UFC 254: Why confusion over takedowns may have an effect on Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje

Jon Jones sat within the bowels of Houston’s Toyota Middle within the early morning hours of Feb. 9, when he was requested by reporters about his controversial unanimous resolution win over Dominick Reyes about 90 minutes earlier in the principle occasion of UFC 247.

The sunshine heavyweight title combat was an in depth one, a bout many followers scored for Reyes. However Jones stated he was assured the judges would give him the nod.

“I bought takedowns,” Jones stated. “He bought no takedowns. I bought his again. At one level, I put a hook in.”

Minutes later, Reyes was sitting in the identical place making his case for a victory — and scoffing at Jones’ notion of why he received.

“These takedowns — how are you going to even rating these as takedowns?” Reyes stated.

The problem of takedowns and the way a lot they’re value within the eyes of combined martial arts judges is a divisive, sophisticated subject. Fighters, coaches and followers do not at all times see eye to eye with how judges rating them. And the end result might be controversial, unsatisfying choices on the premier degree of MMA — UFC title fights the place thousands and thousands of {dollars} and profession legacies are hanging within the steadiness.

Khabib Nurmagomedov, who has had a number of takedowns in each combat since 2013, will defend his light-weight title Saturday towards Justin Gaethje in the principle occasion of UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Gaethje, identified for his hanging, shall be making an attempt to maintain issues on the ft, the place he desires to wreck Nurmagomedov with punches and kicks. The undefeated Nurmagomedov desires to pull Gaethje right down to the bottom to, as he places it, “drown” Gaethje.

If it goes to a five-round resolution, it will depart the judges with the duty of figuring out whose model was simpler — had been Gaethje’s strikes value greater than Nurmagomedov’s takedowns? — resulting in probably contentious penalties.

“There is a definition of what’s speculated to be scored, however you may’t take the human out if it,” Gaethje stated throughout a latest digital media day. “It is within the eye of the beholder, per se.”


At UFC 247, Jones scored two takedowns within the combat, one within the fourth spherical and one within the fifth. He did not preserve Reyes down very lengthy both time and did not do injury or advance to a dominant place. Whereas Jones received these rounds, it wasn’t due to the takedowns, in line with John McCarthy, a retired MMA official who now helps train different officers. There’s a nice disconnect, McCarthy stated, between how judges rating and the way outsiders assume they rating.

“In Jon’s thoughts, he is most likely like, ‘Properly, judges give a number of credit score to those takedowns.’ And it does not matter that Reyes simply bought proper again up out of the takedown or [Jones] did not actually do something with the place,” stated McCarthy, who started officiating at UFC 2 in 1994 and has been coaching judges for greater than a decade. “It is like, ‘I bought the takedown, they’re gonna give me large credit score.’

“And it simply perpetuates itself. It is that circulate that by no means stops till somebody lastly places a dam on it and says, ‘No, no, no.'”

The Unified Guidelines of MMA scoring standards had been rewritten in 2016 by the Affiliation of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports activities (ABC). This was the primary replace to MMA’s scoring standards because the Unified Guidelines had been first written — with the assistance of McCarthy, amongst others — in 2001. The thought 4 years in the past was to agency up the scoring language, make it clearer and set up that it was a tiered system.

MMA judges rating rounds based mostly on efficient hanging/grappling, efficient aggression and fighting-area management. Nonetheless, these three issues aren’t scored equally, which regulators say is the largest false impression amongst fighters, coaches, followers and broadcasters.

Rounds are scored based mostly totally on efficient hanging/grappling. Provided that that criterion is one hundred pc equal between the 2 fighters does the choose then transfer on to efficient aggression. If efficient aggression is equal, solely then does a choose take a look at fighting-area management. ABC guidelines and laws committee chairman Sean Wheelock estimates that 90% of rounds are scored on simply efficient hanging/grappling, about 9% on efficient aggression and simply 1% on fighting-area management.

A typical theme amongst judges and regulators is that the phrase “management” is extremely overused by individuals in MMA, as a result of it so not often will get taken into consideration, per the scoring standards.

“It is the final criterion that we use,” choose Sal D’Amato stated. “So it actually does not come up usually that, ‘Oh, he had cage management or Octagon management.'”

Per the scoring standards, efficient hanging/grappling is outlined as “authorized blows which have speedy or cumulative impression with the potential to contribute in direction of the tip of the match,” with the speedy being weighed extra closely than the cumulative.

“You possibly can punch any person, hit him 10 instances and it has no actual impact within the combat,” McCarthy stated. “You possibly can punch him one time and it has an enormous impact. So, the one efficient strike might be going to have extra worth to the choose than the ten that confirmed no true impact.”

Which suggests one large Gaethje punch may imply extra to judges than a number of Nurmagomedov takedowns, until Nurmagomedov is ready to capitalize on these takedowns.

Judges are in search of impact and impression, which might be simplified into which fighter is doing extra injury. D’Amato stated within the hanging portion of a spherical, he seems for blows that cease an opponent’s ahead movement, make an opponent wince or pressure her or him to again up. Impact is the important thing phrase. Did that strike have an effect on what the opponent was doing? With a striker like Gaethje, the reply is usually clear.

With takedowns, a slam, or one thing else with elevation and velocity, is weighed extra closely than a run-of-the-mill journey or single-leg takedown. When he trains judges, McCarthy likes to hammer house the concept of what’s and what’s not an try to complete the combat. A slam can finish it; a daily takedown often can’t.

Efficient hanging/grappling is outlined as “profitable execution of takedowns, submission makes an attempt, reversals and the achievement of advantageous positions that produce speedy or cumulative impression with the potential to contribute to the tip of the match.”

Whereas a takedown scores, how a lot is it actually value? Not as a lot as a dangerous blow on the ft, until one thing offensive is then achieved on the bottom, like ground-and-pound strikes, submission makes an attempt and advancing into dominant positions. That’s one thing that might come into play in Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje, McCarthy stated.

“Khabib, at instances, simply will get the takedown,” McCarthy stated. “His first takedown towards Conor [McGregor at UFC 229 in October 2018], once you watch that combat and see what he did and all of the work he put into it, finally, he will get Conor to his again. … Now what are you going to do with the place as soon as you have attained it?”

Nurmagomedov executed his first takedown 15 seconds into the primary spherical and was capable of transfer McGregor up towards the cage, the place he stayed on prime of McGregor for the ultimate 4 minutes. Nurmagomedov did not inflict a lot injury, however he received the spherical 10-9 on all three scorecards. He finally completed McGregor through fourth-round submission.


D’Amato stated when he sees a takedown, he scores it. However then he seems for different issues. Does the opponent pop proper again up or simply lie there? Does the fighter who landed the takedown get into facet management or mount or land ground-and-pound? The solutions to these questions will decide simply how efficient that takedown was and the way a lot it’s weighed towards the ultimate spherical rating, D’Amato stated.

One of many greatest fallacies in scoring — an MMA city legend, judges say — is the concept a fighter can steal a spherical on the finish with a takedown. Maybe in a totally even spherical that could possibly be the case, however these are uncommon events.

“Yeah, you rating [the takedown],” Lee stated. “However you are not going to disregard the whole lot else that occurred within the spherical. And when you’ve got somebody that has gotten kicked and punched all over, you are not going to neglect that as a result of there was a takedown.”

If the efficient hanging/grappling is totally equal, then judges will take a look at efficient aggression, which suggests, per the factors, “aggressively making makes an attempt to complete the combat.” The not often used fighting-area management is outlined as assessing “who’s dictating the tempo, place and place of the match.”

When the scoring standards modified formally in 2017, many judges started utilizing them. However the brand new language was by no means actually formally or clearly communicated to fighters, coaches and broadcasters. Whereas the ABC is the overseeing physique for the Unified Guidelines of MMA and is an affiliation for athletic commissions, particular person commissions all have alternative ways of doing issues set forth by their state or tribal governments. Conveying guidelines and rule modifications to fighters and coaches has at all times been a disjointed course of.

“There is a definition of what’s speculated to be scored, however you may’t take the human out if it. It is within the eye of the beholder, per se.”

Justin Gaethje, on takedowns

Prior to each MMA combat, the referee will meet with every fighter to go over the principles within the bout. However nobody in any official capability ever explains the scoring standards to fighters or coaches, making the straightforward thought of how one can win in MMA a fuzzy idea to many — together with fighters, broadcasters and followers.

“Judges by no means come,” Nurmagomedov stated. “Referees come. Referee at all times come. I by no means see judges. In my life, I by no means see judges in UFC. I do not even understand how they give the impression of being.”

Wheelock stated the “greatest drawback” with scoring in MMA proper now is not the judges, it is the lack of expertise of what the factors are.

In an effort to get everybody on the identical web page with the up to date scoring standards, Wheelock proposed the UFC maintain a judging and refereeing seminar for fighters and coaches to attend.

“Whether or not you fly us to them or them to us, or fly all of us to a impartial location like Las Vegas — get that data on the market,” Wheelock stated. “This sport is from the highest down by way of information. If the UFC guys know that, then all people within the health club mysteriously is aware of that. It is form of superb that we’re 27 years into the UFC and so they’ve by no means achieved that. That will be an enormous first step.”

That form of academic course of may assist fighters like Jones, who is likely to be the best combined martial artist in historical past, perceive if in truth it was his takedown that allowed him to retain his title with a razor-thin resolution. If somebody with the expertise of Jones is incorrect in his assumption of how the judges scored it, as McCarthy states, how can any fighter’s camp make certain about strategizing takedowns?


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0:55

Dana White explains to Brett Okamoto why Justin Gaethje presents a number of issues for Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Angela Hill was on the postfight information convention following her UFC Battle Night time major occasion loss Sept. 12 to Michelle Waterson. It was Hill’s second consecutive cut up resolution defeat and the second straight time she felt strongly that she actually had received.

When requested by a reporter in regards to the resolution, Hill stated she believes she wants to start out going for extra takedowns. The takedowns and takedown makes an attempt, Hill stated, had been what earned Waterson the win within the eyes of the judges.

“I do not assume injury issues when there is a takedown within the spherical,” Hill informed ESPN. “For those who take a look at the injury achieved, all of the injury was achieved by me on the ft till I bought taken down. It is a bizarre one.”

In response to UFC Stats information, Waterson landed just one takedown within the combat, within the third spherical that each one three judges had Waterson successful. D’Amato and choose Derek Cleary had the bout for Waterson, whereas Lee scored it for Hill. It actually got here right down to the fifth spherical, when Hill appeared to do extra injury, however Waterson had extra “management.”

McCarthy, watching at house, scored the bout for Hill. He thinks she is likely to be extrapolating the incorrect details about how judges rating takedowns from the loss to Waterson.

“Notion is actuality,” McCarthy stated. “So when somebody perceives it to be actual, it is actual to them. They don’t seem to be saying one thing … that they imagine is incorrect. Although it is incorrect.”

Therein lies one other large problem with judging in MMA. Many fighters and coaches are conscious of what’s written within the standards. However, like Jones and Hill, they’ve firsthand expertise with conflicting choices and what results in them. And lots of in MMA imagine what’s written and what regulators say does not at all times occur in follow.

New England Cartel coach Tyson Chartier tells his fighters, reminiscent of UFC featherweight contender Calvin Kattar, that what wins rounds and fights is “management” — that phrase that regulators and judges hate. Chartier is conscious of what the factors say, however he additionally goes by what he sees in individual and on tape.

“You’ve got gotta management the cage,” Chartier stated. “What number of 10-10 rounds have you ever seen? They’re gonna decide somebody [as the round winner]. If that man is simply operating round like a dachshund and he is not throwing punches, so long as you are within the center, you are successful until he takes the cage again. See what number of guys win rounds once they’re going backwards the entire time. Even when they’re successful the spherical, the optics are you are dropping.”

Chartier and Xtreme Couture coach Eric Nicksick each stated they inform their fighters to go for takedowns on the finish of shut rounds. Nicksick stated he and UFC featherweight Dan Ige also have a code phrase Nicksick will yell when he desires Ige to shoot for that last-minute takedown. It is a psychological precept, Nicksick stated. Folks have a tendency to recollect what occurs most lately greater than what occurs in the midst of a five-minute spherical.

“The spherical might need been very shut the entire manner,” Nicksick stated. “How do you seal a spherical or how do you steal a spherical? One thing aesthetically pleasing to the judges.”

How judges rating fights is unpopular in MMA. Hill joked that it appears judges decide winners through “flipping a coin” or “I just like the lower of his jib.” Chartier and Nicksick say they imagine there ought to be extra public accountability, maybe the choose having to clarify why she or he scored the rounds the best way they did. Nurmagomedov agrees.

“Even not all fights,” Nurmagomedov stated. “Perhaps co-main and major occasion. After each occasion, perhaps in the event that they defined in public why they scored like this or one thing like this, it is gonna be attention-grabbing for individuals. Why not?”

UFC play-by-play man Jon Anik stated he sat down with McCarthy in early 2016 following a pair of controversial UFC title-fight choices, however regardless of that and several other different talks with officers, Anik nonetheless believes modifications have to be made. That might imply including extra judges, open scoring the place everybody can see the scores between rounds, or a half-point system fairly than judges being pressured to attain rounds principally simply 10-9 or 10-8.

“I do assume that if all of us [broadcasters] went to a category, like when you put [UFC color commentator Joe] Rogan and all of us in considered one of these lessons, I am hopeful that perhaps we might all be capable of profit from it,” Anik stated. “However I do not know. I actually really feel just like the language wants a critical overhaul. And what’s discouraging is that it was simply rewritten.”

McCarthy, who has been instrumental in creating and altering the scoring standards because the origin of the game, additionally believes change is required.

The continuing dialogue about judges and scoring may proceed at UFC 254. Nurmagomedov has by no means misplaced a combat in his profession and infrequently been broken by strikes. Half of his 12 UFC fights have been determined by choices. Gaethje, in the meantime, has not gone the complete distance in six years. It is the one foolproof manner, he stated, to keep away from heartbreaking outcomes.

“It is actually unattainable to determine the rhyme or cause [why] a few of these choices go a sure manner,” Gaethje stated. “I actually have not figured it out. … For me, the surest well beyond that’s to knock them out or get knocked out.”

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