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July 09, 2008

what is a 10–8 round in mixed martial arts?

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The biggest controversy coming out of the past weekend's UFC 86 event is the inconsistency of judging.  The main event, Quinton Jackson vs Forrest Griffin, was an extremely close bout, yet Griffin won a unanimous decision by a large, unrepresentative margin (Griffin won 48-46 according to two judges, and 49-46 according to the third).  It was reported almost immediately that Jackson's camp would be appealing the decision, and various MMA commentators have since questioned the logic of judging and criticised its inconsistency. 

There are two main points of controversy:  one is to do with human error and the judges' lack of expertise, and the second is a more interesting issue about the content of MMA rules.  The first is that two judges awarded the first round to Griffin, despite the fact that, in most people's eyes (including mine), Jackson clearly won that round  (Jeff Sherwood and Greg Savage nail this issue on Monday's Savage Dog Show). 

The second issue regards the second round, which several commentators (and one judge) scored 10-8 for Griffin.  Luke Thomas has been leading the interrogation of 10-8 rounds at Bloody Elbow here and here.  In the latter post, Thomas does an excellent job of proposing some very productive questions on the issue.  In his opinion, the second round should have been scored 10-9 for Griffin (not 10-8).  He points to the first round of a recent fight between Forrest Petz and Brian Gassaway (which was scored 10-9 Gassaway, yet Thomas believes should have been 10-8 Gassaway) and asks:

What are we giving value to here? Who comes closer to finishing the fight or the duration of time spent dominating an opponent? How much does damage matter given that Petz was significantly closer to being stopped than Rampage? And why doesn't Gassway's balance of damage and positional control count as much as Forrest's [Griffin] uneven balance of less damage (the type that ends fights, not just stuns opponents) and more positional control?

To my mind, round 2 of Griffin vs Jackson is 10-8, because Griffin controls Jackson to the point that Jackson does not manage a single bit of offence during the whole 5 minutes.  At the beginning of the round, Jackson attempts two short jabs (neither of which connect) and, following Griffin's two outside leg kicks which buckle his clearly already-sore knee, a sub-par single leg takedown that is turned into a guillotine attempt and clinch by Griffin.  And that's it.  For the rest of the round, Jackson is defending strikes and the occasional submission attempt by Griffin (who successfully moves from half-guard to side control to full mount, although Jackson is more concerned with defending strikes than defending position).  

So here, I am primarily awarding value to Griffin's positional dominance - because that's Griffin's principal offensive attack in his round.  If we're talking damage, then you need to evaluate the damage in relative terms - although Jackson defends successfully enough to not be in danger of being stopped, Griffin inflicts significantly more damage in relation to the damage that Jackson inflicts (which is, as I have shown, none).   In the comments section on Luke's post, '!claw' makes the same argument and is refuted by 'Hardcharger' who states that:

Doesn’t matter how little the loser of the round scores.

There are rounds where both fighters stand up the entire round, and one guy lands some minor strikes, and the other lands nothing. That’s not a 10-8 round either.

Dominance + damage = 10-8. It’s not dominance + (lack of damage by opponent).

Yet this argument seems to overlook the fact that the opponent has not inflicted damage precisely because the round's winner has controlled them to the point of domination.  It isn't like Jackson has not inflicted damage because of laziness - he is being forced on the defensive by Forrest's positional attack.  And the fact that Jackson's defense is effective means that it is a 10-8 round, rather than anything less (although, if his defense wasn't effective, then we wouldn't even go to the judges' scorecards).  Although it doesn't look (or feel) as devastating as strikes or submissions, positional control should still be a key part of the judging criteria in MMA.  Yet each individual round is different - you need to judge, after seeing the round, what its key attributes are. 

I've only watched the Petz vs Gassaway fight once so I can't make a firm decision either way - but I can understand an argument for that first round being 10-9 (rather than 10-8) because, for 3 and a half minutes, Petz does stay standing with Gassaway.  Petz connects with some (admittedly minor) strikes and also successfully wrestles on the feet for a little while.  A key question seems to be: how far does significant damage cause one to forget the action that has preceded it in that round?  How you score this first round between Gassaway and Petz would therefore seem to me to have more of a bearing on how you'd score the first round between Griffin and Jackson (in which Jackson knocked down Griffin in the latter half).  How much does a knockdown count?  In boxing, if a fighter is knocked down then they automatically lose a point - do you consider this to be the case in MMA? 

In total though, I believe that Jackson vs Griffin was my fight of the year so far - it was a five round epic, with a story behind it, that went back and forth throughout and had the crowd engrossed.  Hell, I scored it as a 47-47 draw. 


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