April 30, 2012

Former Fighters As Judges Is A Major Step In Improving Mixed Martial Arts

By Raphael Garcia

It occurs at least one time an event. We watch two mixed martial artists step into the cage, and one imposes his will through wrestling or Jiu Jitsu, mixed in with some striking. While the win wasn’t dominant, there shouldn’t be a question as to who has won. However, as the judges’ score cards are read, a feeling of apprehension hits because we know what’s coming. Somehow the fighter who everyone believes lost is declared the winner. Yet another bad decision in the bag, and more cannon fodder against the current crop of MMA judges. As we watch UFC on Fox 3 which goes down this coming Saturday, we will be witnessing a major step towards the correction of this issue.

UFC welterweights Johny Hendricks and Josh Koscheck will take part in a fight that will cement the winner near the top of the heap in the 170-pound division. In a fight that will pit two of the sport's best wrestlers against each other, one might expect a battle for position that will go the whole allotted fifteen minutes, leaving the responsibility to the judges to pick a winner. Sitting cageside will be Ricardo Almeida, a recently retired fighter who will have an extensive knowledge base to delve into as he scores this bout. Almeida is a former UFC competitor and MMA champion. In a multi-faceted sport such as MMA, it’s important to the growth of the sport to see personalities such as Almeida contributing as judges once they have stepped outside of the cage.

Both Hendricks and Koscheck have given their nods of approval when asked about a former high-profile fighter being assigned to their fight.

“I think that’s cool because he’s going to know a little bit more about the sport and he’s going to know what positions really mean,” said Hendricks during a conference call to promote the bout.

“It gets a perspective of a fighter, someone who’s been in the Octagon and knows Jiu Jitsu and knows wrestling and understands the sport,” responded Koscheck. “I think that as this sport grows we’re going to see more ex-UFC fighters become judges, so I think it’s a good start.”

In a sport where a lack of judging knowledge has proved damaging -- see Cecil People’s comments on leg kicks for a popular example – it’s a progressive move to see a former fighter putting on the judge’s hat for such an important fight. In the past, some have questioned whether these athletes will show a bias towards the style that created their fighting foundation, especially if you look at how some fighters will support athletes that use a similar style. However, the sport has evolved so much that shouldn’t be the case in terms of judging. Fighters, especially those at the top tier of the sport, are well-versed in so many areas of the competition that it would be hard to believe they would place an emphasis in one area, such as wrestling, over another. Their knowledge will be a welcome addition when it comes time to decide who has won a close bout.

Judging isn’t the only area in which former athletes can give back to the sport of mixed martial arts. You can liken it to other professional sports leagues, in which some active and retired players take leadership positions such as roles in the league’s player associations. We see many, such as Almeida, giving time to fighters as trainers and coaches, but imagine the impact they could have as recruiters, to bring more talented athletes from a wider range of sports into the world of mixed martial arts. Many have speculated that a reason we don’t see many “natural” athletes such as Jon Jones or Georges St. Pierre is because they choose to play other sports; prominent names in the industry could help change that. A functional fighter’s union is another area in which former competitors can contribute to the sport once their time of fighting is over.

The number of opportunities are numerous in which professional mixed martial artists can give back to the sport that has made them who they are, and in some cases, the sport they helped build. In judging the Josh Koscheck versus Johny Hendricks bout at UFC on Fox 3, Ricardo Almeida is one of many who is taking the steps to continue contributing to the sport of mixed martial arts. Hopefully many other athletes will follow the lead in years to come.


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