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There’s always room for improvement, but UFC vice president of regulatory affairs Marc Ratner largely thinks the three UFC fight-ending fouls over the past two weeks were handled well by officials overseeing those bouts.
The parade of recent fouls between UFC 259 and UFC Fight Night 187 has placed MMA officiating and rules pertaining to fouls under the microscope, with fighters, fans, officials, coaches and media all varying in opinions. For Ratner, however, the final rulings on all three recent incidents were the correct calls.
So why did the two illegal knees end with different outcomes? At UFC 259, Petr Yan was disqualified for illegally kneeing Aljamain Sterling. One week later at UFC Fight Night 187, Eryk Anders hit Darren Stewart with an illegal knee that resulted in a no contest.
Ratner explained the major difference was the referee interpretation of intent: Was the knee accidental or not?
“What we start with is the referee’s judgment,” Ratner told MMA Junkie Radio on Monday. “That’s the most important thing. He’s going to determine, in his mind, whether it was intentional or accidental. It certainly changes the way the fight is scored or the outcome. In the Yan fight, Mark Smith was the referee, and he felt that the knee was intentional. And therefore, because Sterling couldn’t go forward, that became a disqualification.
“The difference from last Saturday’s fight was Herb Dean felt that maybe (Anders), who landed the knee, (and Stewart), who was putting his hand up and down, kind of baited him into that knee. He felt it was an accident. Therefore it became a no contest or a ‘no decision.’ If it would’ve (gone) two rounds full, we would’ve gone to the scorecards.”
Every referee is going to have an opinion, but that doesn’t mean an off-the-board mistake can’t be made. However, the interpretation of Smith, who officiated his first title fight in Sterling vs. Yan, aligned with Ratner’s assessment of what transpired.
“I would say that Aljamain’s knee was down for, I don’t know, four or five seconds,” Ratner said. “There was no question it wasn’t coming up. He hit him in the head. He kneed him in the head. Right from the beginning, I knew it was going to be a DQ. I was thinking that way. That was the correct decision.”
With all that said, the question whether the rules can be improved or made clearer still looms. Without having the rule in front of him to break down word-for-word, Ratner explained why leaving room for interpretation is important.
“I think you have a gray area there,” Ratner said. “You’re always going to have a judgment call in any sport. To put it in black and white, to say, ‘This is going to be accidental … this is going to be intentional,’ can you read intent? That’s really the question. … I don’t think it’ll ever be clear. I don’t know how you can make it in writing that you wouldn’t be able to use judgment. That would be, I don’t know – I read those rules and there is some gray area there. I think it would be hard to say that you can definitively say that black and white, ‘This was intentional … this was accidental.”
With fighters who are illegally kneed, Ratner would like to see more decisiveness from the safety net that’s in place to protect them. Doctors shouldn’t leave the decision up to the injured fighter. Instead, they should swiftly nix the possibility of a bout continuing if the athlete is potentially concussed.
“My belief is if a fighter is compromised with what I would call a ‘closed-head injury,’ possibly a concussion, that you cannot let the fighter go forward,” Ratner said. “I would like the doctor to make a really quick decision. Don’t ask the fighter if it can go on. A lot of fighters would say yes because they don’t want to go out that way. It doesn’t matter what the fighter says. I want the doctors to be more definitive. I’m certainly not an educated doctor, but when I see a person compromised, I just assume you stop the fight right away. Don’t vacillate and have him make a decision. ‘Can you walk? Can you fight?’ I think that’s wrong.”
As for the eye pokes, like the one that ended the UFC Fight Night 187 main event between Leon Edwards and Belal Muhammad, Ratner and the UFC is always looking for solutions to improve. With different glove models proving difficult to grapple with, Ratner thinks locker room rules meetings between teams and officials are vital and should be taken seriously by everyone involved.
“I do believe hard warnings should be given in the dressing room, saying, ‘I’m not going to warn you during the fight. I’m telling you right now. Don’t grab the fence. If you’re leading with your fingers out there, I can take a point. I want you to know that. This is a hard warning, so think about this stuff very clearly,'” Ratner said. “Sometimes you’ve got language barriers, hoping the Portuguese, that their interpreters tell them these things. Sometimes you don’t know. We have a lot of international fighters now, but there’s no excuse for breaking the rules. They all know the rules. You just have to enforce them. Not every referee is going to enforce them the same way.”