(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.