How Igor Severino became infamous by breaking one of the oldest rules of unarmed combat — no biting

It’s kind of amazing how far you have to go to get disqualified in an MMA fight. Poking your opponent in the eye usually won’t do it. Kicking them in the groin? Hey, it happens. Grabbing any of the things you’re not supposed to grab — the fence, the shorts, the inside of the other fighter’s gloves — may or may not even get you a warning.

When you consider that context, Igor Severino’s DQ loss at Saturday’s UFC Fight Night is even more remarkable. In a sport that is desperate to look the other way and keep the action going despite all manner of malfeasance, he managed to cheat his way to instant defeat. All he had to do was bite another human being on live TV.

The thing about losing a fight for biting is that it’s really hard to claim innocence afterward. For one thing, there was the physical evidence. As UFC commentators were still trying to figure out what had just happened to bring an end to the fight between Severino and Andre Lima on the prelim portion of Saturday’s event, Lima held up his left arm to show off the clear and unmistakable bite mark.

“Look at that!” exclaimed UFC color commentator Laura Sanko. “How did he even do that with his mouthguard?”

And yeah, I was wondering the same thing, especially since you could look at the skin of Lima’s arm and practically see each individual tooth. This wasn’t a nibbling bruise; this was almost a dental record unto itself.

The other thing I found myself wondering, once I got past the question of how, was why?

Because see, this is the other thing about biting someone in an MMA fight. Unlike a good old-fashioned groin kick or punch to the back of the head, you really can’t claim that a bite was accidental. No one’s going to believe you were just gnashing your teeth in a determined grimace when the other person’s flesh got in the way. Biting someone is a choice. And in this instance the biter in question can’t even claim desperation or panic or frustration.

This was a relatively normal, competitive fight right up until it ended suddenly. Severino had a good position in the clinch when he decided to intentionally maneuver his head into a position that would allow him to bite Lima, a move that appeared to confer no advantage whatsoever. Who does that?

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 23: Igor Severino of Brazil reacts after his disqualification against Andre Lima of Brazil in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on March 23, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Igor Severino broke one of the oldest rules of unarmed combat. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

In this instance, the answer is a guy who wants to lose his UFC roster spot. Severino was cut from the UFC almost immediately after this fight. Lima was rewarded for being bitten with a $25,000 bonus that UFC president Dana White doubled after learning that Lima went right out and got the tooth marks tattooed on his skin to commemorate the occasion.

Lima might be the only one to have it inked on his body, but he’s definitely not the only one who will remember this fight. Getting exiled from the UFC for biting a guy is the kind of thing that’s going to follow Severino. No matter where he ends up fighting next, he’s always going to be the dude who bit an opponent.

That’s another side effect of disqualifications being so rare in this sport — we don’t forget them when they actually do happen.

MMA has known some prodigious rule-breakers over the years. There was Mike Kyle, who, after escaping with a no-contest in a fight where he stuck his thumb in an opponent’s eye, went out in his next fight two months later and launched a blatantly illegal kick to the head of a downed opponent. There was Gilbert Yvel, owner of a whopping three losses by disqualification, including one where the method of defeat is listed on his record as “attacked the referee.” Then there’s the stuff that’s weird without being malicious, like Nick Serra’s 2008 DQ loss for refusing to stand up from the butt scoot position.

All of these people earned places in the MMA hall of shame by finally stretching the very elastic rules of the sport past their breaking point. Now Severino joins them, and for reasons we may never fully understand.

Maybe the weirdest part of all is that MMA is itself a sport based on doing things that would get you disqualified and possibly banned from almost every other athletic endeavor. Kicking the opposition is strongly frowned upon in tennis and golf, or so I hear. And while hockey might stop at a five-minute penalty for punching someone in the face, they wouldn’t be so forgiving of players wrenching each other’s arms until the bones snap in half. Even boxing, which permits all manner of inhumanity, won’t let you choke your opponent until they lose consciousness.

All of this and more is not only permitted but rewarded in our sport. So to find a way to go so far outside those rules that they call it off and send you home? For that you have to get truly creative. Or just truly dumb.