TSZ’s MMA expert Ewan Lavender offers his opinion on how the sport can be improved. Here are the five changes he believes MMA should introduce:
1. New Points System
The current scoring system (10-Point Must System) for MMA was adopted from Boxing and it consists of awarding each fighter 7-10 points per round. Points are awarded for effective striking, grappling, aggression and area control.
This point system helped legitimize MMA when it birthed but that was 25 years ago and MMA is now a developed sport of its own. It is not Boxing and merits a unique system that takes into account all areas of MMA to accurately portray performances and avoid controversial decisions.
So, here are two changes that I think will improve the point system:
Award points based on whole fight rather than per round
Rounds are usually always scored 10-9 regardless so scoring the whole fight will favour fighters inflicting more damage and being more aggressive instead of fighters fighting for points.
It will incentivise fighters to be aggressive until the bell and reward fighters such as Johny Hendricks when he fought Georges St. Pierre for the title. He inflicted far more damage over the course of the fight but still lost after narrowly losing three rounds (in the eyes of the judges).
Award more points
10 points per round is not enough to distinguish the better fighter. More points will allow judges to put more emphasis on:
Awarding all types of landed strikes and defence of strikes.
Awarding submission/takedown attempts but also awarding submission/takedown defence which will also prevent relentless takedown attempts.
Aggression, area control and pressure
There are numerous areas to consider and have to be scored as it is ‘Mixed Martial Arts’ and not just Boxing. So, judges could even be awarding double the points.
When fighters are very evenly matched, particularly in title and five-round fights, judges have to make tight calls which usually leads to controversy. We have seen throughout UFC history – and recently with Stephen Thompson and Darren Till – awarding a fighter 10 or 9 points per round when their output is so similar is not enough.
More points will allow judges to critique more details of the fight and ultimately reduce controversial decisions – providing they are competent in doing so – which leads us to our next change.
The scorecard for Frankie Edgar vs Gray Maynard at UFC 125
2. Overhaul Judging Format
The point system in MMA is flawed but only exacerbated by an almost embarrassing judging system. Here are some changes that I feel need to be implemented to help judge fighter performances more accurately and reduce controversial decisions:
Have ex-fighters and coaches judge
Having judges with minimal MMA credentials makes a mockery of the sport.
Fighters will be more fairly rewarded and penalised if they are judged by people who have experience in fighting, coaching or even refereeing.
Have five judges (instead of three)
Human error is normal so having more judges will reduce any potential oversights during the fight.
After years of the same group of judges scoring fights, they know how each other are likely to score each round. Having an idea of what the person next to them is scoring is likely to affect their own.
Extra judges - especially with different backgrounds/experience – will reduce any bias that may exist.
Judges should sit separately around the cage/ring
Their view of the fight can often be obstructed by posts, cameramen, referees or even the wrong camera angle on a monitor, so if one judge cannot see the action, all of them are unlikely to see it.
Sitting around the cage/ring will give them different viewpoints so the judges as a whole will get a complete view of the fight.
They can also hear the sounds of strikes. The action may be the opposite side of where the judges sit and with the noise of the audience, they may be missing the impact of strikes and reactions of fighters.
Robbery: Ross Pearson vs Diego Sanchez at UFC Fight Night 42
3. Add More Weight Classes
In the men’s divisions there are gaps at welterweight and light heavyweight which cause fighters who are naturally in-between these classes to embark on dangerous weight cuts. As rosters continue to grow they can add a new division for every 10 pounds but as for now, the UFC should consider adding a 165-pound division and pushing welterweight up to 175.
A new division between lightweight and welterweight will be a good start as there are nearly 100 fighters in the welterweight and lightweight divisions so they will not be drained too much.
This simple change will allow fighters to compete in more natural weight classes and reduce the amount of drastic weight cuts and fighters missing weight the day before a fight.
This would also mean more champions and more scope for superfights.
Dangerous weight cuts: James Irvin and Miesha Tate
4. Rule Amendments
The rule changes enforced over time have generally been good to ensure the safety of fighters and build the credibility of MMA but there are certain blind spots:
Allow ‘12-6’ elbows
I am not saying they are not dangerous, however they are no more dangerous than head kicks, knees and even elbows from different angles such as Travis Browne’s on Josh Barnett and Gabriel Gonzaga
This rule put an unfair loss on Jon Jones’ record when he was cruising to victory against Matt Hamill – the damage had already been done.
Allow knees to downed opponents
Fighters are not permitted to strike the head of their opponent when they have anything other than the soles of their feet touching the ground.
All striking is dangerous and the fact they have a hand on the ground makes minimal difference to their safety.
This rule only creates a grey area where a fighter thinks they are safe from being hit but when the rule is not fully understood it makes it more dangerous. For example, when Chris Weidman thought he was safe and did not defend a huge knee from Gegard Mousasi. Similar happened to Dustin Poirier vs Eddie Alvarez.
Remove direct strikes to knees
Fighters are increasingly implementing oblique kicks to the standing leg of their opponent.
If there are rules for dangerous strikes then I don’t know how a kick that can blow out a knee joint is not considered.
These injuries can end careers and at the least keep them on the sidelines for months.
Somehow Robert Whittaker went on to win his fight after Yoel Romero intentionally injured his knee but it kept the new champion out for a year.
Point deduction for eye pokes
Eye pokes can cause permanent damage but fighters typically get warned twice before a point is deducted so an automatic deduction after the first blatant poke will force them to keep their fingers retracted.
Alternatively, change the gloves to be designed like Bellator and how Pride used to be.
Chris Weidman about to eat a knee (left) and Jon Jones aiming a kick at Quinton Jackson’s knee
5. Less Events & Cross-Promotion
Sometimes less is more. The UFC continue to increase the number of events they hold which dilutes the anticipation. Personally, I enjoy the frequency of events but if viewing figures are falling, this needs to be addressed.
The more shows on Pay-Per-View the less likely people are to buy them. When there are up to four events a month, viewers are more likely to be selective and miss out on events that don’t have as ‘exciting’ cards.
The Ultimate Fighter series for example drew so much interest with contestants Forest Griffin and Stephen Bonnar and coaches with a genuine feud in Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz.
Packing series after series with coaches who are just there for a payday makes it far less interesting and very easy to miss.
Leading companies such as the UFC and Bellator should consider-cross promotion.
Remember the day when Wanderlei Silva came from Pride to fight Chuck Liddell? It was one of the most anticipated fights in history and there are big draws in Bellator now.
It may also prevent the likes of Rory MacDonald leaving the UFC. If they were not so strict with contracts they could have kept one of the best welterweights in the world.
Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva square off
Do you agree with Ewan's proposals? let us know in the comments!