Chris Leben, a retired former professional MMA fighter, recently made his debut as a judge for the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) at UFC Fight Night: Fiziev vs. Gamrot. While this marked his first judging appearance in the UFC, he has been working as a professional referee and judge in California for the past four years. It’s worth noting that Leben, who competed in the UFC from 2005 to 2013, had not previously held a license from the NSAC until recently.
Judging in MMA has once again taken center stage following a contentious decision in the Alexa Grasso vs. Valentina Shevchenko 2 UFC title fight. Judge Mike Bell awarded a 10-8 score to Grasso for the fifth round, a decision that raised eyebrows as it didn’t seem to reflect a particularly dominant performance. Jeff Mullen, the executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC), publicly stated during a call that he disagreed with Bell’s scoring in this instance.
Montserrat Rendon, who fought on the Fight Night card spoke favorably of Leben being a judge. She said, “I didn’t know [Leben was judging]. The truth is, I think it’s important that the people who have been in the cage [are judges]. I find it very interesting and I think it’s actually pretty cool that [he’s a judge]. It’s someone who’s got that sensibility of having been there to bring that outlook. I have the utmost respect for the judges. The fact that [Leben’s] score was the other way – you don’t want to leave it to the judges because it could always happen.”
I’ve previously expressed concerns about the need for improvements in judging within the sport. As a proposed solution, I suggested that judges should ideally be former fighters and experienced coaches. This approach ensures a more equitable assessment of fighters, as individuals with firsthand experience in the sport are better equipped to accurately reward and penalize competitors. Just as we appreciate the diversity of fighters in the sport, it’s crucial to acknowledge the importance of diversity among judges. Embracing diversity within the judging ranks would serve to mitigate any potential biases that may exist.
Both Leben and UFC veteran Frank Trigg are former fighters who have served as referees and judges in California for several years. Given the ongoing concerns regarding inconsistent judging in MMA, many fans are supportive of the inclusion of former fighters within athletic commissions, particularly individuals like Leben who possess extensive Octagon experience.