This past weekend at UFC 159 we saw light heavyweight Ovince St. Preux get his eyes accidentally gouged by opponent Gian Villante which led referee Kevin Mulhall to halt and call an end to the fight. Immediately following the event, UFC President Dana White discussed his desire to reassess the rules:
“What needs to happen is the [Association of Boxing Commissions] needs to get together, and we need to come up with a few things,” White said. “We really do need to revamp some rules and regs. I think obviously the eye poke thing is a big deal. We need to talk about that. And the other thing is this three-point (rule). I don’t like this three-point thing where you can’t get kneed if you have your finger on the ground. That’s not what the rule was meant for, so I think we’re due.”
In the Unified Rules of MMA, eye pokes are not currently afforded recovery time, which is different from a groin shot, which gives the affected fighter to five minutes of recovery time. What Mulhall could have done is called on the Doctor to inspect the injury, giving Villante time to recover and restore his vision. However, Mulhall asked Villante if he could see, to which he responded no, leaving him no option but to call an end to the bout.
As a result of Villante’s misfortune, UFC’s Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Marc Ratner plans on making a formal request to change the Unified Rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC).
His primary concern is better instruction for referees to follow when inspecting a fighter who has been poked in the eyes. Ratner told MMAJunkie.com:
“What we want the referees to do is don’t make a medical decision. Call time. Don’t ask the kid if he can see or not. Bring the doctor in and let the doctor make the determination.”
The Association of Boxing Commissions is responsible for providing a code of standards in MMA among the various commissions in North America. That code of standards includes the following of the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. Currently, under the Unified Rules, for any accidental foul other than a low blow, “the referee shall determine whether the unarmed combatant who has been fouled can continue or not.”
Gian Villante and his camphave stated that they may file an official complaint, and that he should have been given some time to clear his vision. After the fight, Villante said:
“I just blinked my eye to try to get some fluid back in there. I would have been fine 30 seconds later. I thought I had five minutes. All I needed was 10 seconds. But they ended it.”
Marc Ratner will attend the ABC’s annual conference in San Antonio this July to try to get the procedure for eye pokes changed. Ratner said that the matter should have been handled by getting a Doctor involved:
“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.”
That said, Ratner understands that referee Kevin Mulhall was simply following the rules, and does not place the blame on him alone:
“The referee was a very good referee. 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.”
Another issue Ratner intends to address with the ABC is the definition of a “grounded opponent” in regards to the protection it gives a fighter against absorbing both kicks and knees to the head. The Unified Rules define a grounded opponent as “any fighter who has more than the just the soles of their feet on the ground (i.e. could have one shin or one finger down to be considered a downed fighter).” This rule allows fighters to place a hand or even finger on the mat ensure extra protection from strikes.
This happened most recently in the Cat Zingano vs Miesha Tate fight where Tate complained that Zingano kneed her while she was a “grounded opponent”. Her hand appeared to be touching the mat, which technically qualifies as being “grounded” in the current rules. However, Zingano still won the fight by TKO and it was not considered a strike to a grounded opponent.
Marc Ratner has said the UFC officials are planning to more clearly define what constitutes a “grounded fighter”. The resulting proposal will be presented at this summer’s ABC convention. Ratner said:
“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.”
These are rules that need to be addressed and revised as necessary. It is refreshing to see the UFC taking the necessary steps to continuously improve the sport of mixed martial arts.