New Rules in Scoring MMA: Exploring the Possible Impact
By Loot, MMA Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
To start the new year of 2017, the sport of MMA made some changes to the scoring criteria. The long and short of it is that they want more 10-8 rounds to be scored. Normally, a fighter wins a round by the score of 10-9 barring an ultra-dominant display of superiority. In other words, a fighter would have to be nearly stopped and not threaten his opponent to lose a round 10-8. Now, however, judges have been instructed to issue 10-8 scores with a lower threshold. A fighter now just needs to show a very clear edge over his opponent and needn't dominate the entirety of a round to get a 10-8 score.
The thinking behind this is to have impactful rounds count more than inconsequential rounds where not much is happening or the fighting is relatively even. In other words, it's not fair to have one fighter win round one 10-9 where there was nothing to really go on, only to have his opponent clearly dominate him in round two, before they are knotted up at 19-19 entering the third round. That doesn't represent reality, being that the fighter that dominated the second round should have more credit for the round he won dominantly than his opponent got for edging a narrow round.
Fair enough. The scoring of fights should be tinkered with to represent reality a little better and maybe more 10-8 rounds is a way to better achieve that. As bettors of the sport, we need to think about the ramifications this has on the results of fights. While the change might seem small on paper, it can really throw the scoring of bouts into a new light. A 10-9 score is basically a way to represent a winning of a round. Those points are precious, as we've all heard fighters win by one point more times than we can count. So what happens now?
MMA fights have an odd number of rounds. What made that appealing under the prior form of scoring fights was that you almost never saw draws in mixed martial arts fights. You see fighters with dozens of fights and no draws on their records. The UFC, in particular, would have draws about as often as Haley's Comet made an appearance. When fighters are winning rounds 10-9, whether in a 3 or 5-round fight, the numbers would shake out so there was always a winner. When scoring 10-9, there are only the amount of points that there are rounds. So in a three-round fight, there would be 3 points up for grabs. In a five-rounder, there would be 5 points up for grabs. That's why you never saw draws.
Under this new form of scoring where we will see an increase of rounds scored 10-8, that makes it so there are an even number of points up for grabs, as opposed to an odd number of points that cannot be distributed evenly. In other words, draws come more into play and we've already seen that in 2017 with some bouts scored evenly. And normally, we're looking at singular rounds scored 10-8 in a fight that goes the distance. Being that a fighter needs to be clearly superior to win a round by two points, the opponent usually won't go the distance if dominated like that over the course of more than one round. You're far more likely to see just one round scored 10-8 in a fight.
Perhaps there is an edge to be had here briefly before the books catch up to the times. In a lot of fights, particularly the lesser ones, they offer odds on each fighter, with a draw result being a wash where you get your money back. But in a lot of fights they offer alternative ways to bet on a fight, with a draw being one of the options. And those odds can be pretty long indeed. Again, there haven't been many high-profile draws in this sport. But the new math in the scoring of MMA fights will result in more draws and we might as well benefit from it.
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The new scoring might be bad news for underdog fighters, as well. With this new form of scoring, it makes it hard for fighters to coyly navigate their way to victories. Before now, an underdog fighter in the right spot could catch his unfocused and favored opponent off-guard, keep the first two rounds sort of close, before withstanding a huge rally in the third round and winning the fight on the strength of edging the first two rounds. Now, that third round would be 10-8 and the best the underdog fighter could hope for in that spot is a draw. Again, any form of scoring that gets us closer to reality should be embraced. But at the same time, it might make it harder for some underdogs we pick to squeak out those decision wins.
At the end of the day, we still need to handicap fighters and bouts the same way we always did. Nothing about that has really changed. The fighting is still the same, with the only difference being how the judges perceive it. But more 10-8 rounds will make a difference. And the main things we need to concern ourselves with is the increase of draws in the sport and how this makes it harder for underdog fighters to insulate themselves from their opponents' superiority.