If you spend any time discussing the result of GSP’s title defense at UFC 167 there is no shortage of controversy among fans. Some believe GSP fairly won three rounds, others say no way, others yet say if GSP won three rounds the two he lost far outweighed those. From there many are quick to call for rule changes such as implementing a half-point system or scoring the bout on its whole rather than the sum of its parts.
Truth is no rule changes are needed. The problem is in the application of the rules, not the rules themselves. The rules contemplate even rounds, they also contemplate proportionately greater scoring for dominant rounds. For whatever reason a culture in judging has developed with a reluctance to deviate from 10-9 rounds even in the face of even or disproportionately one sided rounds.
Nevada’s rules, which were in force for UFC 167, have very little to say about judging criteria. They require as follows:
1. Each judge of a contest or exhibition of mixed martial arts that is being judged shall score the contest or exhibition and determine the winner through the use of the following system:
(a) The better unarmed combatant of a round receives 10 points and his or her opponent proportionately less.
(b) If the round is even, each unarmed combatant receives 10 points.
(c) No fraction of points may be given.
(d) Points for each round must be awarded immediately after the end of the period of unarmed combat in the round.
Even rounds are called for. The same judge who awards a very close 10-9 round to one combatant is not only free to award a 10-8 in a subsequent more dominant round but is in fact required to do so. Rounds must be scored “proportionately“.
If you look to the New Jersey rules, which are the foundation behind many State and Provincial Commission rules, it is clear that there is much room for deviation from 10-9 rounds. The New Jersey rules require as follows:
The 10-Point Must System will be the standard system of scoring a bout. Under the 10-Point Must Scoring System, 10 points must be awarded to the winner of the round and nine points or less must be awarded to the loser, except for a rare even round, which is scored (10-10).
Despite saying 10-10 rounds are “rare” the rules go on to set out the following criteria:
1. A round is to be scored as a 10-10 Round when both contestants appear to be fighting evenly and neither contestant shows clear dominance in a round;
2. A round is to be scored as a 10-9 Round when a contestant wins by a close margin, landing the greater number of effective legal strikes, grappling and other maneuvers;
3. A round is to be scored as a 10-8 Round when a contestant overwhelmingly dominates by striking or grappling in a round.
4. A round is to be scored as a 10-7 Round when a contestant totally dominates by striking or grappling in a round.
So 10-10 rounds are required if there is no “clear dominance“. Many rounds fit this description. Its also clear that 10-8 rounds are not to be used as sparingly as they are.
It is hard to explain why judging culture has developed with great reluctance to deviate from 10-9 rounds, but whatever the reason its not the wording of the rules.