When you’re an avid MMA fan watching a night full of fights, you’re likely to score every bout as if you’re one of the judges watching cage side. It’s a pretty easy job for someone sitting on a couch or a barstool, because we’re not professional judges. We don’t get cleared by a commission. We don’t have experience doing it. We’re just watching for the fun of it. However, as fans who want the sport to give the most objective assessment of a fighter’s performance, we’re going to disagree strongly with some judges and their decisions.
For the most part, MMA fans would probably say a majority of fights are scored pretty well by the judges. The chances of having really odd, wacky, ridiculous scores from at least one judge is pretty rare. Unfortunately, the job of being a judge in combat sports is very, very unforgiving. When a judge does a great job scoring a fight, they don’t get much recognition. Score it terribly, though, and they get raked over the coals by the media, fighters, fight promoters and fans. A lot of it isn’t warranted, either, because we’re all humans, and human error is the biggest hurdle we have to jump, meanwhile throwing out all of our biases and maintaining objectivity.
The key is holding every judge accountable, regardless of their history, because any judge on any day can get a score wrong. There is no perfect judge who will see everything and score it accordingly. That’s the whole idea of being human — you make mistakes, just like the fighter does.
Well, bias or objectivity has not been an issue for one specific combat-sports judge. Instead, it has mostly just been sheer incompetence.
Adalaide Byrd, who has been a judge for the Nevada State Athletic Commission for years, has been judging MMA fights, primarily in the UFC, for more than 11 years now. Her scores have become more scrutinized every single year, due to her spike in dissenting scorecards.
Recently, however, it wasn’t an MMA fight that put Byrd in hot water, but one of the most highly anticipated boxing matches in years. Byrd served as one of three judges sitting ringside for the showdown between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin. In that bout, one of the judges, Dave Moretti, had it scored for Golovkin 115-113, while Don Trella had it 114-114. Both of those scorecards seemed to be pretty indicative of how a lot of the media had scored the fight. Our own Combat Press writer Rob Tatum had the fight 115-113 in favor of Golovkin. Byrd’s scorecard, however, was nowhere close to what any other judge had. She scored the bout 110-118 in favor of Alvarez. Just one observer in the media, Bloody Elbow’s Connor Ruebusch, had the fight for Alvarez, but he scored it much closer at 113-115.
Because of Byrd’s bizarre scoring, the bout was announced as a split draw, drawing the ire of fans and boxing experts.
Now, any casual fan can look at Byrd’s scorecard and just chalk it up to her having a bad day of scoring. She just got it wrong this time, while most of the time getting it correct, right?
Not only does Byrd have a long history of bizarre scoring for MMA fights, but for boxing matches as well. According to the BoxRec boxing database, Byrd has had at least eight notable scorecards for boxing bouts, where she dissented from the other judges. Those occurred specifically between the years 2003 and 2012. When it comes to MMA bouts, which she began judging in 2006, her rate of dissenting scorecards between 2006 and 2015 stood at no more than two per year. In fact, in four of those 10 years, Ms. Byrd had no dissenting scorecards at all. Suddenly, in 2016, her number of dissents from her fellow judges spiked to six, all in one year, which, even for her, was extremely uncharacteristic. While her rate of dissent in boxing bouts had increased between 2008 and 2012, it hadn’t increased in MMA. There were specific bouts that she judged in MMA that were not only dissenting, but gave wins to fighters that many observers felt didn’t deserve it.
The boxing community is incensed with how Byrd scored the fight between Alvarez and GGG. They are demanding that Ms. Byrd be removed from her role as a judge from any big fights, especially in boxing. When it comes specifically to MMA, NSAC Executive Director Bob Bennett hasn’t made a decision yet on whether he will allow Byrd to be a judge for UFC 216, which takes place in Las Vegas on Oct. 7. The main event and co-headliner of UFC 216 both feature championship bouts, with the latter set to be UFC flyweight champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson’s record-setting 11th title defense. If Johnson were to be successful against opponent Ray Borg, Johnson would pass UFC legend Anderson Silva for most title defenses in UFC history. If the bout goes the distance, one would hope history is not affected by one scorecard from one judge, especially if that judge is Byrd.
This unfortunate incident creates an opportunity for the UFC and boxing promoters to find ways in which they can more aggressively demand that these judges be held responsible for their decisions and suffer more severe punishment if they continue to offer up such questionable results.
It’s especially important when it comes to the big fights. When so much money is spent on promotion for fights like the big match between Alvarez and Golovkin just to have the whole thing is ruined by one judge, a lot of fans are going to get upset. They might seek refunds. They might not want to watch boxing anymore. The same can be said for MMA.
Ms. Byrd’s presence is an issue for the two most popular combat sports. Her inability to score fights properly will only cause more problems. In the past, when there have been bad referees in MMA, ones who stop bouts too early or too late, they get punished pretty badly. The best example is Steve Mazzagatti, who’s been an MMA referee in Nevada for a long time. After several years of terrible decisions, Mazzagatti was yanked by the NSAC and hasn’t really been seen very much over the last few years.
That’s the kind of responsibility that needs to be taken with judges. Just because they aren’t in the spotlight doesn’t mean fans won’t find out who they are. The referees receive more scrutiny, because they are right in the middle of the fight, stopping bouts and making decisions in a split second. The judges, however, have an entire fight, particularly round by round, to decide a victor. While neither job is easy, the job of a judge is much less noteworthy to fans than the job of a referee.
It also probably doesn’t help that Byrd is the wife of referee Robert Byrd, who officiated the huge boxing spectacle between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor in August. He, too, received criticism. In his case, it was for calling off the fight too quickly.
This issue needs to be addressed. UFC President Dana White will have something to say about letting Ms. Byrd judge another UFC event. We just don’t know if his complaints will be taken seriously by the commission that houses more UFC events than any other.