Six months later, the judges are still killing the UFC. At UFC 161 on Saturday night, the split-decision victory for Yves Jabouin over Dustin Pague underscored one of the fundamental errors of scoring: Judges do not initially score the full guard as a neutral position.
Pague landed takedowns, partially locked multiple submissions and controlled a majority of the match. Instead of rewarding Pague for his work and control, the judges handed the decision to Jabouin based upon his patter of strikes, avoidance of snapped limbs and lying in top position for portions of the bout.
While Jabouin did have more top position than his opponent, he ended up there because Pague wanted a ground battle. Jabouin did very little with the position overall.
Submission attempts are the grappling version of significant strikes. They do damage, cause one to deviate from a strategy toward survival mode and expose that one fighter is not in control of the bout. Why then was Jabouin given the nod simply for not tapping out?
If Pague had been struck 200 times and managed to survive, the judges would not have awarded him a victory for remaining conscious.
A judge has no reason to assume a fighter wants to stand rather than possess full guard. With full guard, the fighter is susceptible to strikes but also possesses more opportunities for submission attacks.
A submission artist who possesses poor stand-up would naturally prefer the full guard over standing. A fighter who is facing an opponent with great submissions would be wise to stand and avoid his opponent's full guard.
Given those strategic truths, a judge cannot assume a fighter's full guard is a better or worse position than standing. Given that standing is neutral, full guard must then be considered neutral as well.
Pague deserved to win this fight, and the athletic commissions need to make scoring changes to ensure this doesn't happen again. While the judging criteria have many holes, here's an easy change to make: Full guard is neutral until a fighter proves to have the advantage.