UFC 131: Vancouver Athletic Commissioner Addresses Questions Surrounding Judges

After I received the official statement regarding the Darren Elkins vs. Michihiro Omigawa decsion from UFC 131 from Jonathan Tweedale, the Commissioner of the Vancouver Athletic Commission, I wanted to dig a little deeper. I followed up with a series of questions about the judges, about scoring volume of strikes vs. damage of strikes, the benefit of video monitors and much more. Moreover, I wanted to investigate how it's possible former professional fighters could turn in scorecards that do not square with the views of the overwhelming majority of home viewers.

Luke Thomas: Would you say it's fair to characterize the judges' decisions as favoring volume of punches over strength of or damage caused by punch?

Jonathan Tweedale: It depends what round, of what fight, you're talking about. It is not possible to generalize about whether volume of punches should be favored over damage caused (by a smaller number of punches), generally. As you know, the relevant criterion is 'effective striking', which is judged by "determining the total number of legal heavy strikes landed by a contestant". The interpretation of that criterion that has rightly emerged, in practice, is that each fighter's "legal heavy strikes" are not simply added up and compared -- heavier legal, heavy strikes 'count more' than lesser legal heavy strikes. Sometimes this creates hard cases -- where Fighter A lands more legal heavy strikes in a round but a few of Fighter B's legal heavy strikes appear to do more damage. Assuming all else is equal in the round, these instances need to be judged on a case by case basis. It is difficult to get any traction discussing this in the abstract -- you've got to refer to actual rounds of fights as a focus for discussion and debate. These sorts of discussions -- in reference to specific rounds of specific fights -- take place at length during the judging seminars led by Herb Dean, and John McCarthy & Jerin Valel, amongst others. Such seminars are invaluable for professional and amateur judges -- as well as for educated fans and journalists.

Luke Thomas: Is there any reasonable way to score the third round for Elkins? Will you talk to or have you spoken with the judge (Dave Hagen) who scored the bout 30-27 Elkins to decipher why he awarded all three rounds to Elkins?

Jonathan Tweedale: We are in the process of reviewing all scorecards turned in by every judge Saturday night. That process is not yet complete.

Luke Thomas: All three former judges are professional fighters. Is that why they were selected? What other officiating experience do these judges have?

Jonathan Tweedale: The Commission bears ultimate responsibility for judging assignments for an event, which are made after giving the promoter an opportunity to express any concerns or recommendations.

Luke Thomas: Would you say punitive action is warranted for any of the judges who scored this bout?

Jonathan Tweedale: The only 'action' that the Commission takes after the review of judges' scorecards described above, beyond direct communication with the judges in question, is taking the product of that review into account the next time the Commission makes judging assignments.

Luke Thomas: Will you be hesitant to assign these judges to work future events?

Jonathan Tweedale: Future judging assignments will be made on the basis of the thorough review described above -- which review includes a review of scorecards turned in for fights that ended by submission or KO/TKO.

Luke Thomas: Do you believe video monitors are helping judges in any capacity to properly evaluate and score fights?

Jonathan Tweedale: From discussion with some of our judges, my sense is that video monitors did help on some occasions where a judge's direct line of sight was obstructed. No one expects video monitors to a magic bullet -- it's just one more tool available that can provide some assistance to educated and observant judges, in some situations.

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