Monday, November 23, 2009

My Subjective Decision is Better: Looking at Controversial Decisions from a Different Angle

Quickly: Who is getting the better of this exchange?

The fact of the matter is that there is no definitive answer, and getting three people to agree certainly wouldn't be the easiest task of the day.

In all honesty, coming up with a definitive answer to the first question depends on how you respond to a series of related questions first:

Which strike landed first? Who initiated the action? Where are you sitting? Does Machida's punch connect? Did Rua's kick land?

If a consensus can't be reached looking at a photograph, why are so many people up in arms when the same thing happens in real time?

For better or for worse, whenever something is scored subjectively, these things are going to happen.

Just as individuals have different tastes in music, clothes and food, each judge weighs certain elements of the fights they score differently.

The outcry over what is perceived as a rash of bad decisions as of late is a little much for me.

While my scorecards have certainly looked different than those read aloud from time-to-time, it's the reactions of some in the media that interest me most.

This past weekend, both Jorden Breen of Sherdog and Mike Fagan of Bloody Elbow expressed their displeasure with judge Glenn Trowbridge's scorecard following the Tito Ortiz - Forrest Griffin fight at UFC 106. Trowbridge was the judge who scored things 29-28 Ortiz.

One called him "the most dangerous man in the sport" while the other petitioned for his license to be pulled. I wonder whether they have the same anger and frustration with their colleague Josh Gross of Sports Illustrated, who had the same scorecard as Trowbridge?

Probably not.

What actually interests me more than debating who won the fight, going back through the video to watch it again or vehemently rattling off Fight Metric numbers about the contest is comments like those offer up by Fagan in his recap:

A card of 29-28 Ortiz is atrocious. Absolutely atrocious. I personally had the fight 30-26 Griffin, though I find 30-27 and 29-28 Griffin acceptable as well.

My question is what makes one subjective decision better than another?

For the sake of putting all the cards on the table before we go any further, I had this fight scored as a draw (28-28) with Ortiz winning Rounds 1 and 2, but Griffin earning a 10-8 in the final round to even things out.

Apparently, the way I saw the fight is unacceptable.

First and foremost, each of these last three UFC main events that have drawn criticism were close fights.

To me, if you can't concede that, there is no point in having this discussion. You're cemented in your view and nothing anyone says will get you to budge, not even an inch.

While the commitment and conviction is commendable, it's also flawed in my opinion; scoring these fights is completely subjective, therefore by definition there are going to be differing views and potentially different outcomes.

Yes, you saw the fight going one way, but that doesn't mean it is outside of the realm of possibility that someone else saw it a different way.

Besides, it's not like any of these decisions were nearly as bad as the Mike Easton - Chase Beebe bout at UWC 7, and other than the Luke Thomas-led charge to change the results, not a lot of people were outwardly angered about that fight.

Or in the very least, they weren't calling for people's jobs.

But when you put it on the biggest stage and have the most eyes watching, close fights become cause for boisterous outcries for judging reform and the removal of these incompetent people who offered up differing opinions.

While we're certainly in the business of generating hits and controversy brings the crowds, there is something to be said for having a little perspective.

After all, Forrest Griffin still won the fight... crisis averted.

Are there areas of improvement and opportunities for growth in the judging of Mixed Martial Arts bouts?

Absolutely, just as there is in boxing, figure skating, diving and every other subjectively scored sport.

But when things are left up to interpretation, telling someone their interpretation is wrong, invalid or ridiculous is pointless and ultimately proves nothing.

One person looks at a Jackson Pollack and sees art, while the other sees a mess of paint with no purpose.

At the end of the day, both think the other is mistaken and no one can tell them otherwise, no matter how loud they yell and demand they return their museum membership.


  1. From the perspective of someone who hasn't in the past followed the sport could it be advantageous to remove the scoring all together? Perhaps have two or even three timed rounds and then a final round that has no end except when it is called? I am sure this has been discussed and dismissed in the past but I would think taking motions towards removing the scoring element would benefit any sport with a judge behind a table.

  2. The old days of the UFC worked like that - rounds were timed, but you basically fought until someone won or all the time expired and it was declared a draw.

    I think we need judges and scoring. Like everything in life, it needs to be tweaked and worked on from time-to-time.

    What kills me is how many people are angry despite the guy they thought won winning... it's the epitome of "LOUD NOISES!" to me.


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