Open scoring
Alan Scheinson at GLORY 41 Photo: James Law/ GLORY Sports International

At last weekend’s GLORY 41 card in Den Bosch, Netherlands, GLORY introduced open scoring for the first time since GLORY 9. It was used in the early days of the promotion but was removed prior to GLORY 10 in July of 2013.

For those not familiar, open scoring allows the judges scores to be revealed after each round instead of only at the end of the fight. This can significantly change the strategy for a fighter (winning or losing), as well as the viewing experience for a fan. The return of open scoring came as a bit of a surprise, as the promotion had not announced it would be used prior to the event.

“We wanted to test it out in Europe,” GLORY CEO Jon J. Franklin told MMA Plus. “As you know, the rules and regulations for open scoring vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Right now the thought is that we will do it where we can. As some people pointed out, in every other sport you can see how you are doing. In baseball, basketball, football, everybody knows what the score is all the time. And you can adjust your strategy and your forward plan based on what the score is.

“It’s pretty exciting. Fans have an idea of where things stand as they go into the next round. I don’t think it takes away from anything. I think a fighter could be more aggressive in the last round because he sees he has to go for the knockout. In certain circumstances I think it enhances the aggressiveness of the fight.”

Many fans were in favour of the change to open scoring and praised it on social media, preaching about how fighters should have the right to know the score after each round. Many of them echoed the sentiments of Franklin in regards to a fighter knowing he’s behind and fighting harder. However, no one mentioned the opposite, which would be a fighter knowing he’s ahead and using that knowledge to avoid engaging in order to preserve a win. That is something that could certainly happen since plenty of fighters have taken their foot off the gas during bouts they felt they were winning.

While it’s easy to understand the premise of a fighter being more aggressive after learning they are behind on the cards, one can also make the argument that a fighter should be fighting hard, and fighting to win each round regardless of knowing whether or not they are behind in the fight.

Fans also, like Franklin, mentioned how fighters should know the score like teams in football, baseball, basketball and hockey always do. But that’s like comparing apples to oranges since stick-and-ball sports are far different from combat sports. Kickboxers aren’t scoring runs or scoring goals or shooting baskets; they are fighting in front of three judges (sometimes five) and then receiving a score after the bout’s conclusion.

Open scoring could kill the tension of a GLORY broadcast

There is also the issue of how open scoring affects the broadcast. Combat sports are built on narratives and story lines. Knowing the score after each round tends to kill the drama that often builds up in a fight. Gone is the tension when the scorecards are read after a closely contested fight, which was quite noticeable while viewing GLORY 41.

“I’m not sure I agree, because you know where you stand, and that can make the fight more aggressive and exciting if they know they are behind,” said Franklin. “But I think you can probably argue it either way.”

Todd Grisham, GLORY play-by-play announcer, said on Twitter that he hates open scoring. When asked if he felt it took away from broadcast, he said, “Of course. Almost every fight we knew who won before we heard from the judges. No drama. What’s the point?”

Grisham’s broadcast partner, GLORY colour commentator and former GLORY welterweight champion “Bazooka” Joe Valtellini, said on Twitter that “Scoring shouldn’t be dramatic it should be fair and transparent.”

When told of the reactions of both Grisham and Valtellini, Franklin said, “It’s certainly a lively discussion and debate among the team as to whether it’s the right thing to do. So we thought we would give it a try in the jurisdictions where we can and see how it works out and how the reaction is. Right now the plan is to go forward with it.”

Will open scoring make its way to the United States?

There is plenty of room for debate on the pros and cons of open scoring. And those will be discussed prior to GLORY 42, which is slated for June 10 in Paris, France, according to ISKA President Cory Schafer. The ISKA is the sanctioning body for GLORY Kickboxing, which regulates events overseas and works in conjunction with State athletic commission for events in the U.S.

“Everything is always evaluated,” Schafer told MMA Plus. “We [ISKA] gave them permission to try it. And I will sit down and discuss the concerns that I have: what are the pluses? What are the minuses? And part of that discussion also is: how important is it to do things exactly the same everywhere we are going to promote? Because certain things will be accepted by the American commissions and certain things will not. I would also be interested in the fight teams perceptions as to the value of this. The ups or the downs. All of those things have to be considered.”

Schafer applauded the promotion, saying, “I admire GLORY’s willingness to be open-minded to different things that can enhance the fan experience and generate more exciting action.”

It’s highly unlikely that open scoring will be permitted from State athletic commissions in the U.S., which means there would be inconsistency between cards in Europe and those in the U.S. That’s one of the concerns that Schafer has.

“In terms of branding there is a certain advantage in doing things exactly the same everywhere in the world,” said Schafer. “Open scoring has not been well accepted in America. Some of the commissions are neutral, but not allowing. Some of them vehemently against it and have taken very strong positions.”

Schafer’s biggest concern with open scoring is whether or not the judges will be influenced by seeing other judge’s scores that differ from their own.

“There is a concern also that when you announce the scores after one round, will one judge hear the other judges scores and will it impact in any way how he scores the next round? Schafer said. “Because the basic premise of judging is that you have three independent arbiters, who are not aware of what the other judges are doing. And those results are only announced at the end of the bout. So, yeah, there are concerns. We have to address those. We have to evaluate them and make the best possible decision.”

Schafer said he will be talking with Franklin next week when the two meet up in Toronto, Ontario as they continue working toward getting a GLORY event into Canada. Schafer said he and Franklin “may have a phone conference with the [GLORY] board, and my staff of officials in Europe will also weigh in, and we will go from there.”

As with anything that can have an impact on the sport of kickboxing, Schafer reiterated his desire to make sure that the ISKA and GLORY go over all potential issues that could arise should they continue using open scoring. They have the trial run at GLORY 41 to dissect and analyse fully, before deciding on giving it the green light for Paris at GLORY 42 next month.

“Everything has to be considered with great diligence to determine its impact and its pros and cons on the long-term best interest of the sport. That is what’s going to happen.”