MMA judging and the not-so-unified rules of MMA

Over the last year or so, there has been a constant wave of confusion surrounding the changing landscape of MMA rules both inside of the cage with the referee and outside of the cage with judges.

New in-cage rules were implemented by the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) last year which were adopted by some commissions, and not by others. The use of the new or old rules is usually mentioned by broadcasts; with the UFC especially making a point of detailing which set of rules are in play.

MMA fighting’s Marc Raimondi has led the way in reporting these issues with his latest report showing how two different in-cage rulesets were used at UFC 220.

The judging, though, is a different matter.

New judging criteria was also adopted by the ABC and is being trained to their judges, according to president Mike Mazzulli who spoke to SevereMMA last week. This criteria specifies the use of more liberal 10-8s with the “3Ds” system of domination, duration, and damage giving a more structured and detailed reasoning for scoring rounds.

But this new criteria is NOT being used by every commission and does NOT correlate with those commissions who have and have not adopted the new in-cage rules.

When asked about which judging criteria is used by each individual athletic commission, ABC president Mazzulli said; “That’s the first time I have been asked that question,” before going on to say that each individual commission must be deciding for themselves as no directive has been sent from him or the ABC about judging criteria.

We spoke to a selection of those commissions to find out their thoughts.

California is one of the states which has lead the way in regards to updated rules and judging. The California state athletic commission’s executive director Andy Foster confirmed to SevereMMA that “we do use the revised and updated scoring criteria” as well as saying California is “one of the first states to adopt the revised Unified Rules of MMA along with the revised scoring criteria.”

“Our judges score 10-8s the way that the criteria is written. “Domination”, “Duration”, and “Damage” are [the] three areas the judges look at to determine whether a 10-8 should be scored.” Foster said.

One commission which has adopted the new judging criteria, without adopting all of the new in-cage rules changes, is New Jersey.

“The ONLY rules and recommendations that the NJSACB did NOT accept were the rule changes permitting additional striking to the head and to the kidneys.” Nick Lembo, counsel to the New Jersey state athletic commission board told SevereMMA.

When asked about the new judging criteria being in place and the judges being informed of this, Lembo said; “In short, yes.”

“We have periodic seminars in New Jersey for judges, informational mailings, pre-large event meetings; and reply with score[s] to certain bouts via e-mail video.”

“Much of the ABC updated information was already in place in NJ; especially with regard to more liberalized scoring.

“The NJSACB has long spoke on that issue at ABC meetings, in reports, and in communications. (as far back as the 2009 ABC MMA rules report).” Lembo said.

In Nevada, one of the biggest athletic commissions in the world, the old rules are in play until further approval is obtained, and while they say it’s the same with the judging criteria being used, that side is a little unclear.

“ALL OFFICIALS, Referees and Judges, are told that we are using the old rules, until the new rules are approved through the legislative process. We cannot use the new rules until they are approved.” Jeff Mullen, the chief assistant in the Nevada state athletic commission said.

“We don’t tell the judges to use the new rules. Again, these judges judge the same way in every state. The new criteria simply describes what the top judges are already doing. The new criteria is to educate the less experienced judges who are not judging this way.”

When pushed to clear things up about which set of judging criteria the NSAC uses Mullen was careful to not specify due to awaiting that aforementioned further approval but did say; “Nevada does not encourage judges NOT to use the updated judging criteria,” which goes along with his theory that these judges score fights the same everywhere.

Texas, an athletic commission which utilizes the old in-cage rules, disagrees.

“In pre-bout official’s meetings, 10-8 rounds are mentioned, reminding the judges to use 10-8 scoring if necessary;” Jim Erickson, from the Texas Dept. of Licensing and Regulation told SevereMMA

“Continuing training and education for judges, such as Association of Boxing Commissions’ certified training courses, is encouraged;” Erickson went on to say.

But followed up, when asked whether the new 3 Ds (damage, dominance, duration) system is in place, Erickson said; “No the 3 Ds are not mentioned specifically, and we do not encourage more liberal 10-8 rounds.”

That means different commissions we have spoken to are currently implementing rules and judging criteria in different ways. One commission has the new rules and new scoring. One has a portion of the old rules in play, but with new scoring. One has the old rules and old scoring. While one has the old in-cage rules and says “judges judge the same way in every state.”

SevereMMA contacted multiple other commissions and judges but at the time of publishing we are still awaiting reply or have been declined a statement on the record.

Bellator told SevereMMA; “Mike Mazzulli and the Mohegan Tribe Department of Athletic Regulation oversee all of our events overseas where no commission is in place and Bellator use all of the updated ABC rules that he implements.”

We have also communicated with the UFC and sent a list of questions about judging criteria used both by the individual commissions and when they oversee events themselves but we have yet to receive answers to those questions.

On the whole, it looks like we may have unified rules in MMA, but it seems the commissions are anything but unified in how they implement those rules both inside of the cage during the fight and outside of it during the judging process.

Lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Co-host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Tuesday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook