The Nevada State Athletic Commission is holding a training session for its officials today in Las Vegas. The commission’s chair wants to double the number of learning opportunities available to them.
Francisco Aguilar, who on Halloween took over for Bill Brady as NSAC chairman, said he’s spoken to NSAC Executive Director Keith Kizer about holding training sessions on a quarterly rather than biannual basis.
“We need to be consistent in what our philosophies are, and that philosophy needs to be communicated to these judges and these refs,” Aguilar told MMAjunkie.
In the wake of UFC welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre’s split decision over Johny Hendricks in the headliner of this past Saturday’s UFC 167, many MMA observers have wondered aloud whether the NSAC is employing the right people to judge fights. UFC President Dana White blasted the bout’s scoring at the post-event press conference and called for Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval to fix the NSAC.
“I think the outcry is, it was a very close fight, it could have gone one way or the other, but I think what occurred in the press conference added a little bit of fuel to the situation, as well,” Aguilar said.
Still, the chairman said the NSAC needs to bring in additional officials to ensure the best candidates are at the commission’s disposal.
“I think one place where we need to do a better job is expanding our roster of judges and refs, and looking more across the country to say who are the top performing judges and who are the top performing refs and start bringing them into the current pool we have of judges and refs,” Aguilar said.
Kizer said additional training is “good news” and added the NSAC is currently evaluating officials that could be hired or rehired to work events. He estimated that one judge and referee each would be added to the roster in the near future, though he said Aguilar could bring additional candidates before the commission.
UFC commentator Joe Rogan was more severe in his assessment of the NSAC’s judges, accusing them of receiving payoffs in exchange for scoring bouts in favor of a particular fighter.
“That’s unfortunate, because I don’t think that’s the case at all,” Aguilar said. “I think the judges and refs we do have are honest people. They do a great job, and I think it only hurts the sport by him making those comments.”
Aguilar said he reached out to Sandoval on the day after the event to give an update on the controversy. He also called White, who on Monday tamped down his rhetoric in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
“I think we got to a good place,” Aguilar said. “[White] understands my concerns, I understand his concerns, and this is an ever-evolving process. We have to work together to make things stronger for everybody, and we can’t do it individually. In order to do it together, we have to have a working relationship where we have respect for each other.”
Aguilar said he was bombarded with texts from friends both in favor of and opposed to the decision, and while he anticipated the public to be divided, he was surprised to see a strong backlash against the NSAC.
Both Kizer and Aguilar believe the controversy centers around the bout’s close first round, on which two of three judges disagreed, and White’s fiery criticism of the commission. But, Aguilar added, the NSAC needs to apply the same due diligence and care to MMA as it does to boxing.
“The UFC is a growing sport, it’s one of the fastest growing, and are we keeping pace with them to be able to provide the level of service that they expect,” he said.
In the wake of a highly controversial scorecard at the Floyd Mayweather vs. Saul Alvarez fight, the commission moved to increase scrutiny on judges and referees in the selection process that takes place prior to big combat sports events.
Along with widening the pool of MMA officials, Aguilar said that additional training and more transparency in the process of recruiting officials from the NSAC’s amateur events will put the commission on better footing in MMA.
“It takes years to become a judge or a ref, but we need to start developing a proper pipeline, and looking at who we have in the amateurs and who can perform, and then get them in the proper process,” he said.
In the coming weeks, Aguilar said he expects to narrow down a list of candidates, who will then be evaluated by the commission. He hopes to put new officials into play as soon as possible.
“This is going to be a process that involves the whole commission, because the whole commission is going to have to ask their questions of Keith of these individuals, and they’re going to as a group decide at open meeting whom to grant licenses to,” he said.
MMAJunkie's Ben Fowlkes spoke with the Nevada Athletic Commission's Executive Director Keith Kizer, who detailed two great reasons why Open Scoring is not optimal for the world's fastest growing sport. The first is the potential effect of open scoring on the judges.
Imagine an important fight for a hometown fighter in front of a highly partisan crowd... after three rounds of a five-round title fight, the scores are announced and the judges have it unanimously for the visiting fighter.
“First of all, you could have people throwing beer bottles and all that,” Kizer said. “Secondly, even if they don’t throw beer bottles, the judges – and I’ve talked to some of them about this – they’d be afraid. They’d be looking behind them during the next round. Then the rest of the fight after that, there’s the potential for the judges to be distracted.”
There’s also the potential for the judges to be influenced by hearing one another’s scores, Kizer said. If you’re a judge who scored the first four rounds for one fighter while your colleagues have it more evenly split, “There’s going to be some pressure on you to feel like you should give the fifth round to the other guy.”
The second is the potential effect of open scoring on a fighter. Playing it safe when you are comfortably ahead is not so much the problem. But unlike say Tennis where if you hurt your ankle you are out, in MMA, if sufficient rounds have passed, if you get injured due to an accidental clash, it goes to the judges score cards.
Say, for example, a champion is battering the challenger for the first three rounds of a title fight. Then in the fourth he runs out of gas, fades in the face of an onslaught from his opponent, and barely survives the round. Heading into the final round, we hear the scores announced. It’s 39-37 for the champion. At the start of the fifth, there’s an accidental clash of heads or an inadvertent eye poke. The champ says his vision is blurry. He can’t continue. Even if the judges score that incomplete round for the challenger, the champ still wins a technical decision. Now what are fans supposed to think?
“Either he’s telling the truth, but, you know, you and I won’t believe him,” Kizer said. “Or he isn’t telling the truth, and he managed to keep the belt because he knew he was ahead on the scorecards.”
That potential for abuse, along with the potential for judges to be distracted, might make open scoring a situation where “the cure would be worse than the disease,” according to Kizer.