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The Rear Naked Column 04.22.11: Judging Strikes Again
Posted by Samer Kadi on 04.22.2011

Athletic commissions are often criticized for discouraging – if not outright prohibiting – judges from conducting interviews, especially on the heels of a controversial decision. For every instructive, insightful and admirably honest Nelson "Doc" Hamilton interview, you get a Cecil Peoples "leg kicks don't finish fights" statement. And while it would take a herculean effort of baffling asininity to top Doug Crosby's forum trolling following the BJ Penn-Frankie Edgar bout at UFC 112, Chuck Wolfe's recent comments come agonizingly close.

Joe Warren's unanimous decision victory over Marcus Galvao, while dubious, is hardly the worst of the year. Chuck Wolfe's 30-27 scorecard however, is certainly a contender. Wolfe, who with one scorecard, has managed to cement his place in MMA judging infamy, somehow awarded the second round to Joe Warren; a round which was decisively won by Galvao.

"It could be one takedown different, it could be one punch different, it could be one kick different, it could be one attempted submission different." Wolfe said, in his effort to point out that even a minor occurrence can be decisive in the determination of the outcome of a round. This might seem obvious to some, but it is in fact a flawed approach to judging.

If there is little to separate two fighters after a round, it should be scored 10-10. There simply is no realistic way for the judges to remember every piece of action during a five minute period and somehow determine that one fighter landed say, two more jabs than fighter B. While 10-10 rounds continue to have detractors, they go a long way in avoiding the "close round, but I felt fighter B pushed the pace" reasoning that many seem to base their scorecards on. A round that is too close to call should be just that, and should subsequently be scored 10-10. That is not to suggest that any competitive round should be scored a draw; far from it. However, there should be more to a round than "one punch different" or "one kick different" as Mr. Wolfe so eloquently put it, otherwise MMA scoring would follow Olympic boxing rules. Of course, Wolfe's reasoning as well as the above paragraph don't even apply to the second round of the Warren-Galvao fight, since it wasn't particularly close and there was a lot more than "one punch different" separating each fighter's offense.

"I've judged and refereed since the beginning of the sport, I've been head official for over 600 different bouts," Wolfe said. "If you want to question my credentials, I think I have way more than anyone out there to be qualified to judge. I know fans get disappointed, but I don't think you're going to have Joe Warren fans complain about how the decision went."

This is where Wolfe loses the plot. Cecil People's "leg kicks don't finish fights" comment, however obtuse it might have been, provides a measure of justification from his own perspective. Even an argument as shallow and incomprehensive as "fighter A was the aggressor" offers somewhat of a reasoning. On the other hand, taking the condescending "who are you to question me?" road does not an argument make.

A quick research shows that Wolfe has never judged in any significant show, and therefore his "600 different bouts" were probably amateur MMA fights, or better yet, in states where MMA is unsanctioned to begin with. Moreover, just because Wolfe happens to be a professional MMA judge hardly means that his decisions are beyond reproach. Just because some are questioning a particular scorecard, doesn't mean they're questioning his credentials (which frankly should be questioned). In fact, two of his fellow professional MMA judges scored that round in favor of Galvao, which automatically challenges Wolfe's scoring.

The icing on the cake is Wolfe's "you're not going to hear Joe Warren fans complain" argument. Yes, that is a perfectly acceptable rebuttal. Fans who are emotionally invested in a fighter are not going to complain about him winning. That makes for some earth shattering news. In that case, every controversial decision in history can be justified with "you won't hear fans of the victor complaining." But you know who will complain? Marcus Galvao's family, who were robbed of a win bonus that would have helped pay their bills.

"Did he damage Warren in that fight? Yeah, he did, for a short period of time," Wolfe said. "I remember the bout very clearly. When they are close rounds there's one thing or maybe two things that might put someone ahead. ... You can grade it 10-10 but you might as well not be there if you're not going to score someone to win the round."

Once again, the unified rules grant the judge the ability to score a 10-10 round. And in no way does said scoring imply that "you might as well not be there." In fact, it takes some skill and savvy for a judge to be able to determine that a round is a draw and score it accordingly. The final sentence in Wolfe's comment almost implies that he would rather flip a coin than score a 10-10 round. In that case, he might as well not be there.

Notice that Wolfe's comments don't feature the words "effective striking", "effective grappling", "effective aggression", or "cage control", which constitute the main criteria of the 10 point must system. Wolfe is attempting to offer up an explanation for his scorecard as well as his line of reasoning without once referencing the rules on which he is supposed to base his decision. Instead, he comes up with the arbitrary "he damaged him for a short period of time" argument, as though fighters are supposed to lay on a fifteen minute beating in order to win a fight.

"There are a lot of things that a fan will cheer about outside the cage, but each judge has a different viewpoint and a different angle," Wolfe said. "Unfortunately, judges don't have a replay, don't have a rewind, they just have to judge by what they see."

I'll give Wolfe credit, as his interview helped highlight everything that is wrong with MMA judging: Be it unintentionally proving that judges are not applying the 10 point must system correctly or being completely clueless about the sport. Fortunately, this is one problem he intended to bring up: Simply put, judges need monitors. There is no point in discussing this issue any further.

But of course, Wolfe couldn't have ended the interview with the one useful statement he made. Instead, he had to add the following:

"He had three rounds to take Warren out if he really wanted to beat him -- he had three rounds to dominate Warren, as well as Warren had three rounds to dominate him," Wolfe said.

Yes, Galvao had three rounds to take out Warren. Unfortunately for him, the self-proclaimed "baddest man on the planet" has an iron chin and is extremely durable. Additionally, any judge who claims to understand the sport is aware that fighters can't just finish a fight with a snap of their fingers, otherwise judges wouldn't be needed in the first place. Never mind the fact that Wolfe negated his own argument regarding Galvao not finishing the fight by stating that Warren couldn't do it either.

And saving the best for last, Wolfe turns words into gold:

"It's up to the fighter. ... Don't leave it in the hands of the judges, especially when it's a close fight."

A professional MMA judge's job is to render a proper decision at the end of a fight that goes the distance. A professional MMA judge just said: "don't leave it in the hands of the judges." In other words, "don't force me to do my job."

I give up.

Special announcement: Be sure to tune in to the "411 Ground and Pound radio" this Sunday at 11 AM Eastern as we will be joined by special guest and former 411 writer, THE CARDIO FREAK Jeremy Lambert to preview UFC 129. You know you don't want to miss this.

And in case you missed last week's episode, here it is:

Listen to internet radio with Mark Radulich on Blog Talk Radio

That will do it for another week of "The Rear Naked Column". As always, feedback is greatly appreciated. You can send in your comments, e-mails, or you can follow me on twitter right here for all things MMA, video games, sports, and other nonsense.


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