Veteran MMA referee Marc Goddard was thrown into a tough situation on Saturday at UFC Fight Night 30. Fighting in the night's co-main event, lightweights Melvin Guillard and Ross Pearson traded blows for less than two minutes before Guillard trapped Pearson against the fence and unloaded a pair of devastating knees to the Englishman's forehead.
Pearson's right hand appeared to be downed during the salvo, casting the legality of Guillard's strikes in question, and Goddard immediately stopped the action, before ultimately ruling the bout a ‘no contest' due to a massive cut which had opened across Pearson's brow.
Looking back on the messy situation during Monday's episode of The MMA Hour, Goddard stated "100 percent" confidence in his decision.
"It wasn't the first knee that Melvin delivered," Goddard explained. "It was actually the second knee, and it was the second knee that opened up the cut.
"I saw Ross' hand, and when I say hand, I mean his palm. His entire hand. It wasn't what we're used to before with the fingertips and playing the game, as me and a couple of other refs will allude to. This was a deliberate action, in terms of Ross making himself safe, putting his full hand down on the mat. The knee came in, connected with the forehead. That's what caused the cut. That's exactly what I saw, and that's why I stopped the fight at that time to deal with it."
The severity of Pearson's cut ultimately led to the fight's premature conclusion, though afterward many observers questioned Goddard's decision to rule the bout a no contest rather than a disqualification win in Pearson's favor.
To that end, the crux of Goddard's decision came down to intent.
"It was very clear to me that Melvin delivered the two knees in quick succession, and he didn't have time to assess or see the position of Ross Pearson," Goddard explained.
"Ross' hand went down, the second knee connected, and I think it was only fair and only just [for] both parties to rule it a no contest. There was certainly no, in my mind, intention from Melvin there to foul his opponent intentionally. And there was certainly no intention in my mind that Ross was playing a game. He was trying to be afforded the protection of being a downed fighter."
The three-point stance rule, which allows a fighter to ‘play the game,' as Goddard says, and place his or hers fingertips on the canvas to prevent knees or kicks to the head, fell into question earlier this year in the aftermath of its role in Demetrious Johnson's flyweight title defense against John Dodson at UFC on FOX 6.
The controversial rule has yet to be changed, though a new wrinkle is apparently already in effect.
"What came out of [2013 ABC conference] was they understand that it goes on, but the defining factor came that it's up to the referee," Goddard revealed. "It's (up to) the referee's discretion to call whether a fighter is playing the game or not."
With that knowledge in mind, Goddard defended his ruling at UFC Fight Night 30 by stating that in the process of placing his palm fully down on the canvas, Pearson made it clear that he wasn't attempting to ‘play a game.' Rather, he was simply taking advantage of the protection afforded to him by the Unified Rules of MMA.
"If a fighter is in danger of being (hurt), they know what they're afforded to do," Goddard explained. "If you want to be a downed fighter, be a downed fighter. If it goes down to one knee, put your hand flat.
"What I won't do, what I won't allow, and some fighters will testify, is if you're going to start playing the fingertip game, because that is playing a game. If you want to be afforded the protection of a downed fighter, then become a downed fighter. And quite clearly to me, that's what Ross Pearson did. When the first knee came in, he could see the danger of repeated knees. He put his hand flat on (mat), and unfortunately ... Melvin didn't have time to see that. He didn't have time to react, and I had to do what I had to do."
Guillard and Pearson are now scheduled to rematch their lightweight tilt on March 8, 2014 in London, England. And while Goddard is positive he made the right call, he added that due to system in place, it was a call he had to make in real time, without the extensive use of instant replay.
"I think the obvious answer is yes, because there are things we all miss. We're human beings," Goddard responded when asked if instant replay belongs in mixed martial arts.
"Sometimes something can happen on the blind side of us. [Referees] can't take the word of someone on the outside or someone from an opposing camp, or the fighter's camp themselves. So I think video replays do have their place in MMA, certainly when there's a lot at stake."