Judging The Judges: Sal D’Amato

courtesy: herbdean.com

Contributor: Dan Galvan

A quick twitter search of the query “MMA Judges” will yield results such as “Bad Refs and Judges are ruining the sports of mma & Boxing”, “Do refs and judges get drug tested too? #MMA”, and “You know you’re obsessed with mma when your speech is about the lame judges…”

This negative sentiment towards judges is a complaint that resonates with most fans of the sport. You’ll find a lot of MMA viewers who believe that several of the sport’s prominent judges are incapable and scared, in some cases, of correctly utilizing the 10 point must system.  Despite the fact that there is TEN POINTS to work with, the majority of rounds, both close and clear are scored 10-9.   It’s a scary thought that there are judges who are incompetent at their job, a job that affects the livelihoods of fighters.

MMA judges have a great responsibility.  An ill-fated scorecard can drastically alter a fighter’s career.  Whether it be on the grandest stage of the sport when two 10-9 scores for George St. Pierre took away the opportunity of being aUFC Champion from Johny Hendricks, or the smallest of stages when two blatantly terrible decisions have hampered the career of a young, promising flyweight named Aaron Ely.

For those that are unaware of who Aaron Ely is, he’s a Kansas-based flyweight that has undeservedly lost two controversial decisions to Laramie Shaffer and Dustin Ortiz.  Had the judges made the correct call in both of those instances, Aaron Ely would be an undefeated fighter that one would assume be under UFC contract based on the recent signing of Dustin Ortiz.  Instead, Ely has not fought since his January loss to Ortiz, and it’s unclear when the flyweight will compete again, if he ever does.

So one would assume that a high level of accountability would be present with a job that can alter the daily lives of individuals, but when you examine the current judges, it becomes clear that there is a higher level of accountability at a McDonalds in Zimbabwe than there is with MMA judges.

Names that fans, writers, and fighters have complained about for years because of their inept ability to score bouts like Cecil Peoples, Adalaide Byrd, Tony Weeks, Sal D’Amato, and Chris Lee are still amongst the most popular judges in the sport!

There is no question that these judges have a terrible reputation when it comes to performing their job, but the question that I do have about these judges is if that reputation is warranted?  Do these judges have a real track record of asinine scorecards, and what is that track record?  I’ve decided to answer this question.

Starting with this column, I’ll analyze fight-by-fight the controversial track record of some of the sport’s most popular judges, and figure out whether or not the criticism is fair.

The first judge that I’ll look at is Sal D’Amato who was one of the two judges that scored the GSP/Hendricks contest 48-47 for St. Pierre.

Sal D’Amato

Thiago Silva vs Matt Hamill – UFN 29

Scorecard: Hamill  – Round 1 10-9

Analysis: The round in question was the closest of a three round contest that ended up developing into a lopsided yet lackluster victory for Thiago Silva.  Aside from throwing Silva down for a few seconds by countering a leg kick, Hamill was unable to get his wrestling game going in the round.  Thiago Silva got the better of Matt Hamill on the feet with leg kicks and hooks, but Hamill was able to land a few counter crosses.

Of the twelve media members polled by MMADecisions, only one of them gave Hamill the first period.

Ed Herman vs Trevor Smith – UFC on Fox 8

Scorecard: Trevor Smith – 30-27

Analysis: Of the nine media members and the other two judges, only one media member gave Smith the fight, and his score was a 29-28.  The first two rounds were close, but it’s hard to figure out how Trevor Smith could’ve taken the third frame. Herman was the aggressor and controlled where the fight went with a takedown and dominant positions in the clinch. The most notable outputs of offense from Smith would be a right hook at the beginning of the round, some knees in the clinch, and a few leg kicks.

Riki Fukuda vs Nick Ring – UFC 127

Scorecard: Nick Ring – 29-28

Analysis: The specifics of which rounds D’Amato gave Ring were not available on MMADecisions, but it’s hard to make a case that either of the latter two rounds should be scored for Nick Ring.  Of the seven media member scores that were tabulated on MMADecisions, no one gave Nick Ring two rounds.

In round two, Fukuda scored with a takedown and controlled the pace of the fight by attempting two other ones.  While Nick Ring was able to score with a jab and leg kicks on the feet, Fukuda landed several power punches including a flurry of uppercuts to end the period.

The third frame was an even better one for Fukuda who took down Nick Ring twice and battered Ring with ground punches for the majority of the round.  Fukuda who once again found a home for his uppercuts also controlled the striking aspect of the period.

Nik Lentz vs Tyson Griffin – UFC 123

Scorecard: Nik Lentz – 29-28

Analysis: The scorecards weren’t available on MMADecisions, so it’s not apparent which rounds D’Amato scored for Lentz.  None of the media members that were polled gave Nik Lentz the decision, although Sal D’Amato’s fellow two judges did.

Nik Lentz started the round with a takedown, but not to long afterwards, Griffin was able to scramble out and take down Lentz.  From then on, the rather dull round was all Tyson Griffin thanks to a pair of takedowns and superior clinch work.

The second period started off with a relatively even exchange of punches from both contestants.  Griffin was able to nullify Lentz’s takedown attempts, bully him against the cage, counter with some power punches and end the round with a takedown.

It was a story of two halves in the third.  Griffin stunned Lentz with a pair of punches to get things started, eventually taking down his opponent and landing ground and pound.  Lentz was able to get up and win the rest of the round with takedowns and clinching.

In conclusion, a case could be made for Nik Lentz to have taken the third round, but no reasonable viewer could award him the first two.

Brian Ebersole vs James Head – UFC 149

Scorecard: Brian Ebersole – 29-28

Analysis: Sal D’Amato gave Brian Ebersole the first and second rounds in this one.  While the second round was undoubtedly close and could’ve gone either way, you would need the help of cannabis to score the first for Ebersole.  Of the six media members polled, they all awarded Head the decision.

Throughout the round, James Head defended every one of Brian Ebersole’s takedown attempts.  Two of Head’s stuffs led to guillotine choke attempts; the latter of the two was considerably more dangerous.  A salvo of punches in the middle of the period gave Head the striking advantage of what ended up being an uneventful round.  The closing moments saw Head take an unbalanced Ebersole down who missed on a cartwheel kick.

Anton Kuivanen vs Mitch Clarke – UFC 149

Scorecard: Mitch Clarke – 29-28

Analysis: Mitch Clarke undoubtedly won the first round, but there’s really no case to be made for him winning the second.  No media member of judge agreed with Sal D’Amato that Mitch Clarke won the second round.

Clarke took down Kuivanen to start the second round, only to be swept not to long after.  Kuivanen worked from the half-guard position, until Mitch Clarke worked his way back up to the feet. The next takedown came from Kuivanen who brought Clarke down to the canvas with a kimura attempt.  From half-guard, Kuivanen landed a barrage of elbows landed. Clarke restored his full guard, and from that point on the striking was fairly even on the ground.

Phil Davis vs Lyoto Machida – UFC 163

Scorecard: Phil Davis 29-28

Analysis: Lyoto Machida’s game of picking opponents apart with a reserved amount of accurate strikes came back to haunt him with this fight. Sal D’Amato awarded Phil Davis the first and second frames with 10-9 scores.  All thirteen media members who scored the fight for MMADecisions had it for Lyoto Machida, but D’Amato’s fellow two judges did score it for Phil Davis.

The first was a closely contested fight that comes down how you score leg kicks, significant strikes, and takedowns.  The fighters felt each other for much of the first round with Machida picking his shots with single strikes and Davis landed a lot of hard leg kicks.  I would give the slight edge to Phil Davis in that time period because of the sheer amount of kicks he landed.  The tide quickly turned in Machida’s favor.  Machida unloaded a litany of punches and a knee to overwhelm Davis.  With the round winding down, Phil Davis took down Machida, attempting a kimura, and worked Machida’s body with short-spaced punches.  It’s hard to fault D’Amato with this round.  It was close.  In review, I would score this a 10-10 draw.

Watching it back, it’s hard to score the second for Phil Davis, but it’s easy to see how the judges could score it for Davis in real time. Davis was real active with his jab, but they weren’t landing at all.  Machida landed a clean left head kick.  Davis followed suit with a leg kick and superman punch of his own, but they didn’t land clean.  Machida countered Davis’s strikes with a combination of straights. The former UFC champ continued to piece together straights on Davis while defending his opponent’s takedown attempts.  Davis took Machida down with less than a minute left in the round, although he didn’t much with it.

Sal D’Amato has other controversial scorecards on his resume, but I didn’t consider his scores egregious enough to analyze round for round what transpired.  Here are the scores that come to mind:

  • Lyle Beerbohm vs Vitor Ribeiro – Strikeforce: Heavy Artillery = Ribeiro 29-28
  • Lyoto Machida vs Quinton Jackson – UFC 123 = Jackson 29-28
  • Diego Sanchez vs Martin Kampmann – UFC Live = Sanchez 29-28
  • Alex Caceres vs Edwin Figueroa – UFC 143 = 28-27 Figueroa
  • Court McGee vs Robert Whittaker – UFN 27 = 10-9 McGee in the first round

Twitter Sampling of the Query “Sal D’Amato

1.     “Sal D’Amato is continually one of the worst judges in MMA yet still keeps getting top assignments.  Makes no sense.” @MMAdamMartin
2.     “Fun fact: Sal D’Amato probably judges 6th grade karate classes.” @MookieAlexander
3.     “Ugh, Sal D’Amato makes his return.  Lock up your children, grab your crosses and your heavy artillery, abandon all hope and other grim shit.” @JordanBreen

First Page Google Searches of the query “Sal D’Amato”

1.     Sal D’Amato quickly proving himself to be an incapable judge”
2.     “FIFTH event in a row Sal D’Amato is judging!”

-Dan can be reached at [email protected] or @danielgal.