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Even Big John McCarthy Thinks the State of MMA Judging/Refereeing is Bullsh*t

(“Gentlemen, I want a good, clean fight. Listen to my commands at all times, protect yourself at all…I’m sorry, did one of you just shit your pants?” Photo via Esporte.)

We hate to keep beating this dead horse*, but the judging over the past couple UFC events has been particularly egregious. While UFC 156 merely suffered from a puzzling split decision or two and a main event that just barely escaped the controversy we predicted it would end in, last weekend’s UFC on FUEL 7 event was a veritable smorgasbord of fatuousness. Thanks in no small to the efforts of judge Aaron Chatfield — who both scored the Che Mills/Matt Riddle fight 29-28 for Mills and gave Paul Sass the first round against Danny Castillo — MMA judging has once again found itself at the center of controversy. That controversy being: Who the hell are these people and how did they waltz into these jobs?

It’s an answer that seems to allude even Big John McCarthy, the all-seeing, all knowing eye of MMA refereeing, who has been forced called out these blind, ignant sons of bitches for being such blind, ignant sons of bitches. Via MMAFighting:

When it comes to the judging, the biggest thing is, judging by nature is subjective. You look at a fight and you have a guy that throws a bunch of punches. One judge — we’ll say [it's] you — is looking at it, and you’re giving him credit, saying, ‘Wow, he’s really active.’ While I’m looking at it saying, ‘He’s not connecting.’

When you’re looking at the UFC, there’s not a whole lot of excuses. You’ve got a monitor in front of you, so [even] when you can’t see, [you can still see]. That monitor gives them the ability to see a fight from a variety of angles, not just from the one they’re sitting at. And so there’s not a lot of excuses to say, ‘Well, I didn’t see that,’ when it comes to the UFC.

Look, we’ve been down this road before. We’ve offered advice on alternate scoring methods, we’ve heard what the pros have to say about it. And if the past few events — or the words of UFC VP of Regulatory Affairs Marc Ratner, who responded to the controversy by declaring that “some stuff” is being worked out internally — are any indication, then nothing short of a fixed fight is going to change the criteria upon which an MMA judge is decided, let alone be improved upon. Fighter-turned-judge Ricardo Almeida once suggested that each and every athletic commission member should be subjected to an educational “summit” each year in order to bring a more technical understanding of the sport to those supposedly fit to judge/reside over it, and that idea has caught on about as fast as that of a fighter’s union. And for the time being, it seems like things are going to stay that way.

But if there is one group of people involved in MMA that should not only be constantly evolving with the sport but actively seeking to evolve, it’s the referees, right? Because while a judge’s ignorance might equal a controversial victory for one fighter, a referee’s ignorance could drastically alter the course of a fight or worse *cough* looking at you, Jerry Poe *cough*. Take the Bobby Green/Jacob Volkmann fight from UFC 156, for instance, in which referee Kim Winslow chose to stand the two up in the second round despite the fact that Green was completely working Volkmann over with ground and pound at the time. Although Green was able to score the victory regardless, in short, Big John did not approve:

I will [only] stand a fight up when it’s close to an even position,” McCarthy said. “If you’re in guard, or even half guard, and the action has stalled to the point, and I give you warnings [that] I need you to get busy and nothing really changes, you’ve shown me that you can’t do anything, I’m going to stop you. I’m going to restart you. But if you get to dominant positions, be it side control, mount, back, the only way in the world that I would ever stand somebody up out of that, and I’ve done it once — I tell this story, it’s Jeremy Horn – is if you go and clamp down and you’re the one stalling the fight because you’re not doing anything. 

You’ve got to have some compassion about how hard it is to do some of the things these [fighters] are trying to do, and doing it against a guy who knows what you’re trying to do. When you get guys in these mad scrambles and they’ll finally end up in a position on the ground, and you’ll see a referee come in and five second later [say], ‘Come one. Work.’ It’s like, ‘Jesus Christ, don’t you think they just did? Wouldn’t you be trying to get your heart rate back and breathe a little bit?’ You’ve got to be reasonable when you’re looking at things. Sometimes that’s what separates the referees that fighters want to have doing their fights compared to others, because they understand the complexities of what’s going on. 

It remains to be seen if anything will actually be done to help curb two of the biggest problems currently facing MMA (well, two of the three biggest problems at least). The sad fact is, neither referees, nor judges, nor the athletic commissions responsible for hiring either of the former have truly been forced to take responsibility for a blown call, a late stoppage, or a botched score. Sure, us fans get in an uproar and take to our laptops every time we see one, but nothing is ever accomplished in terms of moving forward, primarily because none of the parties involved ever appear to be in danger of losing their job as a result of their own incompetence.

It’s a luxury many of us can’t afford at our jobs, unless your job is my job, in which case “gross incompetence” is more of a grey area. CAPTAIN SWINGDICK FOR LIFE, ASSHOLES!!!

* I know, I’m also disappointed that I couldn’t think of a fresh Alistair Overeem joke to go here. I’ll see myself out. 

-J. Jones

Cagepotato Comments

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jolyqw- February 22, 2013 at 11:05 am
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Get Off Me- February 20, 2013 at 11:45 am
It's a pro/con argument really, sure a clock may promote stalling(it's not like going for submissions is given much consideration anyway) but what it will also do is eliminate the vitor/johnson, volkmann/green quick stand ups, by taking the referee's interpretation away...I think it would promote transparency to the audience which I think this sport is lacking. I think a fight that is reset a few times in a round will offer the audience a better understanding of who wins the round i.e. if a fighter lands 3-4 takedowns in a round where striking is limited, than it will be obvious to everyone who wins the round, conversely if a fighter lands one takedown and is outstruck(dunham/sherk) it will be more obvious is wins that's about taking the interpretation away from officials+judges, they are the ones ruining this sport more than anyone else. A clock for all intents and purposes would be like Pride's Yellow card, but without the referee's interpretation, there was still stalling in Pride with this in place, but I found that brand and the cards to be about promoting action rather than stalling.
mma4ever- February 20, 2013 at 10:21 am
The reem belives that the judges scored it wrong in his fight with bigfoot.
Thumblaster- February 20, 2013 at 4:16 am
It seemed like okami was in the mount position on belcher for minutes at a time but basicly just held him there and did'nt do shit, bring back the pride yellow card for stalling. If fighters know there purse will be affected it may make them stay busy, or mabye even try and finish a fight (gsp)
Under Banga- February 20, 2013 at 12:19 am

Can You Quack like a Duck ??
Pen Fifteen- February 19, 2013 at 8:43 pm
Wouldn't putting a clock on position advancement just encourage people on the bottom to stall instead of working for submissions or working to stand themselves up? Why attempt to stand yourself up if you can get a guaranteed standup from the ref just for holding closed guard? And anyway, the problem, as McCarthy notes, seems to be with stand-ups happening too quickly, not with excessive stalling.

There seems to be some normative understanding of a sloppy brawl as the most desirable type of fight, which is totally beyond me. If you don't like top control, maybe don't watch MMA?
GrandShamrock- February 20, 2013 at 8:47 am
Maybe most exciting feature of MMA is not boring striking nor boring grappling. Just because you don't like a guy on top of another stalling or looking for a miracle to improve position, doesn't mean you don't appreciate other aspects of the game. There is a thing as boring striking as well, the thing is, when you don't have really outstanding guys on the ground and you have guys that can't excel on the striking department, they find a way out on the ground, but that's not exciting, that's not A level MMA, that's pure grappling, that's desperation and an easy and boring way for a W, that's not what people want to see, they don't watch MMA for pure striking or pure wrestling, but criticizing a boring grappling match doesn't exclude the fact that there are boring striking fights too, like Faber vs Barao, and we are not bashing EVERY striking aspect because of it. People don't watch MMA for a pure wrestling match, they watch MMA for everything that goes with it, for all the new elements you can add to wrestling, or to striking. People like GnP, like Submissions, like KO's, and MMA makes those things possible, if you don't like boring displays of any martial arts, you can still like MMA, you just don't like boring MMA. Tell me you liked Faber vs Barao more than any recent Maia fight, or Riddle vs Mills more than Silva vs Overeem. Boring fights are boring either on the ground or standing, people like MMA for the excitement, not for scrambles and "improving position", if you are "improving position" for 15 minutes, man, that sucks.
Get Off Me- February 19, 2013 at 7:48 pm
Nice read. This is where the UFC has to step in with some rule changes in their promotion that would effectively limit the opportunity for judges and referees to continue to cripple the growth of this sport.The unified rules of mma is still in it's infancy...imagine how boring basketball must have been before the shot clock was introduced..imagine the referees with their moustaches allowing teams to stall...Big John hit the nail on the head for ground work, I say put a 60 second clock on a fighter inside an opponents full guard to improve his position or the fight is reset. Most people I know who were big fans are watching less because of the "top control" position and the fact that "half the time the guy who should have won get's fucked on the decision". Dana's getting tough on steroids, but he needs to also look at grabbing the bull by the horns to try and improve things, he got 5rd main events done...
sausagelauncher- February 19, 2013 at 7:00 pm
Could this be solved simply by just handing out draws when fights go the distance? If some crazy shit like that was actually implemented you'd see more effort from fighters who like to use the "play it safe" card. Or as i like to refer to it as the " I tucked grandmas panties in my cup for good luck" card.
Seraldo Babalu- February 19, 2013 at 6:44 pm
it's like John already forgot UFC 1 where he almost let a poor hillbilly get elbowed to death by Pat Smith.
Pen Fifteen- February 19, 2013 at 5:23 pm
How is damage an unambiguous concept? So if a guy cuts his opponent with a glancing elbow, but spends the rest of the round on his back, does he win the round on damage? That's absurd. Not to mention, you're introducing a clear bias toward striking, as you assert that "the ability to understand the impact and damage of every blow." If anything, damage would simply introduce more ambiguity than already exists in the rules.

There already is a standard in the unified rules, which specify "effective striking and grappling" as the top 2 criteria. When you have dipshits like Cecil Peoples claiming "leg kicks don't win fights," it's clear that judge knowledge of what constitutes "effective" striking or grappling is an issue. At it's core MMA is a skill sport. Damage is a criterion that devalues skill in general, especially grappling skill. Make sure everyone understands what constitutes "effective" technique (e.g. McCarthy's example of the difficulty of passing guard) and you'll go a long way toward fixing the problem.
Pen Fifteen- February 19, 2013 at 5:14 pm
@NM Fan
To take a different tack, you might say that what Dodson was doing was a totally cheap exploitation of the rules. Dodson was trying to draw a foul during a point at which he was getting his ass kicked rather than working on his own to get to a better position.

The rules regarding what makes you a "grounded opponent" are exist for fighter safety. If anything, in keeping fighter safety at the forefront by letting Johnson know whether or not his strikes would be legal when his line of sight was impaired, McCarthy was doing an exemplary job of refereeing the fight.
GrandShamrock- February 19, 2013 at 4:41 pm
The problem with judging is that everyone's shy of setting a standard, as he said, judges judge and take into account different things, one would prefer damage, one would give the lead to aggressiveness, one would give an edge to jiu jitsu over top control, or top control over EVERYTHING else. You have to set a standard. 1st: Damage. Damage wins top control. A takedown doesn't mean anything unless it means something (gnp, jits), are we giving the W to guys that have the ability to stall an opponent but can't do anything else? If these things are sorted out and you create a standard in which the judge is there ONLY to follow the same rules as a machine but with the ability to understand the impact and damage of every blow, and not to create his own rules, then you have an understandable criteria everyone has to follow close.
Fried Taco- February 19, 2013 at 4:20 pm
Who do I have to blow to get a judging job? Because obviously I'm not blowing the right people.
NM Fan- February 19, 2013 at 3:26 pm
Back the truck up Big John.
If I can recall the fight between Dodson and Johnson a few weeks back, you were calling out verbal cues to Mighty Mouse when a knee strike was available. See Dodson had his hand on the mat, therefore making it an illegal strike, when Dodson would raise his hand from the mat you were letting Johnson know it was legal...And that my friend is not a ref's job. So I say you've got some big balls to say anything. Pot calling the kettle black. Total BS.