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Evolve Media.

* * *

As Rose
and Carla
engaged in a critically uncelebrated title bout at
on Saturday in Phoenix, the announcers turned to a
discussion about scoring. Joe Rogan in particular was exasperated
about how to score the first two rounds. Neither fighter had landed
more than four significant strikes in either five-minute stanza,
leaving the judges with very little to evaluate. Rogan, along with
Jon Anik and Daniel
, sniffed out the possibility that Namajunas’ title
could be in jeopardy long before her team did.

The non-existent offensive pace at the beginning of the fight did
not end up creating any controversy. The third through fifth
rounds, while a little bit more active, hardly produced fireworks
in their own right. Thus, everyone except Namajunas and her corner
seemed content to simply take the decision as a coinflip and
pretend the whole thing never happened after Esparza was named the
winner. Have a great wedding, and we’ll figure out the state of the
division when you get back.

While it produced a relatively happy ending as far as really boring
stories go, it’s not hard to imagine those early rounds leading to
a problematic final outcome. Esparza won the first two rounds on
two of the judges’ scorecards, meaning in all likelihood she only
needed to win one more to take the fight. If Esparza won another
lackluster third round on the cards before Namajunas turned up the
offensive pressure and strongly won the final two rounds, Esparza
still would have won absent what has become an increasingly rare
10-8 card. Namajunas might not generate a lot of sympathy given how
the fight started, but the scoring system clearly would have
produced the wrong winner.

When solutions for MMA’s problems are presented, the downsides
inherent in such changes are very often overlooked. The perfect
example is weight cutting. There are obviously serious issues with
the current system where fighters drain themselves and sometimes
see their bodies shut down in the process. It’s dangerous, and MMA
fighters have died cutting weight. It’s also a situation where
there aren’t any obvious answers because fighters are going to try
to work the system no matter what that system ends up being.

If, for example, fighters had to weigh in the same day as their
fights, they generally would cut less weight. However, they would
then be fighting without the same amount of time to rehydrate, and
studies have shown that this is particularly dangerous for the
brain. The athletes who tried to push it by cutting more would be
in the most jeopardy. One Championship’s system has been another
effort to make things safer or the fighters, but it has been met
with skepticism over lack of transparency. Recognizing a problem
exists is one thing; finding a workable solution is another.

Luckily, in the case of rounds like the first two of
Namajunas-Esparza 2, there is an easy, workable solution: 10-10

The reason there aren’t more 10-10 rounds is a concern about a
slippery slope that leads to judges not being willing to make a
pick in close fights, which would in turn lead to more draws and
controversy. MMA has many close rounds; 10-10 shouldn’t be an
escape hatch when both fighters were effective in different ways
over the course of a round. If there weren’t a workable way to use
10-10s for cases like Namajunas-Esparza without 10-10s spreading
into other types of circumstances, more 10-10 rounds wouldn’t be
nearly so desirable.

Luckily, it’s very easy to solve this problem by simply writing the
solution into the judging criteria: a 10-10 round only applies when
neither fighter has done enough under the judging criteria to earn
the round. Thus, a close, competitive round would never be 10-10.
There’s no worry about it being used as a cop out. A 10-10 should
only apply in the case of a round defined by lack of action. In
those rare rounds, it’s too arbitrary to just pick a winner for the
sake of picking a winner. A 10-10 round in those instances would
serve an additional purpose: It would be an admonition that
precious little happened in the round. A 10-10 wouldn’t be
principally about evenness but rather about nothingness. No one’s
going to mistake the former for the latter.

Fights as uneventful as Esparza-Namajunas don’t happen that often,
thankfully, but there’s no reason not to have a more accurate way
of scoring them. Encouraging the use of 10-10s in those limited
circumstances would make MMA scoring just a little bit better, with
no real downside. MMA rule changes are slow to implement, but
there’s no reason this one couldn’t be implemented painlessly.