The Doggy Bag: The Cheaters Sorta Prosper Edition

The Whole Point About Half Points

By Staff May 5, 2013

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UFC 159 was an unusual card and not just for its controversial main event. The foul-laden outcomes of fights like Michael Bisping-Alan Belcher and especially Ovince St. Preux-Gian Villante instanty got fight folks talking about everything from eye pokes to ringside physicians, MMA glove design to straight-up, good, old-fashioned rule-breaking. It's clear MMA has some rule issues, but does it have a cheating issue, too?

Perhaps the most important news story of the last week was that former Nevada State Athletic Commission boss and current UFC regulatory warrior Marc Ratner would be making some savvy suggestions to the Association of Boxing Commissions when the ABC intervenes for its annual meeting this July. Ratner's primary concerns are allowing doctors to evaluate fighters that have sustained eye pokes as well as hoping to reconfigure the “three-point rule” to better legislate knees to a downed opponent. Readers are naturally interested in what might come of these suggestions, as well as whatever might come of UFC color commentator Joe Rogan's crusade against the modern MMA glove.

Some of you are feeling cheated and confused by the 155-pound division, too. How is Gray Maynard in another title eliminator scenario? How the heck did Pat Healy get so good? As usual, we're taking points and making deductions of our own, but in the best possible way.

UFC 159 proved something I have been saying for a long time: it just makes sense to cheat in MMA. Even on the biggest stage like the UFC, you can grab the fence a couple times, score a few low blows or even an eye poke without it ever mattering. I have seen people talking about changing the shape of MMA gloves or how to reduce eye pokes in fights. I don't see anyone addressing the fact that if you need a breather in a fight, you can foul your opponent and get away with it. If you're falling apart late in a fight, just gouge his eyes and win a technical decision. -- Curtis from Maine

Jordan Breen, administrative editor: Clever bends of the rules are not strictly the domain of MMA. Watch line play in the trenches of the NFL, or slo mo replays of the tight, physical contact in the NHL or NBA. Hell, in a sport like boxing -- an MMA kissing cousin – the shrewdest rule exploiters like Bernard Hopkins and Evander Holyfield were exalted for their tactical use of the taboo. “If you're not cheating, you're not trying,” and similar such mantras proliferate.

What sets MMA apart in this respect and what makes the sport particularly unbalanced is that there is virtually no serious threat that a referee will actually take points away. “The Ultimate Fighter 17” Finale was a cage-grabbing fiasco almost all night long with no action taken. On the rare occasion that a referee does get frisky and take a point quickly, the deduction almost always has a perceived negative impact on the outcome. Mike Beltran taking a point from Gegard Mousasi against Keith Jardine for an illegal upkick resulted in most people feeling like Mousasi got cheated out of a deserved win, ditto when Kevin Mulhall quickly took a point from George Roop against Leonard Garcia.

Think about the kind of environment this creates. I've talked to multiple major refereeing and officiating figures in MMA about this topic and the sentiment seems unanimous: no referee wants to quickly take a point from a fighter in a three-round fight and put him behind the figurative eight ball like that. Mistime a knee strike, get docked a point and all of a sudden you need to sweep the rounds to claim a fight you deserve. No referee wants to screw up a fight like that.

So if you're a fighter, particularly not one bound by some martial honor code, a well-timed foul can always help you out. If you have had the good fortune to not inadvertently foul your foe for the first two rounds and you see the fight slipping away in the third, you can always kick that cup, gouge that eye. It's like a well-timed timeout on the basketball court. Hell, you might even end up in the St. Preux-Villante territory and get to go right to the scorecards.

Of course, point deductions can flow more freely in boxing where there's more rounds on the whole and a single point better represents a fair penalty for a foul. In MMA, a point deduction might as well be a death knell most of the time. The focus needs to be on creating an environment where referees can adequately punish lawlessness and recklessness in the cage, but one in which the penalty is not so Draconian as to equate fouling an opponent with categorically deserving to lose.

My thought? Half-point deductions. Your first infraction, sure, you can have a warning like usual. Keep your fists closed, keep your kicks up, let go of the fence. A second offense? You've been warned and now I'm taking half a point from you. That way, if you win two rounds of a fight, you're not going to get ripped off by a foul that was not material to the fight's outcome. However, if we somehow ended up with an otherwise even fight -- maybe your opponent came back late with a 10-8 round and you didn't feel comfortable trying to eye gouge to the cards – a half-point deduction could split the hair between winning and losing.

Would it be perfect? I'm not sure. Like any new, novel or different methodology in MMA, I'm keen to see it applied just to get a sense of whether it's a real solution or simply a half-cooked idea. I nonetheless feel there's virtually no way it could be less successful than the system we have now. MMA refs now are paralyzed by their circumstances, hoping that fighters can sort it out themselves to an extent that it makes following the rules a fool's proposition. I do believe officials deserve much of the flak that media and fans give them, but in this instance with point deductions, it's hard to blame them for not attacking ants with sledgehammers.

Unfortunately, taking action against regulatory snafus is always on a reactionary basis. That means we'll probably have to wait until a UFC title fight ends in a hideous draw over a low blow before we get to have a more serious discussion about this. Progress, people!

Continue Reading » Ratner's Race Against the Red Tape
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