Dealing With Referees and Judges

MMA, being a rather young sport, will probably continue to experience growing pains as it pertains to officials. Organizations like the UFC have done an excellent job building the sport, but this is one area out of their control. MMA depends on the commissions in the states where cards are held to provide officials and it doesn’t always go so smoothly.

Sports that rely so heavily on judges have had a long time to establish clear-cut criteria. But in MMA, judges can be all over the place. Standards are in place, but in a sport that has so much going on in the octagon, it seems that MMA judging still lacks concrete guidelines. It’s not a good sign when you see a lot of judges presiding over MMA bouts who are also known as boxing judges. It shows that the pool of capable and trusted MMA judges is quite shallow.

Even in boxing, where fighters are limited to only punches, the views can be very different for the same fight. In a form of fighting where every part of the body is a weapon and there are so many different combinations of moves–it can get messy with the scorecards. And how many times have we seen a bad decision in MMA? It’s hard to keep count.

You want a sure-handed referee presiding over a match in which you wagered. It’s hard enough picking winners without having some dopey referee screwing up the natural flow and conclusion of a fight. You want to see a guy like Herb Dean–a former fighter who knows what he’s doing. You don’t want that one woman referee you saw on those old Strikeforce shows, who has no clue what she’s doing.

One way to avoid this whole mess is to look for fighters who finish. And luckily for MMA bettors, those fighters exist in spades. At the top levels of boxing, for example, decisions are rampant. In MMA, you can single out many top guys whose fights rarely if ever go to the scorecards. A lot of guys fall in the middle, where their fights are just as likely to not go the distance as they are to go to a decision.

But some fighters historically do not hear the judges scorecards very often and perhaps deserve more betting consideration as a result. Finishing a fight is really at the heart of what MMA is supposed to be. As a bettor, fights that reach a more holistic conclusion are better betting fodder than fights that are decided by non-fighting individuals.

Some examples of fighters whose bouts don’t go to scorecards are guys like Junior dos Santos, who has seen 2 out of 15 bouts go to the scorecards. Cain Velasquez has heard the final bell only once. Josh Barnett has seen 30 of his 36 bouts end early. Shogun Rua has heard the final bell only 4 times. Jon Jones tends to finish fights. Out of Rich Franklin’s 35 fights, 30 of them ended before the scheduled duration.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have fighters like Gray Maynard, who has seen 9 of his 13 fights go to decision. Dan Henderson has 19 decisions in his 37 fights. Out of Rashad Evans’ 19 fights, 10 have gone to decision. Frankie Edgar’s fights have gone to the cards 11 out of 17 times. Dominick Cruz has 12 scorecard readings in 20 bouts.

We can never shield ourselves completely from poor officiating. But by picking fighters who generally finish fights, you can at least partially remove that sometimes unpleasant variable from the equation.

If you are truly concerned about the identity of the officials, this information can be ascertained. It’s just that you won’t know until very close to fight-night. This can create a conundrum when trying to decide what’s more important–jumping early on a favorable line or holding out until you have more information. Nevertheless, it can be pretty random. Sure, some referees are better than others, but there are no real signs to detect when an officiating snafu will occur. The best referees and judges all screw up at some point. The only real defense against this is to place a little more value on wagers involving fighters who win fights outright.