"I'm deeply sorry sir, but your warranty claim has somehow been denied."
Give this a try: go buy a lawnmower and remove all the blades except for one, then try to return it because it doesn't cut your grass well. Or, go invest in a new car, take three of the tires off and drive it around, then go back and tell the dealer the car doesn't work right and you want your money back.
You may find yourself coming to a conclusion like: "Aw shucks, that would be silly, you big turkey!" And yes, it would indeed be at the least "silly", if not downright laughable, as anyone adopting this course of action would likely be assumed to be drunk or on drugs. Yet the opinion that "the 10-Point Must System doesn't work for MMA" remains a prominent grievance, and the people manipulating the controls have tremendously over-applied one section and snubbed the rest.
“Dude… where’s my car tires?”
History proves that MMA judges overwhelmingly engorge the 10-9 count by cramming almost every available round down its throat. Meanwhile, the 10-10, 10-8, and 10-7 portions of the system have been virtually unbolted from the machine to sit starving and anemic on the sidelines.
The scores of 30-27 (twice) and 30-26 rendered in the Junior Dos Santos vs. Roy Nelson fight illustrate this perfectly. This means only one judge interpreted one round as "a contestant overwhelmingly dominates by striking or grappling in a round", and the remaining two judges assessed that Dos Santos' stand-up mauling of Nelson qualified as "a contestant wins by a close margin".
Most importantly, the bigger issue is that the clearly one-sided beatdown Nelson endured, i.e. "dominating through striking", is given the exact same value (and level of dominance) that Jon Fitch exhibited versus Thiago Alves in all three rounds at UFC 117. When evaluating which fighter was more superior in a round of mixed martial arts, would any sane human being dare insist that Jon Fitch invoked the exact same level of dominance over Thiago Alves that Junior Dos Santos did with Roy Nelson? That person might have more luck with the aforementioned lawnmower warranty.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you happen to stand in firm resolution that the 10-Point Must System is being used as it was designed and intended to be--you are “that guy” demanding the warranty claim.
“With every reaction, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
My insistence that the 10-Point Must System has never been correctly applied can be quite easily blown out of the water with a simple explanation as to why Jon Fitch -- who offered little to no threatening offense and won each round through control and positional dominance -- should be valued with the same level of supremacy as Junior Dos Santos. “Cigano” blasted the jerry curls off Roy Nelson's head throughout the entire opening round, dropped him to the canvas for a legit knockdown, and landed 50 stout punches compared to a wild, flailing, and ineffective 11 for Nelson.
When Big Country was stumbling backwards and doing nothing but covering up while leaning against the fence and absorbing unanswered combinations, I mused that stopping the fight would not be entirely implausible; just as a fighter who stops moving and doesn't protect himself effectively risks a stoppage from a top-player showering down strikes.
As with any other symmetrical structure based on balance, when you overtax one function beyond its design, a snowball effect occurs where every other function is distorted. In this scenario, the distortion is seen in the values that we assign to each score: since the maw for 10-9 has been stretched much wider than its definition suggests, the guidelines become vague and indistinguishable for that score and all others.
Instead of arguing what each score should really encompass, why don’t we just take the daring and outlandish tactic of following the criteria exactly as its written? A review of the definitions for each score from the ABC unified rules:
1. A round is to be scored as a 10-10 Round when both contestants appear to be fighting evenly and neither contestant shows dominance in a round;
2. A round is to be scored as a 10-9 Round when a contestant wins by a close margin, landing the greater number of effective legal strikes, grappling and other maneuvers;
3. A round is to be scored as a 10-8 Round when a contestant overwhelmingly dominates by striking or grappling in a round.
4. A round is to be scored as a 10-7 Round when a contestant totally dominates by striking or grappling in a round.
Let’s start with the basics. I agree that Jon Fitch “won by a close margin” in each round over Alves. Though there was nothing approaching “dominating”, he clearly proved superior through smothering control and moderate striking that should typify the standard 10-9 score. Now, the way the 10-Point Must System has been applied is to also brand the way Junior Dos Santos battered Roy Nelson with the same level of dominance.
Does anyone feel that the superiority that Fitch showed over Alves is the exact same magnitude that Dos Santos exhibited over Nelson? Is Nelson offering virtually no offense, being outpunched 5-1, and being knocked on his ass by Dos Santos for five full minutes more aptly described as: A) winning by a close margin, or B) overwhelmingly dominating by striking or grappling?
I don’t see how anyone could answer with choice “A”, and if they did with a straight face, the kicker question would be, “What is a 10-8 round then?” If Dos Santos would’ve dominated Nelson any more than he did, the fight would have to be stopped. There’s no more room for any more dominance; therefore the window for 10-9 is enormously panoramic and broad, and the window for the remaining scores is like looking through the peephole to see who’s knocking at your door.
This may sound incredulous, because it’s such a jump from the existing baseline, but round one of Nelson vs. Dos Santos could rightfully be a 10-7 round, with the remaining rounds clocking a 10-8 score for the clear superiority he showed, and our standard “narrow margin of victory” definition serving as the 10-9. The questionable wording in the unified rules to differentiate a 10-8 round (“overwhelmingly dominates”) and 10-7 (“totally dominates”) need a little fine-tuning as well; but it really doesn’t matter when the options aren’t exercised.
So… here we dwell, frustrated and looking for answers in the most dynamic and deeply layered combat sport in history, with hundreds of different techniques being employed from a multitude of traditional fighting styles, actuated in myriad scenarios, and almost all of those five-minute sequences are stamped with the same dreary 10-9 score .. and we wonder why scoring is ambiguous, inaccurate, and inconsistent.
The final example of the system’s misapplication is perhaps the most devastating. MMA scoring and judging has emerged in the spotlight for one reason: controversial fights. What are controversial fights? They are closely contested affairs where both fighters either unleash a similar degree of damage and offense, whether it’s mutually plentiful (Shogun vs. Machida 1) or jointly lacking (Couture vs. Vera). Here’s another way of defining those controversial fights, straight out of the suggested scoring criteria for a 10-10 round in the unified rules: “both contestants appear to be fighting evenly and neither contestant shows dominance in a round.”
Again, amidst a sea of razor-thin performances where few can agree on who should’ve been awarded the round and none can argue that the fight was “closely contested” and “neither fighter showed dominance”, the MMA community berates judges for alleged ineptitude, calls for monitors to be available when “visibility” hasn’t been cemented as a major issue, and deems the 10-Point “ineffective” and “constructed for boxing”. Meanwhile, the one faction of the system in place that perfectly accommodates a tight round with no clear dominance is the most extinct score on the market.
The 10-10 score stands alone on a distant and deserted island flipping the sport the bird and singing in a slighted voice, “Put me in, coach!”
Nick Lembo, advisor to the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board and one of the biggest influences on the unified rules, specified that at amateur and pro MMA judging seminars in his state, judges are openly told that 10-10 and 10-8 scores are welcome if the judges see fit. However, Lembo theoried that there may be a “noticeable reluctance” across the board to award 10-10 and 10-8 rounds, which at the end of the day would simply reflect a “noticeable willingness” to stray from the guidelines in the unified rules. When a system is designed on objective reasoning and balance, then purposely manipulated from form to fit a different purpose, everything goes out of whack, and the snowball keeps growing larger and rolling faster down the hill. Enter the present state of MMA judging.
Nelson “Doc” Hamilton’s “half-point” system is being touted as the answer, and was presented at this year’s ABC Conference. The simple premise is ideal, which is widening the spectrum of round scores to reflect more levels of fighter superiority. The suggested method, however, seems bizarre. We have our car with one tire and our partially bladed lawnmower up on the repair bench for a failure analysis from the engineers, and the answer is to add eight tires to the car when we don’t even use the four provided? To add twelve blades to the lawnmower when we’ve already willingly removed most of what was there originally? I’m struggling to understand how more options is the solution when we don’t even exercise the ones we have now.
If you are still in denial that the 10-Point Must System isn’t being used correctly and never has been: then you should be able to clearly demonstrate why Junior Dos Santos vs. Roy Nelson deserves the same rating of superiority as Jon Fitch vs. Thiago Alves. You should be able to illustrate why the inconsistent score cards and clouds of controversy surrounding “close fights” should continue to be virtually disconnected from the waiting embrace of the score that fully accounts for “close fights”. You should be able to tangibly qualify the breadth of what each round score encompasses, and why the 10-9 should remain broad as a barn and the other scores extraordinarily finite. You should be able to enlighten everyone why the number of “closely contested fights where neither fighter shows clear dominance” far outweighs the number of 10-10 scores that are given.
Ultimately, you should be able to justify why a fair and balanced system can be robbed of certain critical parts, not followed as it says to be followed, and still continue to function as a whole with any efficiency. Or, in other words, you should be able to talk your way into succeeding with that warranty claim on the lawnmower with most of the blades removed and the car being driven with only three out of four tires.
Until then, the 10-Point Must System as a tool of combat evaluation cannot possibly be “broken” or “inadequate” until it’s actually followed as it’s written