New gloves, more time: What rule change could help MMA’s eye poke problem?

Maggie Hendricks

Alan Belcher. Gian Villante. Anthony Johnson. Wagner Prado. Waachiim Spiritwolf. Constantinos Phillippou. These fighters have all been on the wrong end of an inadvertent eye poke and the inadequate set of rules that accompany eye pokes. What can be done in a sport where open-fingered gloves are used and strikes to any part of the face are allowed?

The UFC's vice president of regulatory affairs Marc Ratner has one idea that he thinks will help situations like the one that arose during Villante's loss. Ovince St-Preux inadvertently poked Villante in the eye. Referee Kevin Mulhall didn't see the poke, but Villante stepped back and said he was poked in the eye. Mulhall asked Villante if he could see, Villante responded he couldn't, and in accordance with MMA rules, the fight was stopped.

What Ratner wants to do is take the referee out of the decision to stop the fight. Since it's a medical decision, let the fight doctor make it. It will also give fighters time to recover as they wait for the doctor to come into the cage.

"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," Ratner said.

Ratner will introduce this change to the Association of Boxing Commissions, the national oversight group of state MMA and boxing associations.

Referee John McCarthy also favors this approach:

A change to allow some extra time would also keep fighters out of the weird position of possibly lying to officials. Villante honestly answered the question, "Can you see?" He didn't think Mulhall would stop the fight because of it. This situation could make fighters think twice about how they answer the question, which could put their health in danger.

The open-fingered gloves don't help. Fighters use sparring gloves that are smaller than boxing gloves in training, but the gloves' size would get in the way during ground fighting and submission attempts. UFC commentator Joe Rogan has spoken during many fights about the need for a better design for fight gloves, but none have surfaced among high-level fighting.

How can MMA fix this problem? Great ideas don't have to come from executives or state commissioners. If you have an idea to combat eye pokes, share it on Cagewriter's Facebook page. We'll feature the best ones in a post.

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