Federal law mandates the existence of the Association of Boxing Commisisons, a group that unify rules and suspensions among the various state, tribal, provincial, and municipal Athletic Commissions across North America. The group works year round, and meets once per year at a convention to codify singificant changes.
UFC Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Marc Ratner will appeal to the group this Summer at the convention in San Antonio, TX to refine several critical rules.
Referee Conduct Following an Eye Poke
"What we want the referees to do is don't make a medical decision," Ratner told USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie.com. "Call time. Don't ask the kid if he can see or not. Bring the doctor in and let the doctor make the determination."
"Now obviously, if any fighter can't see, you want the fight stopped. But here's a case where if you go through the mechanic and bring the doctor in, it will give them a chance to see if in fact the eye clears up and he can fight. That's what you want to do there.
Ratner used the example of Gian Villante vs. Ovince St. Preux this weekend to illustrate his point. Villante was accidentally poked, was asked if he could see, replied "no" with the anticipation that he had five minutes for the eye to clear, and the fight was stopped. Sufficient time had elapsed in the bout to go to the judge's score cards, rather than declare a No Contest, and Villante lost.
"The referee was a very good referee," said Ratner. "Kevin Mulhall is one of the top referees in the world. Once the fighter said he couldn't see, it puts the referee in a position where he has to stop it. So it's the kind of thing where you want the doctors, who are there for that exact reason, to make the final determination before you stop the fight."
"I think by bringing the doctor in, just the whole operation will take a couple of minutes, and I think that should alleviate most of the pain and give us enough time to make sure the guy can fight."
Knees to a 'Grounded' Opponent
Current rules define 'grounded' as any part of the body but the soles of the feet on the ground, including a pinky. Some fighters use the rule to avoid knees by dropping a hand to the ground. This is the tale wagging the dog, using a rule designed for fight safety to change the way the fight is conducted.
"We really believe this 'three-point stance rule,' where a fighter is just placing his hand on and off the mat so he won't get hit, needs to be addressed," said Ratner. "That's not what the rule is for. That has to be looked at."
"I'm going to work with our attorneys on the language. If you're going against the intent of the rule, and that's what's being done with some fighters, then we've got to change it. I'm going to get the right verbiage for it. That one is one that's come into play recently in the past couple years that needs to be changed."
"We look at all these things. We try to learn from experience and make the sport better."
"I think for uniformity and consistency, it's a good move," said New Jersey State Athletic Control Board counsel Nick Lembo, one of the most influential regulators in the world. "It will also make it easier for the referees because it will take these types of judgment calls out of their hands, in a sense, where OK, I noticed the eye poke, which is going to happen a lot with these fingerless gloves and fighter stances. So, now there's a possible injury to a very vital area, the eye. We have up to five minutes. We have physicians right there. Utilize the physician and make a declaration that's safest and best for the fight, health and safety-wise. What Kevin did, it's always fine to err on the side of health and safety, but let the doctors make that call, and then I think you get a little more comfort and fairness in a Gian Villante situation. I think Gian would have been a little more at peace with what happened if the ringside physician came in and made the decision that Kevin did."
Saturday night at UFC 159 was a cursed night of some terrible stoppages and some brutal injuries, most notable the broken toe that Jones suffered in his dismantling of Chael Sonnen. And as fun as it would be to imagine a world where Chael got beat for five minutes straight only to become the champion on a technicality, Saturday night that would not come to be. Instead we are left wondering what with Chael do next and the more pressing question, can we do something about those gloves.
Joe Rogan has been very vocal about how the gloves need to change; he was vocal on Saturday at UFC 159 parroting his own talking points on the matter. The issue is that if you make a change to the gloves you will take away the grappling ability and dexterity of grip in the clinch and on the ground. Instead, I think now is the time to revisit the unified rules of mixed martial arts. The rules have been in place for some time now and this morning is a great chance to take another look at them because the amount of eye pokes on Saturday was nothing short of stunning. Perhaps, if there was a point deduction, no matter the reason, it would modify the training of the fighters (I feel the same way about groin shots but that is for another PPV I would imagine).
Here is the current rule from the Association of Boxing Commissions –
4. Eye gouging of any kind;
Eye gouging by means of fingers, chin, or elbow is illegal. Legal strikes or punches that contact the fighter's eye socket are not eye gouging and shall be considered legal attacks.
It explains in clear language what is allowed and what isn’t but leaves some grey area for the word “poke” to replace “gouge.” Gouge sounds intentional where poke sounds like an accident. Although I am not sure Alan Belcher thought that felt like an accident when Michael Bisping attempted to massage is retina from the back of his eye socket at UFC 159. That is not to say that it wasn’t an accident, but it certainly ended the fight. For a fighter like Alan who came back from a near career ending eye injury it seems insulting to have a foul happen to you only to lose the fight because you cannot continue. Bisping gets a notch in the win column and not a thing happens to him, no deduction of purse, nothing off of the score card, just a victory over an opponent he beat because the rules don’t spell out that he did anything wrong.
It seems like the rules need a tweak especially in the wake of UFC 159 where, injury-wise, all hell broke loose and the tweak needs to start in the eye department as that is a much easier fix that any attempt to tinker with the gloves by either adding finger tips, or making them closed, or any other adaptation you might be able to think of. A gouge and a poke are the same thing if they end the fight and at UFC 159 we all got poked to the tune of $60 to see three injury stoppages and a title fight that nearly went to the loser of the fight. In spite of all of that I feel I need to say, thank God for Roy Nelson.