“Referring and Judging has evolved now and I believe because our officials are becoming more knowledgeable”
SUGAR LAND, TX, June 25, 2014 – ‘Never leave it in the hands of the judges’ is a strange mantra to have. On the one side it makes sense because the goal of a fighter is to finish a fight decisively, but on the other side, it is absolutely counterproductive to have a official judging a fight if the assumption is that they’re incompetent. The controversies that arise from how judges score cards have been well documented and seem to be occurring more and more as MMA grows in popularity and increases its exposure globally. Some argue that part of the problem in MMA judging is that many of the people deciding the futures of fighters lack a background in their sport and are carryovers from boxing.
Joe Soliz is a 54 year-old martial artist from El Campo, Texas who is out to change this perception. Soliz is a well-respected MMA official licensed by the TDLR to judge and referee MMA events. Soliz has been officiating MMA events in Texas for nearly a decade. “When the first MMA [shows] started in College Station the events were called Lone Star Beat Down, I was working with fighters and thought I would like to be on the other side, so I took classes by Doc Hamilton and shadowed some referees for couple of shows and now have been judging and referring,” said Soliz. He will need to rely on all his years of experience both as a martial artist and MMA official in order to prove the saying “don’t leave it in the hands of the judges” when he sits cage side at UFC Fight Night 44 in San Antonio, Texas. Fortunately for the fighters he’ll be judging, Soliz has the combined experiences of an official a fighter and coach. Soliz had done mixed martial arts training before, only back when he first did it they called it ‘fighting.’ “I started my MMA training back in my JKD days, we covered all ranges even then. As far as coaching I have worked with different fighters, who have entered the cage and I continue doing seminars and personal instruction.”
The proud Texan has been training in various fighting styles since 1977. Soliz holds black belts in five different martial arts, including Judo and BJJ, he is a certified Jeet Kune Do and Kali instructor, and took up Muay Thai at the age of 49.
Soliz understands the frustrations felt by fighters and fans alike when human error affects the outcome of a fight, but he is there to do his job, be it refereeing or judging. He believes that fight fans sometimes underestimate the difficulty and pressure of both roles. “I don’t think people always understand all the mechanics that go on inside cage. Many times people ask me as referee, ‘who won that fight?’ My reply is, unless someone is getting totally dominated, I don’t know because I am watching the more technical part of the fight like where are the strikes are landing, how long are they on the ground, reading body language, is their body fatigued, etc. Judging is no different, in how you have to make sure how effective their striking, kicking, the end results of takedowns, or defense, avoiding these moves, etc.” Soliz notes that considering all of these things in an adrenaline-charged environment is “not an easy task.”
Part of the problem with officiating MMA is that decisions are driven by human subjectivity and are a matter of personal opinion. An untrained eye may not recognize that although fighter A took fighter B down and stayed on top of him for nearly four minutes, the fighter on the bottom was constantly threatening with submissions and landing more strikes. Someone who is not versed in grappling arts may fail to recognize that although fighter A landed a single takedown, fighter B stuffed six attempts. The growth of MMA’s popularity has led to more promotions and more fight cards. The problem with this dynamic is that the supply of qualified officials sometimes doesn’t always meet their demand. Joe Soliz believes that experienced officials like him will soon become the rule instead of the exception, “Referring and Judging has evolved now and I believe because our officials are becoming more knowledgeable in understanding what they see in different ranges of the fights.” Fighters and fight fans alike hope the day comes when a fighter can leave their fate in the hands of judges without worrying about getting robbed. Joe Soliz will be doing his part to convince fighters, one card at a time.
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