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Ricardo Lamas finishes third strong defeats Bill Algeo by unanimous decision judging

UFC on ESPN+ 33: Smith vs. Rakic judging breakdown

Judging in mixed martial arts is in the best place it’s ever been. Don’t believe it? Take a look at the latest UFC on ESPN+ card from UFC Apex on Saturday night.

Six of 10 fights from the event, which was headlined by Aleksandar Rakic’s three-round unanimous decision victory over Anthony Smith, went the distance. Two more fights ended in the second round, while the other two didn’t last the duration of the first frame — all ending by submission, and all back-to-back to kick off the proceedings.

That means the judges assigned by the Nevada State Athletic Commission turned in 20 individual round scores. Of those, the judges saw 18 rounds exactly the same. That includes a pair of 10-8 rounds, which have not always been scored so consistently over the years. Not the case Saturday, and that’s a good sign.

Not all fights are created equal, of course. This weekend’s action featured some pretty cut-and-dried rounds, but last week’s headliner between split-decision winner Frankie Edgar and Pedro Munhoz a lot more contested among both the judges and those scoring at home — media and fans alike.

Across-the-board agreement in 18 of 20 rounds is about as much as you can ask for from human beings with different perspectives, both physically around the cage and in how they perceive the in-cage action. But let’s look at those two rounds in which the judges were split:

  • Rakic vs. Smith, third round
  • Zak Cummings vs. Alessio Di Chirico, first round

In Rakic-Smith, Rakic clearly won by a 10-9 margin all three rounds in just about everyone’s eyes, but the final frame reached the point of a 10-8 in the eyes of judge Eric Colon. The other two cageside officials, Sal D’Amato and Chris Lee, assessed 10-9s. A number of factors could have tipped the scales here for Colon, who like all judges considers the “Three Ds”: damage (called “impact” in the ABC’s scoring criteria), dominance and duration. The fact that Rakic wobbled Smith with a left about 12 seconds into the round, coupled with ground-and-pound throughout, could have checked off a high degree of damage. As for dominance and duration, Rakic was in dominant grappling positions on the mat for most of the round. Mix in the fact that Smith offered almost no resistance for five minutes, and going to a 10-8 becomes an option. Moreover, the criteria says that judges should consider a 10-8 even if only two of the Ds are checked off. If all three are present, that’s a more clear 10-8.

It’s hard to say whether Colon is right or D’Amato and Lee are, but judges at this level of MMA are constantly looking to calibrate what qualifies as a 10-8. Could be that the three of them, as well as many of their peers, will look back on a round like this and hash out whether Rakic’s degree of damage, dominance and duration reached the 10-8 threshold. That way, they can be on the same page next time. 

We already saw 10-8 consensus in a pair of fights Saturday. Hannah Cifers’ first round earned it from Colon, Cleary and Tony Weeks before she was submitted by Mallory Martin. To start the main card, Ricardo Lamas locked up unanimous 29-27 scores against Bill Algeo thanks to a 10-8 third from Mike Bell, Dave Hagen and Ron McCarthy.

As for Cummings’ victory by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27), it was only the first round which spurred disagreement. Lee and Derek Cleary saw it for Di Chirico, while Junichiro Kamijo assessed it for Cummings. Most of the round was both close and tepid, before the Italian Di Chirico appeared to put a stamp on the frame in the final minute. Less action in a close frame often is a recipe for split scores, and that seems to be the case here. The remainder of the fight was more straightforward in Cummings’ favor. It was also more boring, with frequent pleas from referee Mark Smith for the two to engage. Even a big Cummings left head kick at the final horn couldn’t save this fight from going down as a snoozer.

The rest of the judging was uniform. Here’s a breakdown of the number of rounds, fight assignments, and individual round dissents from the majority per judge, noting that dissents aren’t necessarily right or wrong:

  • Bell: 6 rounds, 4 assignments, 0 dissents
  • Cleary: 7 rounds, 3 assignments, 0 dissents
  • Colon: 8 rounds, 4 assignments, 1 dissent
  • D’Amato: 9 rounds, 4 assignments, 0 dissents
  • Hagen: 7 rounds, 3 assignments, 0 dissents
  • Kamijo: 6 rounds, 2 assignments, 1 dissent
  • Lee: 6 rounds, 3 assignments, 0 dissents
  • McCarthy: 10 rounds, 4 assignments, 0 dissents
  • Weeks: 1 round, 3 assignments, 0 dissents

With very little social media blowback after the latest UFC card, it’s at times like this we have to acknowledge what can be an uncomfortable truth for some: These judges know what they’re doing.

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