Commentary

Revisiting the MMA scoring systems

Originally Published: February 27, 2012
By Josh Gross | ESPN.com

I must say, thanks, Twitter, for the inspiration. After a spirited discussion Sunday afternoon about scoring systems in MMA, I decided to view Benson Henderson's UFC title-winning effort over Frankie Edgar two ways.

First, the good ol' 10-point must system, mandated by athletic commissions across the United States. Then, the half-point system that is being experimented with in some locales, including California.

[+] EnlargeBenson Henderson
Susumu Nagao for ESPN.comUnder a half-point scoring system, Josh Gross would have awarded Benson Henderson the title.

Guess what happened?

On fight night and upon a second viewing, I had it 48-47 for Edgar scoring the traditional way, giving him the first, third and fifth rounds. But when I applied the half-point system, which allows for a finer scoring gradient (not all 10-9s are equal, same with 10-8s and so on), Henderson came out on top in a squeaker.

I was always in the group that said 10-point must was fine, you just needed judges who knew what they were looking at. But that's not the case anymore. The current system isn't nimble enough for MMA, and I think you'll see why below.

Here's how it broke down (remember, these are all my unofficial scores):

Round 1. The opening round went to Edgar. He dictated range, scored on a couple of solid combinations, and blocked virtually all of Henderson's offensive attacks. Save a solid knee to the midsection by the challenger and a shot that prompted swelling under Edgar's left eye, the champion was never endangered. His defensive tactics were on point, especially when it came to high kicks; he kept his hands positioned well in anticipation of power kicks to the head. Henderson, too, was comfortable throughout the first five minutes. It was a competitive period, not decisive, which accounts for the difference in scores.

Scores: 10-point must, Edgar 10-9. Half-point system, Edgar 10-9.5.

Round 2. Henderson was sharp in the second round. He scored with all manners of strikes, even while standing on just one leg. Henderson cracked Edgar several times, snapping the champion's durable chin. Edgar rallied in the last 90 seconds. A late takedown nearly stole the round from Henderson, but a flush upkick by the challenger made scoring the round clear-cut. Edgar was hurt in the second, the bridge of his nose leaked blood down his face, and while he wasn't dominated to warrant a punitive 10-8 period, this was more decisive than a basic 10-9.

Scores: 10-point must, Henderson 10-9. Half-point system, Henderson 10-8.5.

Round 3. Edgar righted the ship in the middle period. He scored on combinations, won scrambles and took Henderson down as the round came to a close. The challenger's offensive output dissipated in the third while the champion ramped things up. Neither man was hurt this round, but to me it was obvious that Henderson did not take advantage of any momentum gained during the previous five-minute stretch.

Scores: 10-point must, Edgar 10-9. Half-point system, Edgar 10-9.

Through three rounds on my card, Edgar is up 29-28; under half-point scoring, it's an even fight at 28.5-28.5. Edgar's face is swollen and bleeding. Henderson looks like he hasn't been hit.

Round 4. The start of the championship rounds was the closest period thus far. Both connected to the head. Henderson pumped out jabs with regularity. After an inadvertent low blow by the challenger, Edgar scored with a couple of stiff rights. Henderson unloaded a knee to Edgar's midsection as the champ moved forward, then defended a takedown by working on a guillotine. Edgar survived, but this was a scoring sequence for the soon-to-be champion. Henderson slammed a couple of low kicks into Edgar's legs and also landed a knee to the champ's face.

Edgar kept coming forward, but that wasn't enough to win him the round.

Scores: 10-point must, Henderson 10-9. Half-point system, Henderson 10-9.

Round 5. Edgar came out striking and moving, but Henderson stood up for himself just fine. Edgar landed a clean straight left a minute into the round, but Henderson showed no ill effects. When Henderson pressed, Edgar again scored. He did very well beating Henderson to the punch throughout the fight. Edgar got the better of Henderson during a grappling exchange, and with three minutes remaining in the fight the champion was ahead. At the round's midway mark, Henderson cracked Edgar in the jaw with a right hook. Edgar, again, shook it off as if it were nothing. Henderson went to the canvas after an Edgar punch, but he wasn't hurt and it was more of a slip than anything else. After a short scramble, Henderson slammed a kick into Edgar's ribs. Not a lot happened until the last 10 seconds, when Henderson connected on a jumping knee, defended a takedown and forced Edgar to the mat to defend a guillotine. As the bell sounded, Henderson was unloading on hammer fists.

Scores: 10-point must, Edgar 10-9. Half-point system, Edgar 10-9.5.

Final scores: 10-point must: Edgar 48-47. Half-point system, Henderson 48-47.5.

So there you have it. Two scoring systems, two final tallies, two potential outcomes, and countless arguments for how judges go about awarding rounds.

Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.