(Is the 10-point must system suitable for use in MMA?)
After re-watching the Impact FC bout between Denis Kang and Paulo Filho that ended in a split draw – the second notable MMA bout to do so in a month with the other being the WEC 49 bout between Jamie Varner and Kamal Shalorus – I couldn’t help but wonder why MMA continues to rely on a scoring system created and tailored for boxing judging.
When the majority of mixed martial arts organizations adopted the Unified Rules in 2000, along with the governing principles, each organization adopted the system known as the 10-point must system.
Under the guidelines of the 10-point must system, judges score each frame based on their accumulative points tally for the round. The winner of each round receives a score between seven and 10 depending on who won the round. If a round is deemed a tie, both combatants are assessed 10 points each by the judge who perceived the frame to be even. The problem with the system is, when used to score a three-round MMA bout, the likelihood of a fight ending in a draw is exponentially higher than in a 10-round boxing match.
Since being instituted, the criteria has been modified somewhat to suit the differences in the sports. In boxing, a knockdown (which is a rare occurrence) elicits a 10-8 round, whereas in MMA it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the fighter who gets knocked down will lose the round, so there are obvious differences.
Because the system doesn’t take into account overall accumulative scoring, just who won each round, draws can happen even if one fighter dominates the fight.
Lets say one judges score a fight 10-9, 10-9, 8-10, a second judge scores it 10-9, 9-10, 8-10 and a third judge’s tally equals 10-9, 9-10 and 10-8, the fight is scored a draw.
During its tenure as one of the top MMA promotions, PRIDE Fighting Championships was lauded for its distinct adopted judging criteria, as its system, based on tangibles like which fighter was most aggressive, inflicted the most damage and did the most to try to finish the fight, didn’t leave itself open to questionable draws.
Here is the description of the judging criteria that was used by the Japanese organization:
"If the match goes the distance, then the outcome of the bout is determined by the three judges. A decision is made according to the following: the effort made to finish the fight via KO or submission, damage given to the opponent, standing combinations & ground control, aggressiveness and weight (in the case that the weight difference is 10kg/22lbs or more). The above criteria are listed according to priority. The fight is scored in its entirety, and not round by round. After the third round, each judge must decide a winner. Matches cannot end in a draw."
It just makes sense that a fight is judged on a whole, and not round by round. That’s why the sport is becoming the non-fan-friendly takedown-to-snuggle affair that it has become. Why risk being put in a dangerous position by engaging with an opponent when you can just hug out a decision?
If in the example cited above, fighter B was the more aggressive fighter who landed more combinations and worked off of his back when taken down to try and secure submissions, he would be deemed the winner under PRIDE judging.
Judging at its very essence is very subjective since it’s based on the perception of a human being, but by judging a fight on who was more active in trying to end a bout and who inflicted more damage, the chances of human error are diminished. Fights like Machida-Rua 1 and Varner-Shalorus would likely have had entirely differently outcomes if judged using PRIDE criteria.
Lets look at the Kang-Filho fight since it’s still fresh in our minds.
Under the 10-point must system, all three judges unanimously gave Kang round one 10-9 apiece. Two judges gave Filho round two 10-9 and the third gave it to Kang 10-9, meaning Filho took it by majority rule. The judges were split on the third round, with one giving it to Kang 10-9 and one to Filho 10-9, with the third scoring it a 10-10 draw.
If you watch the fight, Kang was the fighter who pressed the action for most of the fight. Although Filho scored points with a trio of takedowns and a guard pass that were mostly negated by takedowns and reversals by Kang, besides a handful of shots from the guard, he failed to show any aggressiveness and did little to finish the bout. At the end of the match, the judges’ scorecards tallied 87-85 in favor of Kang – a fact that wasn’t lost on the Canadian.
“I feel like I won at least two rounds. I’ll even give up one round but there’s no way,” Kang explained from his hotel room in Sydney Sunday night. “I think I won two rounds. I don’t agree with the judge who gave me all three. If you went by PRIDE rules – by damage and by who was trying to finish the fight, I would have won for sure.”
What’s frustrating Kang says is that they were told by referee Big John McCarthy prior to the show that he would be officiating the bout based on similar criteria to that used in PRIDE.
“I know he isn’t a judge, but Big John met with some of us before the fights for a rules meeting– he only reffed three or four of our fights – and he said, ‘Look guys, tonight it’s all about damage.’ I asked, ‘What about improving position and advancing?’ and he said ‘I don’t care about that. If you’re just advancing your position and not doing anything, I’m standing you up. I want to see damage and aggression,’" Kang explains. "I wish the judges had have seen it that way as well.”
According to the PRIDE and UFC veteran, the promotion has expressed a strong interest, given the somewhat questionable outcome of the bout, in an immediate September rematch in Brazil and although he would love a chance at redemption, since the fight left a bitter taste in his mouth, he says he likely won’t fight Filho in his own backyard.
"They want to do a rematch September 25 in Rio. I’m not doing it in Rio; we’ll do it some place neutral. I’ll do a rematch, just not in Brazil. They still want me on the card, though," he says. "They mentioned either [Murilo] Ninja [Rua] or [Jesse] JT [Taylor] as possible opponents, but we’ll see what happens."
Sources have indicated that the eventual rematch could be for the fledgling promotion’s middleweight title, but the proposition may be premature considering this is only their first event and advance attendance numbers for the show have not been favorable.
One point that has to be made is that the fighters were never informed of the judging criteria for the event and whether or not their bouts would be contested under the Unified Rules. They also never received copies of the official scorecards for their bouts and Kang says he has requested them but has not received them as of the time of writing.
By all accounts, the organization of the promotion was questionable at best and these points further prove that there are big holes Impact needs to fill moving forward if they continue to operate.