Tumultuous Weekend in MMA Puts Judging Back in the Spotlight

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Dominick Reyes UFC
Dominick Reyes Credit: Joe McDonagh/Cageside Press

Inscribed on the wall of the old TUF gym, “never leave it in the hands of the judges” became something of a mantra for fighters and MMA fans in years gone by. Yet while the quote became cliche, the sentiment cannot be overlooked after a weekend of unquestionably bad judging took attention off fighters at a pair of key events.

Two titles fights — Invicta FC 39’s Frey vs. Cummins II, and UFC 247’s Jones vs. Reyes, were at the forefront of this furor, though they were not alone. Andrea Lee vs. Lauren Murphy, Jonathan Martinez vs. Andre Ewell, Derrick Lewis vs. Ilir Latifi and more where also hit with some questionable scores.

A number of those involved aired their reactions on social media.

“A lot of people have been reaching out to me asking my thoughts on my fight Friday night so here it is: I think I won. I think I won 4 rounds if not at least 3 rounds of the 5 round fight, and I was shocked when the ref didn’t raise my hand. In the words of [Dominick Reyes], ‘This just proves that I’m the real deal,'” Cummins said via Instagram after her loss to Jinh Yu Frey on Friday, one that had fans in attendance vocal in their displeasure. Cageside Press was in the house for this one. The atomweight title fight could easily have gone the other way, but Frey earned three scores of 48-47.

Andrea ‘KGB’ Lee gave her thoughts on reports that judges weren’t watching her bout against Lauren Murphy, with one potentially checking his cell phone. “If anyone has video or pictures of the judge who was on his phone during the fights, please send them to me,” she wrote on Instagram. “I just think that if you’re there to judge fights, you should be watching the fight and not on your phone, therefore I think that judge should not have the opportunity to sit cage side and judge fights ever again, especially when there are plenty of other judges who were better qualified and more deserving.”
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The Invicta card went down in Kansas City, Kansas, while UFC 247 fell under the jurisdiction of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. The TDLR was under fire from the outset, and issued a statement (via MMA Junkie) Monday addressing accusations of questionable scores and disinterested judges.

“TDLR applauds the passion everyone is exhibiting about this sport. Comments have been made about the selection of the judges and the referees. In selecting ringside officials, TDLR takes into consideration recommendations made by UFC. As with all events, TDLR works closely with UFC and other promoters to ensure the quality and experience of referees and judges to protect the health and safety of the fighters.”

The TDLR went on to note that monitors had been installed “below the floor level of the octagon,” which could explain why some judges weren’t looking at the octagon itself. That said, it does not address why so many questionable scores were handed out in one night. Especially given one of those questionable scores came in the main event title fight between Jones and Reyes. While not the biggest robbery, a 49-47 score for Jones was a head-scratcher.

What’s the solution, if any? Dana White put forward that the promotion needs to work with commissions. All well and good, but if promotions are slow to change, perhaps the opposite approach: ensure they don’t see big fights until legitimate concerns about judging are addressed.

In the wake of UFC 247, Max Holloway echoed a suggestion many have made in recent years: ensure scores are posted round by round. Live scoring is controversial (what if a fighter with a strong lead coasts the final round?), but doing something is better than nothing. It’s certainly worth a shot. Beyond that, ex-fighters going into the judging business is worth a look as well.

Overall, though, you know judging is an issue any time it’s being talked about. Because when judges get it right, we shouldn’t need to talk about it at all.

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