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Ricardo Almeida to Judge in NJ: Is Fighters Judging Fighters Really Such a Good Idea?

(Is that a thumbs-up, a hang loose or a 2-out-of-10? We already have a problem here, Ricardo. Pic: MMA Convert)

Suck on this, F. Scott Fitzgerald: Recently retired MMA veteran Ricardo Almeida has apparently wasted little time starting the second act of his fighting life, as Pro MMA Radio’s Larry Pepe reports via tweet that “The Big Dog” will become a licensed judge in New Jersey. Obviously, the immediate reaction to this story is, “Hey, that’s great.” It’s good to see Almeida appearing to make a seamless transition to the next phase (one that baffles so many professional athletes) and it’s nice that he’s looking for ways to stay involved in the sport after hanging up his gloves. Since MMA is still, ahem, technically illegal in the state where Almeida resides, it’s also super cool and neighborly of Jersey to give him a chance. The Dirty Jerz has always fancied itself a forward-thinking athletic commission, so this is a good fit for it as well.

Let us say right off that we have no problem with Almeida the specific man/fighter becoming a judge. He’s always seemed like an agreeable sort and we have no doubt he’ll do a great job. But after the initial warm and fuzzies of this particular story wore off, we were left with some questions. Lots of questions, actually. For starters: Is having newly retired fighters become ringside officials really such a hot idea? Doesn’t it sort of set the stage for some clear cut conflicts of interest?

The conventional wisdom – one we don’t necessarily disagree with – is that former fighters would make awesome judges for all the obvious reasons: Knowledge of the game, understanding of the fighter  brain, insight into technical nuance, etc. etc., and that installing them into the judges’ chairs might be a kind of quick fix for the irregularities and head-scratchingly bad decisions that have plagued the sport recently. To all this we have to say, we’re not so sure.

Frankly, we’re not overly confident that former fighters would be any better at judging fights than anybody else. Judging MMA fights is a hard and vitally important job, after all, and for all you might gain from fighters in practical knowledge,  you risk opening the scorecards up to new problems.

Fighters might end up being just as biased and wrong-headed as the judges we have now, maybe even more so. The MMA world is way too small and way too incestuous to think otherwise. If you were a pro fighter, would you really feel comfortable if you looked over and noticed one of the guys judging the potential biggest night of your life was some dude you might’ve knocked out three years ago?

For example: Could we trust Almeida to judge a Nate Marquardt fight (or vice versa), knowing that the pair’s 2003 Pancrase title bout ended in an in-ring brawl? Could we trust any former fighter to objectively judge anyone he might have trained with, fought against or just got stiffed by on a bar tab one night at Hooters? Could we trust Almeida to judge fights involving people from his home base at Renzo Gracie Jiu Jitsu? Or Marquardt to judge people from Grudge Training Center? Could we trust AKA guys to judge Team Cesar Gracie fights? Or Xtreme Couture guys to judge Team Quest fights?

If the answer is no (or even maybe not), can we then trust the people in charge to keep it straight enough to make sure those situations don’t occur? To avoid such conflicts, you have to put an awful lot of faith in the athletic commission itself. You have to trust that the commission will be active, perceptive and (most important) competent enough to keep track of which former fighters should/shouldn’t be judging at which events. You have to ask the commission to be vigilant in scoping out potential trouble spots and agile enough steer clear of them.

That might not be a problem in Jersey, where again the commission seems to have its shit together, but what about other places? Not to paint with too broad a brush here, but think about those bozos we saw on video in California during the Chael Sonnen testosterone hearing. Do you really trust those people (generally speaking, you understand) to do all that? We don’t.

Potential biases could not only be personal, but technical as well. What if Dan Hardy became a judge? Would he score against wrestlers on general principal? Would we have to install Matt Hughes as a judge on the other side of the cage just to balance things out? And doesn’t that get us back to pretty much the same mixed-up situation we had with judges to begin with? Sure, it’s kind of a silly, extreme example, but you see what we mean.

We’re certainly not saying former fighters shouldn’t become judges. Probably they should, but their involvement isn’t a cure-all for what ails MMA’s current judging situation. If anything, it creates a handful of new questions that will have to be answered as we move forward.

Cagepotato Comments

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fatbellyfrank- April 7, 2011 at 4:16 pm
Fighters becoming officials has got to be a good thing, if you expand your argument about bias, maybe we should just trust no-one to officiate due to six degrees of seperation. Anything that increases the knowledge base of MMA officials should be embraced IMO, and having ex fighters officiate as referee's and Judges should be encouraged.
Clyde- April 7, 2011 at 4:12 pm
If comissions will allow Adelaide Byrd and Cecil Peoples to judge/ref, I can't really expect retired fighters to do a worse job, even if it's for the reason of bias as opposed to flat out incompetence.

The best solution would be that judges were held accountable and could be fined and or fired for poor decisions. I don't mean where a fight was close and a round was tough to call but the consensus opinion of fans was the opposite of the judges. But there have been so many decisions where you just can't justify how the decision has been given the wrong way; the sport needs these people to be accountable.
GrandShamrock- April 7, 2011 at 4:06 pm
If I were a judge, i would judge primarily the guts and the heart of the fighters, even if a fighter can hold you down for 25 minutes, if that's all he wants, a quick win, an easy win doing almost NOTHING, i would give a 10-10 or a 10-9 for the guy below that is actually trying to do SOMETHING, even if you are not successful, you are trying, and the guy on top is not, just holding you, why would I give a round to a fighter that the last thing he does is fight or show any kind of motivation to fight and win a fight by its own merits? Being on top of a guy isn't fighting, when you reach the top position, or you gnp or you submit, otherwise you don't deserve any point, is like if you are standing up, and instead of punching you 30 times, I punch you one and i leave my fist on your face for 25 minutes, so I win a decision, holding a guy is not a way to win in my eyes.
Waxedpants- April 7, 2011 at 2:28 pm
Every official with power of any kind has biases. That's why they have a swearing in ceremony and rules ect ect to be fair and just and impartial ect ect. This should be no different.
That said. They need to be careful about who they approve.
The fighters with an obvious sense of honor ( Ricardo being one ) should be encouraged to be judges. Someone with his integrity I would trust 100% to impartially call a fight.
KMagician- April 7, 2011 at 2:02 pm
Almeida is a New Yorker? Oh yea!

Personally I feel like that unless one of his own fighters was involved in a fight, any given ex-fighter would be intelligent enough to take into account any pre-existing bias that they may have towards either fighter.
RwilsonR- April 7, 2011 at 1:55 pm
Herb Dean is a fighter turned ref, and nobody seems to be complaining about him. Racists!
Hexed79- April 7, 2011 at 1:04 pm
I like to think that fighters that become judges will have enough respect for the sport to do the job honestly.

Also, you won't hear any more stupid shit like, "leg kicks don't end fights." Dudes that haven't taken a thai kick to the femur meat can't respect it. Dudes that have, can.
dragoman- April 7, 2011 at 12:30 pm
Fact checking? Bah, who needs that?
Knee 2 tha Face- April 7, 2011 at 11:46 am
Might as well go ahead and scrap the first paragraph too. Sorry to be so critical,but I take pride in my state and what fighters are from here.
Knee 2 tha Face- April 7, 2011 at 11:43 am
Im pretty sure Almeida lives in new jersey. He has a school down the street from me. So technically illegal doesn't really apply here. Prob should get your facts straight! Thank you.
Bare Grappler- April 7, 2011 at 11:32 am
The old thought is to get people unaffiliated with fighting to judge impartially, but MMA has people like Adelaide Byrd. For the fight on TUF yesterday, there was another 60 year-old woman judging a long side of her. Its not surprising seeing some of the decisions we so as a result.

It's tough to get knowledgeable MMA people in the judges chairs without them being affiliated, but I don't see anyone recruiting people either. I would love to judge seeing as I'm just a fan that doesn't belong to an MMA gym, but my state pretty much is not interested. So we have boxing judges, which are mostly friends of athletic commissions.
BigPhil- April 7, 2011 at 11:16 am
How exactly do judges get assigned to fights? Are there three judges assigned to one event and they do every fight, is there some sort of rotation between four or five judges? I think it would be easy for whoever was assigning the judges for the event to say "Well so and so has beef with so and so, he can't judge that fight."

Also, does this sort of thing happen with reffing? I know Herb Dean has a fought a few times and Mario Yamasaki runs some schools. Do they have to step back if someone they are involved with, or a former training partner, is fighting?

And anyways, isn't part of the job to be impartial? Or is it just wishful thinking that judges and refs could put past beef or relationships behind them.
SnackDaddy- April 7, 2011 at 11:02 am
that made my head hurt...
Viva Hate- April 7, 2011 at 10:49 am
Ricardo Almeida>Cecil Peoples any day of the week.
MyDonkeyPunch- April 7, 2011 at 10:49 am
@ O Chan - Actually, some people are honest with what they put on there, which is why they are selected. And yes, I was selected for jury duty one time. Did I care that I was on there? Hell no. I was paid my full wages from my company and even received some extra money from the courts. In turn, I actually was paid more than a normal day. It also lasted a few hours shorter than my normal work day. Yahtzee! (Sorry, had to throw in some game reference to describe how much winning I was doing that day.)

I won't even get into the whole civil duty side of it either. So what I'm basically trying to tell you is... I hate your face.
danomite- April 7, 2011 at 10:45 am
I think it's a great idea. I think they would be better informed than guys like Cecil Peoples and therefore make better calls given enough time and experience. Also, about the bias thing, these guys will be under more scrutiny than a guy who doesn't have a perceived bias and therefore will have more incentive to call a fair fight because they don't want to lose their job. when it comes to judging guys in their own camps, though,they should probably still recuse themselves.
O Chan- April 7, 2011 at 10:38 am
We live in a country that if you are accused of a crime, you're fate will be determined by 12 people who were too stupid to get out of jury duty.

I'm sure MMA judging will be fine.
noizy- April 7, 2011 at 10:34 am
Yea. Loads of problems. Then again, can we be certain judges don't also have buddy buddy relationships or the same kind of biases against certain aspects of the game. We assume they are more impartial, but are they really? We assume they do because we don't know any better, because they keep their mouth shut (for the most part). Then again, it's not all UFC. These judges have to officiate over minor shows where they likely won't judge former teammates or opponents. It's a small world, and objectivity is a bit of a messy subject.
DannySmithThe- April 7, 2011 at 10:34 am
How sad and over run is this story? Now lets talk about Bones and Rashad fighting each other,or maybe Tito and Jenna are in a fight?
DARKHORSE06- April 7, 2011 at 10:30 am
Blah blah blah. Fighter's will make better judges. How could they do worse?