Opinion: Officiating in the Limelight Again
By Jesse Heitz
Fans often find themselves bothered and highly critical of many things in the MMA business, in fact it’s what keeps me employed. However, few things can aggravate the overwhelming majority of fans as bad as poor judging of fights does.
The UFC’s Cole Miller is in the spotlight not necessarily for his in-cage prowess, but for his outspoken stance on the state of judging in MMA. In an article published by mmafighting.com, Miller described his disdain for the current form of judging in Mixed Martial Arts, stating,
“They’re not even qualified to be making the calls they’re making. That’s kind of disgusting and that’s really unfortunate in our sport, because it changes the whole landscape of our sport. When you have unqualified people judging mixed martial arts, it changes the way that mixed martial arts is actually fought, because fighters are now adjusting their styles to please people that don’t know anything about our sport.”
“Then coaches are training their fighters to please these people that don’t know anything about our sport. Right? And people want to think, ‘Oh, he’s just bitching. He’s just complaining because he hasn’t won these fights in a while.’ Look, you can keep all these decisions. I’m a martial artist, and I walk out with my head held high. I fight my kind of fight.”
“I love this sport. I really do. And I want to see it make progress. I don’t want to see it regress. With the judging in mixed martial arts, and how coaches are coaching the fighters, and how fighters are manipulating and molding their styles to please people that know nothing about MMA, it makes the sport regress. That’s really unfortunate, and that’s something that I’ve been seeing for a long time, and it really makes me sad.”
Now to give proper context for the ferocity of Miller’s words, he made these statements in response to his fight with Manny Gamburyan at the UFC’s Ultimate Fight Night 26. Indeed, this is a fight that he lost, albeit a loss that many observers found to be rather dubious, particularly given the fact that Gamburyan seemed as if he was on death’s door following the fight.
Miller does make a good point in calling out coaches and trainers for pushing their fighters to cater to the likes of the horribly maligned Cecil Peoples. These are truly the types that should in no way shape or form hold enough sway to determine the outcome of fights. It’s true we seldom see judging panels that feature former fighters, which is odd given that AMC Pankration’s Matt Hume was a staple in Japanese events around the turn of the 21st century.
Yet, I wonder how much responsibility the fighters themselves should bear with regards to this issue. The old and oft-used adage is not to leave any fight in the hands of the judges. That in doing so, regardless of how sterling your performance was, or how logical the case for you being awarded the victory was, you might very well come out on the short end of the stick anyway, and there’s plenty of historical precedence for such unfavorable outcomes.
Additionally, let’s not pretend as if there’s not a culture in MMA that encourages winning on points, by playing it safe. This is not to say that Miller is a play it safe kind of guy, but perhaps he and others are placing a little too much blame on the judging apparatus in MMA, that at least some of it belongs with fighters who don’t finish fights.