The on-air rant directed at Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Keith Kizer by UFC broadcaster Joe Rogan on Saturday could only come as a result of pent-up frustration about how administrators can fail to address the unique needs of MMA. Watching someone such as Nam Phan go through the painful monotony of training, dieting and competing, only to be victimized by poor judging, is a killer.
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Joe Rogan had a chance to start the discussion about how to improve MMA judging, but his tactlessness allowed officials to duck the issue.
Predictably, Kizer wasn't interested in a head-on collision with Rogan, preferring to make half-hearted assurances that he would try to address the problem. "We, as a sport, need to keep improving," Kizer said.
Rogan's airing of those grievances on a broadcast is being celebrated by most and questioned by a few -- some have said a subjective "attack" on a state official from someone ostensibly meant to be objective is in poor taste. But there hardly has been a shortage of broadcasters being openly critical in such a fashion. Larry Merchant has spent years lighting up the ridiculous matchmaking in boxing, even as he was forced to call it. Joe Buck once railed on Randy Moss, who had crassly wagged his butt at a Packers crowd. Even Jim Ross has been forced to second-guess the actions of Ric Flair on occasion.
These people are not drones, and the ability to voice concern in a manner that will reach people is often too tempting to ignore.
Rogan's only slight error wasn't the venue he chose but the method. By referring to judges as "incompetent morons," he passed up the option of igniting a real dialogue and instead gave Kizer the ability to dismiss his critique. "He's got the right to say what he believes, and that's fine, but when someone starts calling people names, I'm not going to respond to it directly," Kizer told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Kizer can slip the punch, but unless change is enacted more bad decisions will follow. Can anything really be done? On the same day, California tripped over itself in the Chael Sonnen hearing. The state approved a trial of referee Nelson Hamilton's half-point scoring system -- the idea being that judges can better differentiate between a close round and a blowout, giving the scoring advantage to the fighter who ultimately did the most damage. But this still doesn't address the basic defect in having eyewitnesses who don't understand what they're watching. Instead, judges simply have a more dynamic platform from which to screw up. If someone doesn't understand firearm safety, don't swap their handgun for an automatic.
Accountability is the only answer. Judges must explain to directors why they did what they did, along with regular tests to confirm their understanding of the sport's turbulent visuals. Give them regional fights to score on tape. Assess their ability to absorb technical details. Issue a written test, just like at the DMV or the police recruiting agency. Competent people pass; the rest go find something else to do.