Mixed Martial Arts

Another UFC main event, another judging controversy

The Canadian Press
11/22/2009 11:44:55 AM
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LAS VEGAS -- Mixed martial arts may be enjoying rapid growth but it is also experiencing growing pains when it comes to judging.

For the third card in a row, the UFC found itself frustrated and somewhat on the defensive Saturday night after Forrest Griffin won a split decision over Tito (The Huntington Beach Bad Boy) Ortiz at UFC 106 in a matchup of former light-heavyweight champions.

The judges were as much up for discussion as the main event fighters.

The Griffin-Ortiz fight was close, with Ortiz dominating in the early going and Griffin rallying to take control in the end. But where eyebrows were raised was in the all-over-the-map judging.

The final verdict was 29-28, 30-27, 29-28 for Griffin.

Lester Griffin -- no relation -- awarded all three rounds (30-27) to Forrest Griffin while Glenn Trowbridge gave two rounds to Ortiz (28-29) and Marcos Rosales gave two rounds to Griffin (29-28).

"When you watch a fight like this tonight and you hear a 30-27 score, I don't even know, I'm so exhausted by this whole thing," UFC president Dana White said of the judging. "It's tiring, it's terrible, these athletic commissions need to start looking at this and figuring out what they're going to do. It's wrong."

The UFC has no involvement in the judges. That's the domain of local commissions, in this case the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

But judging is subjective in any sport and more so in mixed martial arts where judges must follow striking, grappling and jiu-jitsu.

MMA judges look for effective striking, effective grappling, Octagon (ring) control, effective aggression and effective defence.

The sport is full of questions.

Do you reward the fighter who takes his opponent down, even if he doesn't do any damage on the ground? Do you favour the fighter trying for the submissions or the opponent defending them?

MMA is judged on boxing's 10-point must system, meaning the winner of the round gets 10 points and the loser gets nine or less. Usually it's nine points unless a fighter is dominated, in which case he may only get eight points.

The first round was Ortiz's and Griffin was dominant in the third. Two of the three judges gave Griffin the second.

"The fight could have gone either way," said White, who called the 30-27 score "outrageous" and "insane."

White urged anyone interested to call Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada commission, to "ask him `What can we do to fix this: judging and scoring.' It has nothing to do with me."

Because of the number of events it oversees, the Nevada commission is considered a leader in the sport. Recent improvements it has instituted include instant replay to help referees review hits that end fights, in case of low blows or head-butts among other things.

The commission also reacted to greasing allegations following Canadian Georges St. Pierre's win at UFC 94 to add illegal substances to its list of MMA fouls.

Ortiz complaints aside, people seemed split over Saturday's night's winner.

And the debate over the Ortiz-Griffin main event will likely pale in comparison to the uproar over light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida's decision over Mauricio (Shogun) Rua at UFC 104 last month.

All three judges scored it 48-47 or three rounds to two for Machida.

Two of the three judges gave Machida the first three rounds and Rua the last two. The third judge gave the first and fifth rounds to Rua and the middle three to Machida.

White said he and UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta watched the Machida-Rua fight twice when they flew to England for UFC 105, scoring the bout both times.

"We both scored it 4-1 or, worst-case scenario, 3-2 for Shogun (Rua)," said White, who is already planning a rematch, likely May 1 in Montreal.

In Manchester, light-heavyweight Randy (The Natural) Couture also benefited from a wafer-thin 29-28 decision over Brandon (The Truth) Vera.

"I thought I won," Vera said after the fight. "I left it all out there. ... I don't know man, I don't know."

"Thanks, judges," he added sarcastically.

Said Couture: "It was a close fight . . . I agree that it could have went either way. I wouldn't have been terribly disappointed had the decision went the other way."

Ortiz sat shaking his head during the UFC 106 news conference

"I'm pissed because I didn't have my hand raised at the end. I thought I pulled it off," complained Ortiz, who said he had been "robbed."

Said Griffin: "I thought I won the fight."

Still, there was some sense of symmetry since Ortiz won a split decision over Griffin the first time they met at UFC 59 in April 2006. Griffin acknowledged Saturday he thought he had won that fight at the time, but reconsidered after watching it on video.

"Then go home and watch this one too, you'll see the same thing," Ortiz told him.

"Hopefully not," Griffin said.

MMA insiders have discussed coming up with a more adaptable judging system for their sport. But no one has figured it out yet.

Ortiz, when the issue of judging was raised Thursday at the pre-fight news conference, complained that MMA judges are often transplanted boxing officials.

"I watched the last couple of decisions and when fighters like that get robbed, they work so hard to have a win and its left in the hands of judges, who aren't MMA-qualified judges ... I think they should have former fighters in there fighters who know what MMA's really about and not a boxing guy in England."

"I just think the judges need to be more educated," he added.

Like fighters, judges work their way up to the elite tier such as the UFC by learning their trade on smaller circuits.

There are judges with MMA experience. Jeff Mullen, who has judged UFC events, is a former pro kickboxer, for example. He operates a gym called Mullen's Karate Kickboxing and Jiu-Jitsu in Memphis and has been teaching full-time since 1986 and training in martial arts since 1975.

Welterweight Anthony (Rumble) Johnson said Thursday his modus operandi is to keep the judges out of the reckoning.

"Just don't leave it in the judges' hands, you ain't got nothing to worry about. Kill them, knock them out," said Johnson, who tapped out to a Josh Koscheck rear naked choke in the co-main event.

Griffin, the benefactor Saturday night, was also the most understanding at the pre-fight news conference.

"Judging's kind of a tough job," he said. "I wouldn't want to be a judge or a referee. it's subjective.

"I've seen fights live, that Bisping-Hamill fight (UFC 75 between Michael Bisping and Matt Hamill), I saw live, I thought one guy won. I watched it on film, I thought another guy won. I'm just glad I don't have to do it."

UFC (Photo: HENNING KAISER/AFP/Getty Images)


(Photo: HENNING KAISER/AFP/Getty Images)
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