Recent attempts to change the rules of mixed martial arts across the various regulatory bodies in North America seem to have left the sport more fractured than before.
History may not exactly be on Brian Stann’s side (after all MMA only even became legal across the US in 2016), but following another rules fiasco at UFC 211, the former fighter turned commentator is making an impassioned plea for regulators to prove that the sport of MMA is better than what was shown on Saturday.
In the second round of Eddie Alvarez’s FX prelim headlining fight with Dustin Poirier, Alvarez made a huge mistake. Likely down a round and on his heels after getting rocked, Alvarez swarmed back to hurt Poirier and, in the heat of the moment, landed a series of hard illegal knees to his prone opponent.
The fight was waved off and, despite the fact that the knees were clearly intentional (Alvarez was definitely trying to knee Poirier), referee Herb Dean ruled that the foul itself was unintentional. Dean explained to UFC VP of Regulatory Affairs Marc Ratner following the incident, that he believed Alvarez did not know Poirier was downed. As a result, Dean declared the fight a No Contest.
That decision didn’t sit well with many observers who felt that, whether Alvarez intended to foul Poirier or not, illegal strikes that result in an opponent being unable to continue should result in a disqualification loss. Among the many making that argument is UFC commentator Brian Stann, as he explained on the UFC 211 FOX post-fight show (transcript via MMA Fighting).
“Now the decision is made to call it a no-contest. A DQ [disqualification] and a no contest. No. These are illegal moves. That should be a disqualification, a win for Dustin Poirier, who was most likely up two rounds to none.”
“Here’s the overall frustration: We set new rules, we barely ever use them, we go to different cities every damn weekend and these fighters have no idea what knees are allowed, what positions they’re supposed to be in, what point scores we’re going by. I was in one country, in Fortaleza in Brazil, and it was a mixture of the old and the new rules! I asked the referee, ‘do the fighters know that?’ He said, ‘well, the three bouts that I’m reffing, they know that.’ Come on! We’re better than this. Decide on rules and go with them so that these athletes know. And the referees, they should be the best ones to know. Get the rules right. I don’t buy that that should have been a no-contest. That should have been a win for Dustin Poirier and what makes me super upset is that we continue to have controversy over these rules. We have to fix this.”
And while Stann says he understands that Alvarez’s actions were likely unintentional and the result of being in the heat of a hard fought battle, that shouldn’t be an excuse, “If you’re going to make the rule and it’s going to be a foul then treat it as a foul and don’t just say, ‘OK nobody wins.’ That’s not how it’s supposed to go.”
A similar incident in the fight between Gegard Mousasi and Chris Weidman at UFC 210 resulted in minutes of in-ring confusion before finally being declared a TKO win for Mousasi. But, even beyond the recent rule change surrounding illegal knees in MMA, regulatory consistency has always been a mixed bag for mixed martial arts.
As CombatSportsLaw.com founder Erik Magraken noted on Twitter, for the UFC’s PPV card last Saturday in Dallas, TX, the state still allows fighters to wear a gi in MMA, does not mandate that fighters wear gloves, and allows for one rope escape per match from a submission. In fact, while Joanna Jedrzejczyk defended her strawweight title at UFC 211, Texas does not officially recognize the strawweight division as part of its regulatory oversight.
On the one hand, the confusion over illegal knees adds a new layer to an already confused governance. On the other hand, that’s just par for the course in MMA.