Ben Fowlkes
Monday July 7th, 2008

If fights were judged based on final appearances, UFC 86 would have been an easy call.

Luckily for Forrest Griffin, they're not. Despite looking as if he had kissed a lawnmower, the challenger picked up a unanimous decision win over Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, who left the Octagon with nothing more than a pronounced limp.

However, something about the outcome of Saturday's thrilling battle makes me wonder: Why is MMA still judged like boxing?

It's not that awarding Griffin the victory was necessarily wrong. Jackson offered no complaints about the decision, even if his trainer, Juanito Ibarra, had plenty. But looking at the judges' scorecards only reinforced my suspicion that the scoring system in mixed martial arts is seriously flawed.

Griffin-Jackson was about as close as an MMA fight could ever be; a back-and-forth battle that pitted Jackson's damaging abilities against Griffin's. The battle saw Rampage be out-worked by the understated Griffin without the challenger ever coming close to putting his opponent away.

Each man had his moments, his near misses and his squandered opportunities. But at the end of the night, the scorecards told of a dominant Griffin victory. One judge even gave all but one round to Griffin (Roy Silbert tallied a 49-46 in favor of Griffin). The round he did give to Jackson -- the fourth -- wasn't even the former champ's best frame.

Scroll back to the first round from Saturday's bout. The most noteworthy thing to happen in that five-minute span was an uppercut from Jackson that sent Griffin to the mat. Somehow, two of the three judges -- Adalaide Byrd and Nelson Hamilton -- gave that round to Griffin at 10-9. Apparently, just getting up from a knockdown is enough to win the opening round in a championship fight.

That's not to say Jackson was robbed, though. At times, his power had Griffin looking lost, though he was unable to capitalize on any of those opportunities. At the same time, Griffin didn't exactly overwhelm his opponent. What Griffin did manage to do, though, was stay busy. He controlled the center of the Octagon and dictated the pace of the fight.

But is that enough to beat the champion? To the judges, yes, yes it is. And by a healthy margin.

Of course, it's easy to blame the judges. All too often they are boxing judges who don't understand enough about the ground game and the nuances of MMA to make sense of what they see in the fight. But part of the problem is that MMA is using a scoring system that was meant for a completely different sport.

There's no such thing as a near submission in boxing. There are no takedowns that only result in a man getting right back to his feet, there is no meaningful equivalent to controlling a man in a dominant position on the mat. So how can judges possibly be expected to make MMA action fit into a boxing framework on their scorecards?

The outcome of the UFC 86 main event may not have changed, even without the 10-point must system. And any time a fight goes to the judges, we have to be prepared for the inevitable subjectivity that could potentially ruin the day.

Still, the numbers should make us stop and think. MMA needs its own scoring system tailored to fit the specific demands of the sport. It shouldn't be satisfied to borrow one from boxing, just like it shouldn't be content to borrow their judges.

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