At UFC 247, fans, media members, and Dana White believed that Jon Jones’ nearly decade-long stint at the top of the light heavyweight division had come to a halt.
STILL THE CHAMP.
— UFC (@ufc) February 9, 2020
While the fight was extremely competitive, the majority of fans and media members believed that Dominick Reyes had done enough to edge “Bones” and become the UFC’s 15th light heavyweight champion, taking the opening three rounds before a late rally from Jones in the final two frames.
However, it was not to be as all three judges scored the fight in favor of the Jackson Wink fighter, who subsequently set a new record for most wins in UFC title fights (14). While this wasn’t a total shock (one-third of media outlets scored the fight for Jones), the 49-46 scorecard of Joe Soliz raised eyebrows, with Reyes himself saying, “One of the judges had it 49-46. Who are you? I might want to have a word with you.”
Jones vs Reyes scorecard pic.twitter.com/NdUjUUM8tx
— Aaron Bronsteter (@aaronbronsteter) February 9, 2020
Soliz had also turned in two other worrying scorecards during the UFC 247 preliminary card, leading many fans to question how someone with such a poor understanding of the sport ended up in such a vital position.
The first of these decisions came following the bantamweight clash between Andre Ewell and Jonathan Martinez, with Soliz electing to score the fight 30-27 Ewell, despite Martinez’s good third-round showing. The second came following the middleweight bout between James Krause and Trevin Giles; while Soliz’s decision to score the contest 29-28 Giles wasn’t awful in itself, giving Giles the opening frame was perhaps his worst decision of all.
What’s more, Soliz has done it before and will very probably do it again.
Who is Joe Soliz?
Based in Texas, Soliz is a 60-year-old MMA instructor and coach who has been officiating MMA events since the early 2000s. Prior to his judging career, Soliz supposedly trained in numerous traditional mixed martial arts and became a black belt in five of them.
Per the TX 3rd Coast MMA gym website, Soliz’s achievements within martial arts include “Black Belt and Professor in Jiu Jitsu, Full Instructor in Jeet Kune Do, Black Belt in Judo, Black Belt in Tai Kwon Do, Golden Gloves Champion, Professional and Amateur Boxing Coach, Professional and Amateur MMA Coach, and Certified Referee.”
Following his career as a martial artist, Soliz moved into coaching, founding the TX 3rd Coast MMA gym with his family, and most recently has made the transition into MMA judging. In order to do this, Soliz trained under former UFC judge Doc Hamilton, who also gained notoriety for several poor decisions including his involvement in Lyoto Machida’s victory over Shogun Rua at UFC 104.
What makes Soliz’s career interesting is that while some of MMA’s poorest judges have made the switch from boxing (something that has angered many fans), Soliz’s experience in MMA should supposedly provide him with greater expertise. In an interview with TX MMA, this is exactly what Soliz suggested.
“I don’t think people always understand all the mechanics that go on inside a cage… You have to make sure to look at how effective their striking and kicking is, the end results of takedowns, their defense, avoiding getting hit… Judging has evolved now and I believe our officials are becoming more knowledgeable in understanding what they see in different ranges of the fights.”
A History of Errors
Soliz made his debut as a UFC judge at UFC Fight Night: Swanson vs. Stephens in 2014. That night, Soliz was on the judging panel for four bouts that went the distance. Aside from Ricardo Lamas’ unanimous decision over Hacran Dias, he was in the minority for all decisions when compared with those from media outlets.
First, in the middleweight contest between Marcelo Guimaraes and Andy Enz, Soliz gave the 30-27 nod to Enz; both other judges and every media member scored the bout 29-28 Guimaraes. In the following two bouts, Soliz’s incompetence was more damaging as Joe Ellenberger, and Clint Hester picked up split decision victories over James Moontasri and Antonio Braga Neto, respectively. While clearly, one other judge agreed with Soliz in both bouts, not a single media member gave Ellenberger the contest, and just two believed Hester deserved his win.
Soliz returned to UFC action in 2017 at UFC Fight Night: Bermudez vs. Korean Zombie and once again offered baffling scorecards. The first of these came in a bout between Ricardo Ramos and Michinori Tanaka. While Soliz’s decision to give “Carcacinha” the victory over Tanaka echoed the consensus from fans and media members, his decision to award Ramos a 30-27 nod and score the final round in favor of the Brazilian was ludicrous.
On the main card, Volkan Oezdemir defeated Ovince Saint Preux via split decision, and Soliz’s decision to award the bout to Oezdemir also drew criticism from fans. Despite a particularly poor performance from “OSP” (and a terrible contest overall), the Haitian still did more than enough, and Oezdemir nowhere near enough in the final two frames to earn the nod. However, Soliz and JJ Ferraro determined the Swiss deserved the victory in yet another dreadful decision.
Joe Soliz has now judged ten fights for the UFC, and aside from two blatantly obvious decisions in favor of Lamas and Joe Benavidez (against Ali Bagautinov), all of Soliz’s scorecards have drawn criticism. Whether the solution is greater training and education, more judges per fight, or reform to the judging criteria is unclear. But change is certainly required, and while judging will always be subjective to a degree, the sooner these poor decisions can be eradicated, the better.
As for Soliz, despite two lengthy breaks in between the events he has been involved in, it seems he remains far from the caliber of judge that UFC athletes deserve. Whether he will appear on a UFC judging panel again remains to be seen, but we shouldn’t rule it out; this is the UFC after all.