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Chuck Wolfe Says Never Leave MMA Judging In The Hands Of Chuck Wolfe

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Michael David Smith has a nice post up today where he talks to MMa judge Chuck Wolfe about his decision to score the fight between Joe Warren and Marcos Galvao 30-27 in favor of Warren. Specifically, the scoring of the second round is in doubt. Most observes with proficient knowledge of the sport and judging believe that round undoubtedly belonged to Galvao. Here's how Mike Fagan scored that round for SB Nation MMA:

Round 2 - Big knee from Galvao. He follows with another. Warren comes in with two wild hooks that miss. Warren and Galvao trade knees in the midsection. Nice right uppercut from Galvao. Clinch now. Punches to the midsection from Warren. Nice knee from Warren. Galvao keeping Warren at bay with a jab. Another big jumping knee from Galvao. Galvao looks stronger than Warren so far. Nice right hand from Galvao. Warren responds with punches at clinches. Warren is unable to get Galvao down to the mat. Multiple failed takedowns thus far. Both guys slowing down. A minute left in the round. Big knee from Galvao as Warren steps in. Warren finally finishes a takedown, but Galvao maintains guard. Warren punching Galvao's thighs. Pretty good left hand.

SB Nation scores the round 10-9 for Marcos Galvao.

Here's how three members of the team scored the round:

Round 2
Warren slugs a combo to the body of Galvao, who replies with a hard flying knee. Another comes in short order, then more up the middle from Galvao when the pair clinch. Warren ducks in to tie up and eats an uppercut. They clinch and stall out, and Warren lands a nice knee upon exit. Uppercuts and hooks are scoring for Galvao, and then another big knee on Warren’s jaw. Warren ties up and Galvao gives him the slip, socking the American with a hooking left. Warren gets double underhooks and tries a takedown, and gets tossed down again. Galvao can’t keep Warren down this time and they go toe-to-toe with 90 seconds left in the second. Galvao steps in with another hard knee and keeps the champion on the end of his jab. Yet another knee finds its mark, prompting Warren to try for a takedown. He gets it and takes a knee in the guard of the smiling Galvao, who’s winding up for an upkick. Galvao keeps busy down the stretch with punches to the head and body of Warren, who’s in his open guard.

Mike Fridley scores the round 10-9 Galvao
Brian Knapp scores the round 10-9 Galvao
Chris Nelson scores the round 10-9 Galvao

Just for good measure, here's how several others scored the fight as well:

All three members of Sherdog's staff scored the round for Galvao. Brian Hemminger at MMA Mania scored it for Galvao. As did Jackie Maden at Gal's Guide to MMA. And Bloody Elbow's own Leland Roling.

By now the picture should be clear: only the inept or distracted could possibly have awarded the second round to Warren. There is simply no basis in the Unifed Rules of MMA to justify awarding Warren that round.

Which brings us to Smith's discussion with Wolfe.

I'm going to make several points throughout the rest of this post, but I'd like for you to note a few things. Generally, Chuck Wolfe's ability to judge professional MMA bouts needs to be reviewed by relevant athletic commissions. While inappropriately scoring a round in a fight - particularly a round that wouldn't change the outcome of the contest - is hardly grounds for dismissal, Wolfe's subsequent comments indicate poor comprehension of the role judging plays in prize fighting.

Also note with Wolfe's quotes here the cascading nature of ineptitude that is revealed with each subsequent comment. Wolfe's statements begin innocuously enough, but ultimately trend toward the absurd.

Without further ado, let's begin:

"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.

There isn't much to complain about here. Powerful punches or kicks, even by themselves, could steal a round. Ditto for a take down. It isn't common and some prudence about the value of single acts of offense should be exercised, but this isn't a terribly controversial comment.

"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."

I would like to see evidence of his extensive background in officiating. He certainly does not have more than "anyone" to be qualified to judge. In fact, Google search results do not position Wolfe at any major MMA event prior to this one. He has worked previously as a judge, referee and likely in other officiating capacities, but presumably the vast majority, if not all, of his experience lies in low-level professional or amateur MMA. 

He's licensed by at least one insignificant independent sanctioning body and appears to have a traditional martial arts background (school website here), a red flag if there ever was one. To see what's required for licensing there, read here. More to the point, there is virtually nothing in the exploration and mastery of TMAs that is helpful in adjudicating winners and losers in high-level professional MMA. Those from TMA backgrounds who successfully referee, judge and perform other officiating duties in MMA do so by learning on a separate, dedicated track from their previous experience.

"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."

Words fail me. The idea that a 10-10 round is a proxy for describing nothingness is proof positive Wolfe is not prepared to judge at this level of MMA.

Judges should not award rounds based on a binary system. A 10-10 round in not an indication that a judge abdicated responsibility or fighters refused to engage. It's not a commentary on entertainment value or action. It means the difference in the amount of scoring either fighter was able to accrue is negligible. Rummaging through the minutiae of a round to unfairly award a winner because of some imagined obligation is the highest form of judging incompetency.

"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."

With this Wolfe and I are in concert. I, too, have been cageside for events, including fairly high-level professional MMA. Watching on a screen is categorically different than viewing by eyesight in close proximity alone. That isn't an excuse for fundamentally misunderstanding the role of judging, but it can contribute to botched round-by-round scoring.

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

This is the clearest indication Wolfe is over his head. The mantra "never leave it in the hands of the judges" was borne from the reality that too many incompetent judges in modern MMA were robbing fighters of victories or rounds that were rightfully theirs. Admittedly, the call to action has adopted another ancillary purpose: to goad fighters into more aggressive, go-for-broke styles. That's the secondary meaning of the phrase, however, and not the essence of the plea.

His statement literally translates "don't leave the responsibility of this profession in the hands of those professionals discharged to uphold said responsibility". For a judge in professional MMA to publicly lean on the precise phrase that underscores the very failures of his profession is as shocking as it is regrettable as it is distressing. It barely merits commentary, if for no other reason than I'm at a loss for words.

Listen, it's worth acknowledging the caterwauling of MMA fans about the plague of judging is slightly overblown. It's not that there isn't a problem. There is. Statistically, though, very few fight outcomes are affected by incompetent judging.

But that's beside the point here. Key judgment errors in proportionately few outcomes nevertheless have profound effects on fighters' careers. One missed call on one round can make the difference in paydays, title shots, media attention and employment opportunities. Even if the volume of missed calls is statistically few and far between, the impact is unmistakeably pronounced.

So where do we go from here? While MMA has made massive strides in issuing uniform rules and judging criteria, the preparation and training of officials in understanding and employing the essence of the aforementioned rules or criteria is wildly uneven. Having standards is perfectly appropriate, but the sport is left in a lurch if officials either don't know or misunderstand how to properly enforce them. To the extent a uniform curricula can be established that's administered by licensed trainers under uniform standards, problems can be reduced. Erecting such an apparatus might be more fantasy than potential solution. But whatever the cure for the problem, it must address the disorganized, non-standardized methods of officiating preparation. The standards of officiating must be both high and rigorously enforced. Today we have neither.

As for Wolfe, my personal view is clear. If there's anything he and I agree on (aside from the use of monitors for judges), it's that judging should never be left in his hands. Don't take my word for it. Chuck will tell you himself.