In an evolving sport in which gripes against officiating are commonplace, the Kansas Athletic Commission will experiment with a major change.
Beginning March 1, the KAC will offer MMA promoters the option for "real-time" scoring, Kansas boxing commissioner Adam Roorbach told ESPN on Monday. After every round, the score of the fight will become public knowledge -- told to the fighters' corners, the broadcast team and the fans in attendance. Currently in MMA, the scores are read only at the conclusion of a bout that goes the distance.
Roorbach said the use of real-time scoring is up to the promoter and the commission will be flexible to the promoter's desires. It doesn't have to be used at all; it can be used for some fights and not others; and the scoring information can be given only to select people in between rounds.
Invicta FC, the all-women promotion that airs on UFC Fight Pass, will be the first promotion to use open scoring in Kansas for its March 6 card in Kansas City.
"If we can help in some way to push the sport forward in a positive direction, that's what we're about -- we'll try," Invicta promoter Shannon Knapp told ESPN.
Open scoring is not an entirely new idea in combat sports. In boxing, the WBC has open scoring after the fourth and eighth rounds in jurisdictions that allow it. Glory Kickboxing has open scoring between rounds as well in select jurisdictions.
The idea behind the KAC's new policy is to see how MMA fights could be influenced if fighters (and others) had knowledge of scores in real time. Outside of combat sports, just about every other major athletic competition has an open score as play progresses. Every player and every team knows what the score is at any given time.
"I come from outside of the combat sports world," Roorbach said. "But I've been a sports fan my whole life. It always mystifies me why the fighters and fans don't know what the score is until the end. No one has ever given me a good explanation as to why."
Roorbach said the KAC has been working on this change for months. But MMA judging has come under scrutiny in recent days after Jon Jones' controversial light heavyweight title defense against Dominick Reyes at UFC 247 on Saturday night in Houston. Jones won a very close unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-46) by taking the final two rounds. Many, including Reyes himself and UFC president Dana White, thought Reyes won the fight.
Going into the fourth round, Reyes thought he was already up three rounds to none. Reyes said Monday on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show that he absolutely would have preferred to know the score of the fight in real time, rather than being surprised by the decision at the end.
"In all honesty, I would," Reyes said. "Yeah. Just yes."
Among the possible negatives of real-time scoring is that if a fighter knows he or she is ahead late, that fighter might coast and be purely defensive in order to hold on to a decision. Roorbach said that exact thing happens in other sports without too much issue.
"Our sport is moving forward; it's not moving backward," Roorbach said. "... When you look at other sports, almost all of them are [older than MMA]. We're gonna be going through more changes over the years."
The UFC does not often run shows in Kansas. Most of the big UFC events are in Las Vegas, and Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Bob Bennett told ESPN that he is not currently in favor of open scoring. The WBC brought its open-scoring idea to the NSAC previously, and Bennett said that after a discussion with NSAC chairman Anthony Marnell III and commissioners, the idea was shot down.
Bennett cited how revealing scores between rounds might affect the performance of the fighters, judges and referees during the bout for why the commission would be resistant. More than anything, he said, if any kind of change is made, it should be done through the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC), which oversees the Unified Rules of MMA and athletic commissions, and made by everyone, not just a single commission.
"I can assure you that the Nevada State Athletic Commission is flexible, adaptable and open to new ideas," Bennett said. "But this is not something that you just change overnight. This is something you sit down and methodically and logically talk about. Does this idea have in mind the health and safety of fighters and best interests of the sport?"
ABC MMA rules and regulations committee chairman Sean Wheelock sits on the Kansas commission and is on board with the real-time scoring experiment. He said he has not yet brought the idea to the rules and regulations committee.
California State Athletic Commission executive officer Andy Foster told ESPN that he's not in favor of real-time scoring at the moment without more discussion, though he is curious to see how it works in Kansas. The KAC was the first commission to use morning weigh-ins the day before MMA events in 2016 -- weigh-ins used to be in the afternoon -- and that policy is now used everywhere.
Bennett and Foster both said another potential issue with open scoring is if fighters know they are ahead, they might be more liable to not continue fighting after an unintentional foul halts action late in a bout. When a fighter can't continue in those circumstances, the bout goes to the scorecards for a technical decision.
"I'm opposed to it right now, but more thought needs to be put in it," Foster said.
A change that could be made before the end of the year, Foster said, is the ABC developing a list of preferred judges and referees that will be made available to every commission. In some cases, commissions use local officials rather than ones with the most experience.
"We have to use the best judges possible," Foster said. "... While fights are subjective to score, the assignment of high-level MMA officials is necessary for high-level MMA events. Even fighters at the beginning undercard of the UFC and Bellator are very high-level mixed martial artists and deserve very high-level officials."
At UFC 247, Joe Solis was installed as a judge for the Jones-Reyes main event. He had not judged a UFC fight in more than three years, according to MMADecisions.com. Solis scored the bout 49-46 for Jones, giving Reyes just a single round.