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Shattered Dreams and Eye Patches: Fouls are not handled properly in MMA

Most professional sports have specific consequences prepared for every sort of devious conduct. But in MMA, fouls are assumed to be unintentional and therefore forgivable. Recipients of illegal attacks are given five minutes to recover and then expected to man-up and continue. This is silly foremost because intent is often impossible to glean from a split-second attack. But furthermore it is unfair for a fighter to continue with the physical ramifications of an illegal move, while his opponent remains unfazed and unpunished.

According to standard MMA rules, if a fighter cannot continue due to an illegal strike, the bout should be either be ruled a DQ in the injured side’s favour, a no-contest, or a decision should be awarded based on the judge’s scorecards. However, those options usually require a fighter to quit the match. In a sport where careers can be instantly de-railed by an unpopular performance (Rolles Gracie’s UFC career recently ended after a running time of 6.5 minutes) fighters are under a lot of pressure to look tough and stay in the fight. Months of training coupled with the difficulty inherit in making a name in MMA will force fighters to limp on against their better judgment, possibly getting knocked out (see Chris Tuscherer after having his testicles punted by Gabriel Gonzaga). This is a situation where fighters need to be protected from themselves.

Fans want to believe that fighters can shake off eye-pokes and strikes to the groin or back of the head, but there are physiological factors that overpower general toughness. Blurred vision and overactive nerve endings make a fighter slower, disoriented and vulnerable. Yet on the rare occasion when a referee issues more than a verbal warning, the punishment is merely a point deduction. So if a fight ends in any fashion other than a judge’s decision, dirty shots go completely unpunished. As a result of this poor enforcement, fouls have affected the fight results on many occasions: from Cheick Kongo’s triple knee-to-groin combo against Cro Cop, to Josh Koscheck repeatedly confusing Anthony Johnson’s eyeballs with little jars of fingernail polish.

Fouls cannot be entirely prevented, but they can be strongly discouraged with serious consequences. Verbal warnings should be reserved for illegal actions that clearly will not affect the outcome of a fight. Conversely, a severe eye-poke, foot to the groin, or stuffed takedown via grabbing the cage, should result in automatic point deductions. Furthermore, subsequent illegal moves should cost points and a portion of the offender’s pay, say 10%. Fined monies should be then awarded to the opponent–just as part of a purse is donated when a fighter does not make weight.

Properly enforcing fouls would not only keep fights fair, it could also keep them interesting. Another type of illegal activity is “timidity, including, without limitation, avoiding contact with an opponent,” which was displayed flagrantly by middleweight champ Anderson Silva at UFC 112. But while PPV customers were becoming infuriated, Silva received only a stern finger waving from ref Dan Miragliotta after nearly two full rounds of prancing around. If Silva had started losing points for his goofiness and threatened with DQ, he would have likely started to care.

Imagine a little boy named Timmy who likes to play with matches. One day, his reckless habit starts a serious fire and cause major damage to an orphanage filled with particularly flammable children. As a result, Timmy needs to be punished to discourage him from setting fires in the future. He will cry and argue that he did not mean to hurt anyone. But if there are no consequences, the little pyro will not be compelled against repeating the behaviour. His parents need to teach him a lesson and take away his Xbox, so that he will weigh the consequences before starting fires in the future.

It may seem rude to compare fighters to children, but it’s actually appropriate. Fighters are functioning on a limited thinking capacity during a match. They run on instinct, impulse and muscle memory; there’s no time to think deeply. As a result, like the child, it takes a strong jolt to break a pattern of behaviour; nipping at their cash can do exactly that to professional athletes.

Certain actions are illegal in sporting competition either because they are too dangerous (see head-spiking to the canvas) or because they are cheap ways to injure an opponent that requires no skill (hair-pulling, fish hooking) and demean the sport as a whole. MMA’s continuing growth owes a lot to adding proper rules and regulations. And while it’s certainly true that most fouls are completely unintentional, failing to enforce them severely affects the perceived legitimacy of the sport.

18 COMMENTS
  • Madmax says:

    Mousasi had a point taken by Big John for an illegal knee just saturday night.I thought a warning was warranted since Mo was playing the “Knee Game” and Mousasi hit him with an upkick a split second late as Mo put his knee down when he saw it coming. Big John is one of, if not the best ref in MMA so perhaps he saw something we didnt. The author is correct in stating that fouls need to be dealt with more severely and more importantly, consistently. I felt that Silva should have lost multiple points for taunting and refusing to engage, but Miragliotta didnt see it that way.

  • Madmax says:

    Oops, meant to say “upkick”, not illegal knee….sorry

  • cradick says:

    Great article! I really think there needs to be more emphasis on the timidity rule. What I don’t understand is why the refs don’t use this to deduct points from fighters. Clearly, over the past few events, fighters could have been penalized and possibly changed the outcomes of fights.

  • Kuch says:

    Timidity isn’t something the rules apply to because in boxing it is oftentimes viewed as a strategy to employ when I fight is “in the bag”. To a large degree, the MMA rules in the US are derived from boxing rules. The thought process is “Why risk a knockout when a fight is won?” As MMA strategies advance, there will be times fights are won by the fighter who knows not to rush in a try and finish his opponent. It might seem boring, but knowing when not to attack can sometimes be as important as knowing when to attack.

  • blue says:

    I think upkicks should be illegal. Not because upkicks are dangerous but because of the position they are delivered from. More times than not a fighter will elect to lay on their back and only expose their groin; full well knowing their opponent cannot strike them in the groin. Advantageously this position posses no risk to try and deliver upkicks.

  • Rece Rock says:

    an orphanage filled with particularly flammable children??

    What the hell?

    You sir should be writing horror stories.

    Good article besides the combustable kiddies!

  • Guthookd says:

    Eye Pokemon.

  • Dufresne says:

    I think upkicks should be illegal. Not because upkicks are dangerous but because of the position they are delivered from. More times than not a fighter will elect to lay on their back and only expose their groin; full well knowing their opponent cannot strike them in the groin. Advantageously this position posses no risk to try and deliver upkicks

    You can also kick them in legs when they’re in that position. And if you can get move around enough you can get them in the body.

    I personally believe that stomps to the body should be allowed. I was never a fan of the stomps to the head, even back in PRIDE it just looked brutal to me. Body stomps would help equal out upkicks IMO.

    As to the article, great read and I 100% agree (even if the flammable kids kinda messed with me for a bit). My main problem with the way penalties are enforced now is the complete lack of consistency. Certain fighters *cough* BJ and Kos *cough* throw their hands with their fingers out and end up poking their opponents in almost every single one of their fights. I don’t know if they’re doing it maliciously, but if they lost a few points for it and they ended up losing a fight or two because of it, I guarantee that they would work on changing it. I hate watching fights like Kos/Rumble or Burns/Rumble (poor guy) that are either partially or completely decided by eye-pokes.

    That being said, I was in complete agreement with the decision in Irvin’s last fight. That wasn’t an eye-poke, that was a punch that landed right in the eye. Big difference.

  • MCM says:

    I agree %100. But it really comes down to the Refs in MMA. None of the refs seam to agree on what is appropriate in the cage/ring. Each one has his or her own personality and tend to ignore some fouls (Herb Dean with fence grabbing) or overreact to others (the Stache and punches to the back of the head). Why does there seam to be no commission overseeing reffing in MMA?

  • MCM says:

    side note…..
    Flammable Kids is funny, but only getting your Xbox taken away for it is messed up. 😉

  • king mah mah says:

    @blue- Um, why is it that you only see the guys groin when he’s on his back?! LMFAO!!!!!!

  • king mah mah says:

    I agree that the refs are inconsistent when judging what to do with an illegal blow.

    There needs to be a strict criteria for the judges to follow, instead of just winging a decision on the fly. I think the writer is exactly right when he said there should be automatic point deductions. That way there is no argument on how a ref should handle the situation.

    I know most of the time the illegal blows are unintentional, but these guys train on how to strike for a living. Part of that training should involve knowing how NOT to poke someone in the eye or kick someone’s groin.

  • king mah mah says:

    P.S.- Don’t get me started on Anderson Silva again! I Agree with the timidity rule too.

    Great read. One of my favorite articles.

  • hindsightufuk says:

    the little Timmy piece may be the worse sports analogy i ever heard

  • JBAR says:

    Stomps and groin strikes used to be legal strikes and fighters knew how to defend against them. Now that they are illegal fighters to not guard against them. I say bring them back, besides if I kick you in the nuts I call it a point FOR me.

  • JBAR says:

    Eye pokes are a different story, first offense take a point, second cut off the offending fingers. Or to keep all things even just break them apart and give the guy a free eye poke, an eye for an eye, groin for groin the punishment must fit the crime.

    In all seriousness the only way would be to tie all point deductions to purse reductions. 1 point = 10% 2 points = 25% and so on. Problem is that fighters would not be penalized equally because fighter salaries are so different but that is another issue.

  • king mah mah has it best.

    Zuffa, Strikeforce, McCarthy… SOMEONE needs to get with the Nevada and New Jersey SAC (as they are the most highly regarded) and get some kind of referee-training program started. The only downside would be the cost of doing so but the upsides easily outweight that.

    You would have more well-trained referees with a smaller window of disparity between calls. An illegal elbow in Illinois would be the same in California. And grabbing the fence in Florida gets you a point taken away as it would in Washington.

    And while we’re doing that, we need the judging overhauled as well…

  • moosebaby02 says:

    Mousasi had a point taken by Big John for an illegal knee just saturday night.I thought a warning was warranted since Mo was playing the “Knee Game” and Mousasi hit him with an upkick a split second late as Mo put his knee down when he saw it coming. Big John is one of, if not the best ref in MMA so perhaps he saw something we didnt. The author is correct in stating that fouls need to be dealt with more severely and more importantly, consistently. I felt that Silva should have lost multiple points for taunting and refusing to engage, but Miragliotta didnt see it that way.  (Quote)

    i was saying the same thing when i saw that but Big John is one for the “best” so what can you do. wasnt like it was a major outcome in the fight.
    great read even if people have been talking about this for some time and still nothing hasnt come from it. i guess something major has to happen for anything to happen like getting better teaching for these refs

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