Seo Hee Ham, Danielle Taylor, and MMA Judging

Seo Hee Ham and Danielle Taylor kicked UFN 101’s main card off with a bang, but more than just entertaining fans, their bout highlighted MMA’s pernicious judging problems.

By all accounts, UFC Fight Night 101 wasn’t an extraordinary card. Although it did feature skillful and exciting competitors, the show didn’t boast any “big-name” fighters; the loss of its planned main event between Luke Rockhold and Ronaldo Souza didn’t help matters.

Thus, when Seo Hee Ham and Danielle Taylor—two talented strawweights who were coming off of losses—met, there wasn’t a tremendous amount of attention placed upon their contest. This point didn’t affect their willingness to entertain UFN 101’s attendees and television viewers, however, as they left it all inside the cage across fifteen hard-fought minutes.

Generally speaking, the story of this main-card opener was Ham’s forward pressure and aggression, and Taylor’s counterpunching and power strikes. The South Korean competitor had her best success of the fight in the first period, landing vicious punches on multiple occasions and rocking her opponent in the process—all while continually walking forward. The second round was closer, as Taylor landed with additional frequency (although most fans believe Ham won it), and the third round was probably Taylor’s.

These latter two rounds, although important and worth reviewing in relation to the judges’ scorecards and overall judging trends, aren’t the focus of this piece. Rather, the first round—one that was by every reasonable measure Ham’s—will be discussed.

The significance of the stanza wasn’t apparent until after the fight, as the judges’ decision was read by Bruce Buffer. Two judges scored the contest in favor of Danielle Taylor, and she was declared the winner by split decision. Both of these judges gave Taylor every single round. Again, the middle round was close but probably belonged to Seo Hee Ham, and three was likely won by Taylor, but there is no possible way that any impartial and competent individual can score the opening five minute frame for Taylor.

In terms of actual damage and control, Ham marched forward and staggered her opponent at least twice with big punches—as was mentioned before, but must be emphasized—causing her face to swell in the process. This is in addition to landing a number of other, stiff strikes.  According to Fight Metric, Ham outstruck Taylor in this period as well, landing eleven significant strikes to nine (this small margin doesn’t do Ham justice, but nevertheless, she is ahead). Fourteen of seventeen major MMA media outlets scored the fight for Ham, and all seventeen of these critics—even the three that declared Taylor the winner—scored the first round for Ham.

As has been driven home several times in this piece already, there is virtually no plausible way for a semi-knowledgeable MMA judge to score the first period of Ham-Taylor for Taylor.

But somehow, that’s exactly what two cageside judges—Anthony Dimitriou and Evan Field—did. Judges who are paid money to watch fights most other attendees shell out significant cash to see live. Judges who are supposed to be intelligent and well-versed in every component of MMA.

Judges who are trusted with the opportunity to decide the career trajectory of fighters who have poured their entire lives into training and competing in mixed martial arts.

There are only two possible explanations for these judges having such ridiculous scorecards: they’re completely unfamiliar with MMA or they’re crooked and for some reason interested in affecting the outcome of fights. Frankly, the latter point seems most viable, especially when the fact that Anthony Dimitriou hasn’t awarded Seo Hee Ham a single round in either of her two fights he’s judged—this one, or her UFC Fight Night 85 match against Bec Rawlings—is considered. For reference, only one of eighteen major MMA pundits gave all three rounds to Bec Rawlings in her fight with Seo Hee Ham. Interestingly, Barry Foley also scored all three rounds for Rawlings, thereby awarding her the victory.

Regardless of whether corruption, stupidity, or both are to blame for this and other judging blunders, the time has come to implement a system to verify the knowledge and qualifications of MMA judges, and also, to question them when they make an unacceptable call. It might seem like a slippery slope (who defines “unacceptable”?), but we’ve already afforded athletic commissions much more sweeping and all-encompassing powers over the sport. Furthermore, it’s abundantly clear that things cannot go on the way they are, in MMA judging; it isn’t fair to fighters, fans, or the promotions, and equally as important, it’s damaging the sport’s overall credibility.

This latter point is likely what will drive a true revolutionizing of mixed martial arts judging, as the irrefutable and undeniably potent poison of “fixed fight allegations” is one that the UFC, Bellator, and every other major MMA promotion will want to avoid so long as they wish to stay in business. Of course, this phenomenon played a big role in boxing’s downfall.

Sure, allegations of corruption and a lacking understanding of MMA don’t fly very far when their target is two judges of a bout between relatively obscure fighters on a generally lackluster fight card, but consider the issues created by UFC 205’s judging error. After the show’s co-main event between Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson, the judges were evidently confused as they delayed the decision’s broadcasting for the millions of fans watching. Then, when Bruce Buffer finally made his way into the Octagon with the scorecards, he read what should have been a majority draw as a split decision in favor of Tyron Woodley. The scene was hectic as Buffer later returned to the cage and told Tyron he didn’t actually win.

While this error way not have been the result of corruption (or perceived as corrupt by fans), it too highlights the overwhelming need for a universal body to monitor judges’ infractions of procedure, rules, ethics, and much more. Bruce Buffer, in a stroke of sudden confusion, didn’t decide to declare Woodley the winner—that was the decision circled and marked on the scorecard by the judges.

If the judges at the biggest UFC event of all time—an event over 17,000 people paid a lot of money to see—cannot perform their paid job correctly by adding some numbers up and writing down the name (or lack thereof) of the fighter who commanded the most points, how can they be trusted to determine the athlete that deserved to be given the nod?

The truth is that accident-prone workers in most every career in the world have been fired for much smaller errors that were made on much smaller stages. It’s as if Beavis and Butt-Head have somehow weaseled their way into judging booths all around the world using fake names. The problem is, fans and officials have no way to, at the very least, officially discuss judges’ actions.

Seo Hee Ham versus Danielle Taylor has made clear that, even in 2016, MMA has a long way to grow. Right now, inexcusable judging is negatively impacting fighters, fans, promotions, and the sport’s general credibility.

Something must be done about it soon, before irreversible damage is inflicted upon MMA because of the poor judgement of a few, and equally as important, before another fighter sees their dreams crushed as the result of corruption and/or stupidity–not the skills of their opponent.

Check out Athena Sports Net’s MMA and boxing articles here!

Max King