I'm sure that the sports books can't be happy with the number of irrational judging decisions in MMA (which discourages people to bet on bouts) . . . so getting Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture down at the NSAC demanding action might actually work, because they'd bring press and the press would be bad for the gaming industry.

Rogan, and others, are swift to point out that the UFC has nothing to do with the NSAC. Which is kinna sorta true but is an evasive answer. Sure, the UFC doesn't control the NSAC, but to say a multi-billion dollar organization is politically powerless is idiotic. Not to mention, like I mentioned before, casinos can't be real happy with all the bad calls in MMA. Sure, some fights are going to be hard to judge, but when the judges can't even call the easy ones, it keeps people away from the sports books. So you could probably get some casino clout behind it, too.

And, of course, there is absolutely nothing that keeps the UFC in Las Vegas. Sure, there'd be some expense to move to, say, California (where the MMA judges are generally better and the criteria more transparent) or another state that has better judges. But even if the UFC didn't want to pack and and go down to San Diego or LA or Miami or wherever, there is also no compelling reason to do events in Las Vegas. Sure, it's convenient because guys like Dana White just have to roll out of bed and go down to a casino venue or whatever, but it's not inevitable and the extra expense of doing more shows on the road will be made up, in the long run, by greater visibility.

So, no, the UFC is not at the mercy of the NSAC. The UFC has been there for ten years. You'd think, by now, they might take this industry seriously. If they don't . . . why stay?

My guess at what will happen? Basically nothing. The UFC uses Nevada judges for events all over the world where there are no local judges. That's not particularly a damning indictment of the NSAC by the UFC. And the UFC president, Dana White, likes to tell fighters "not to leave it in the hands of the judges". In his evil genius mind, the unpredictability of the judges might motivate fighters to end fights before the final bell. You don't leave it in the hands of the judges because they SUCK, which is probably as good a motivating tool as fight night bonuses. Certainly the NSAC isn't going to bow to the pressure of some guys sending in emails because Joe Rogan asked them to do so.

The winning strategy to get this to change is the fighters. If you could get high profile fighters to make it an issue, to bring bad press and bring up corruption and/or incompetence regarding the NSAC, something they could do on their own and since a bunch of them live in Las Vegas already it wouldn't even be particularly hard for them to do, they could probably force the NSAC to make the necessary changes. Las Vegas hates that kind of negative publicity. It reminds people that Las Vegas isn't a "safe" town, that not only are casinos stacking the odds against gamblers they're not even content with the bad odds and are willing to do anything to keep people's money. Which is true, but casinos hate it when people get reminded of it, and in this issue it's actually in their best interest to improve the quality of judging (tampering with judges is a crude technique that modern casinos don't need). But that probably won't happen because fighters are kind of trained to be, in the public eye, nothing but meat. It is almost impossible to find out anything about fighters other than fighting, no matter how many interviews they have done, or specials or reports. They're defined as "fighters" and, publicly, they're discouraged from being anything else.

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