Typically in the mixed martial arts world the uproar around judging is targeted at the incompetence of judges.
Following UFC on Fox 7 on Saturday night, however, there was a spotlight shining on the possible impropriety regarding judge Wade Vierra’s assignment to the Benson Henderson vs. Gilbert Melendez UFC lightweight title fight.
Vierra owns and operates a martial arts school that is affiliated with one of Melendez’s coaches, Cesar Gracie.
California State Athletic Commission Executive Officer Andy Foster on Monday – admitting to the appearance of conflict of interest on the surface – defended his decision to assign Vierra to score the fight
“I think I’ve got good judges and I’m comfortable with them,” Foster told MMAWeekly.com, pointing out that all of his judges, including Vierra, have extensive knowledge in grappling and striking, including real world experience in training and competition.
That, he said, is part of the problem California and many other states have experienced, hiring judges that don’t have the depth of knowledge needed to understand the sport that they are charged with scoring.
“I’m trying to be part of the solution not part of the problem,” Foster continued. “You have to have experience in the striking and you have to have experience in the grappling; that way you get a balanced approach.”
It’s been a rough road for mixed martial arts, often falling under the regulation of athletic commissions experienced in the oversight of boxing, but with little experience in MMA.
“Lets be very clear, the days of using a bunch of boxing judges to ref MMA here in the state of California is over,” Foster declared. “I think that’s been part of the problem for a long time. This state had boxing judges judging mixed martial arts. It’s my opinion that we should keep the two sports kind of separate.”
In order to achieve that goal, he explained that there is going to have to be the utilization of people like Vierra, who have the expertise, but may have crossed paths with some of the people they are charged with overseeing.
Foster said his judges are aware that they should let him know if there is any conflict of interest that should see them removed from assignments. Vierra did that prior to UFC on Fox 7.
Vierra has a relationship with Nate Diaz, who also fought on Saturday’ fight card in San Jose, Calif. He let Foster know that he didn’t think it was appropriate that he score his fight, thus he was removed from consideration.
Vierra doesn’t have the same sort of relationship with Melendez, other than a shared association with Cesar Gracie. They don’t train together or have a friendship like Vierra has with Diaz.
There are risks to the approach, but Foster believes it’s unavoidable if MMA is going to see improvements in judging.
“I think we’ve been wrestling with this subject for a while and really the way that you get better is you take people that have trained and this sport is just too damn small,” explained Foster. “Everybody has trained with the same people at some point.
“We rely on their integrity. Are you going to score it right for me or not? These guys I pick have competed themselves. Maybe not mixed martial arts, but certainly in grappling tournaments and striking competitions. They’re depth of knowledge is pretty good.
“You’re going to see more of this from this commission, not less. We want to get the score right for these fighters. I think we got the score right (for Henderson vs. Melendez).”