Opinion: NSAC and UFC Share Blame for Bad Judging

November 20, 2013 9:46 am by Connor Woodard

The result of this past weekend’s UFC 167 main event between George St-Pierre (25-2, 19-2 UFC) and Johny Hendricks (15-2, 10-2 UFC) has been one of the most contentious decisions in the recent history of the sport. Most believe that Hendricks should have won the fight via a 48-47 score, and many believe that the decision being awarded to GSP is one of the worst robberies in UFC history. While that may be a slight stretch, depending on who you ask, the fact remains that there has been a serious problem with the judging in MMA. Much of the blame has been appropriately placed at the feet of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, the preeminent athletic commission in the United States. Thanks to that position, most other athletic commissions around the country tend to fall in line with the rules and standards set by the NSAC.

The most notable problems in the NSAC are the poor judges and referees that it appoints, and the seemingly non-existent level of accountability it has for these appointees. The problems don’t end there, however. Questionable-at-best practices in regards to Testosterone-Replacement Therapy, personal grudges preventing the appointment of quality officials, and a stubborn insistence that there are no problems in Nevada also plague the NSAC. These problems can basically all be traced to one man in particular, and that man is Keith Kizer, the Executive Director of the NSAC. Kizer is a man who has been criticized by fans, journalists, promoters, and even referee “Big” John McCarthy. On a September episode of The MMA Hour, McCarthy had a strong opinion on Kizer:

“The truth is, Keith Kizer is a person that does not know combative sports. He’s never been part of them. He’s never done them. He puts people [in positions] at times that maybe shouldn’t be put…So if you’re doing that, you keep putting those same people back, you don’t care about the fighters. You don’t care about them as athletes, you don’t care about their livelihood. And you know what? You shouldn’t be in that job. And if someone doesn’t like what I said, too bad.”

Thanks to these strong opinions, McCarthy has been unofficially blacklisted by the NSAC, unable to obtain a license to referee in Nevada, despite generally being regarded as one of the best referees in the sport today. And the worst part is that McCarthy is right. There is absolutely no reason judges like Cynthia Ross and Sal D’Amato, both of whom have absolutely atrocious track records, should still have jobs judging boxing and mixed martial arts at the highest level. Yet they continue to receive support from Kizer, and continue to receive high-profile assignments. The same goes for referee Kim Winslow, who is almost universally regarded as terrible. Yet Kizer believes there are no problems, including with the heavily debated UFC 167 decision.

“I don’t see controversy in the GSP-Hendricks decision,” Kizer said. “The media seems split on who won. The LA times scored it for GSP.”

The MMA scoring site MMA Decisions paints a slightly different picture. All 16 of the media scores listed have the fight 48-47 for Hendricks.

Dana White was absolutely furious after the decision, and the NSAC was one of his big targets. “I want what’s fair, and that wasn’t fair. I think the Nevada State Athletic Commission is atrocious,” White said.

However, Kizer does offer one interesting defense. The two judges that scored the fight for GSP are Tony Weeks and Sal D’Amato. These are two judges who, according to Kizer, Dana White and UFC Vice President of Regulatory Affairs told him “that they believe Sal D’Amato and Tony Weeks were two of the best judges, if not the best, in MMA. You can tell they feel that way by where the UFC has taken them.”

One might think “but the state commissions assigns the judges, the UFC has to use them!” That’s true in the United States, but in other countries, the UFC often gets to act as its own commission, which includes assigning its own referees and judges. But who are among most used judges when the UFC goes to other countries? D’Amato and Weeks. Upon a closer look at their judging histories, Weeks doesn’t seem so bad. He’s made a few bad calls, such as having Leonard Garcia beating Nam Phan in their first fight, but even the best judge will flub occasionally. But Sal D’Amato is an entirely different story. This man has been making bad calls for years. He had Randy Couture beating Brandon Vera, Frankie Edgar beating BJ Penn in their first fight, Clay Guida over Hatsu Hioki, Trevor Smith over Ed Herman, and Uriah Hall over Kelvin Gastelum, just to name a few contentious calls that he’s made over the years. And the UFC takes him everywhere, including Brazil, England, Japan, Abu Dhabi, Australia, and Canada.

So why does the UFC use these judges when they don’t have to? It’s tough to say, but it seems as though Marc Ratner generally uses NSAC approved judges when they act as their own commission, perhaps as to not make it seem like the UFC is going against the NSAC in any way. And that’s where the biggest problem is. Dana White loves to complain about how the NSAC is the “worst commission on the planet,” yet refuses to take any real action against them. The UFC could make it a point to use only quality judges and referees who are hand-picked by the UFC when they go to other countries. More importantly, what they could do is leave Nevada. The UFC could refuse to promote fight cards in the state, which would cost the state millions, and refuse to come back until the NSAC gets its act together. But the UFC won’t, because Las Vegas is one of the most profitable places to promote fights in the world. When asked this past Saturday about the possibility of the UFC leaving Nevada, White instead pushed the responsibility of ousting Kizer on someone else.

“The governor needs to step in and fix the incompetence that is happening in the state of Nevada that used to be the best commission in the world,” White said. “It’s absolutely, 100 percent incompetence, and it needs to stop. I’m f–king scared to come back here and (promote) fights. I’m afraid of this state.”

That’s right, the governor of Nevada needs to step in and fix it. Would it be nice if the governor magically decided to step in and fix things? Sure, but the odds of that happening without outside pressure are slim-to-none. And the odds of the UFC leaving Vegas? “I don’t think it’s likely,” Kizer said. The NSAC are certainly to blame for many of the current problems of the sport of MMA. But when the UFC, one of the few large organizations with the power at least attempt to force some changes, refuses to make a stand, some of the blame must be placed on their shoulders. Heck, the NSAC is holding a workshop on December 2nd to solicit comments from interested parties. At least they’re attempting to do something. And until the UFC attempts to do something as well, Dana White should quiet down on the blame game. But, to borrow a phrase from Kizer, I don’t think that’s likely.

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