I'd be the last person to argue against the idea that the state of MMA is far superior to what it was in its infancy. For all the rose-colors of nostalgia, the fighters are better, the money is better, there are more events and deeper roots. It went from being something akin to being a street fight with a playing field and a few rules, to a significant sport that is practiced all over the world.
That said, having been around the sport from its inception, the one thing that was superior in the past was the ability to make quick changes. In the old UFC, the rules changed often every show. That sounds like a bad thing, but it was anything but. At the beginning, almost nobody knew what it was and every show was a learning experience.
Endings are too brutal, you give the referee the power to stop fights. Fights go too long and don't have finishes, you have to create time limits. Too many draws, you bring in judges. Low blows and pulling hair is unsightly, well, ban them. Marketable non-heavyweights come along, you create weight divisions. Somebody sticks their fingers in an open cut, well, the next show there's a rule banning it. A fighter gets on top and holds onto the fence to keep from being reversed, well, banning grabbing the fence.
Today, as a regulated worldwide entity, change comes far slower, but to the commission aspect of every state, almost every province and foreign countries all have their own regulating bodies. A scoring system with obvious systematic flaws. Well, we're stuck with it because nobody wants to change and it would take multiple states to agree to get the ball rolling, and even then, it would be slow moving. Joe Rogan complaining on every other show about 12-to-6 elbows being illegal, well, we're stuck with it because it's too hard to get all these commissions to change.
A prime example are two situations that have taken place, one a few months ago, the other this past Saturday. On Dec. 6, Urijah Faber, in a fight with Francisco Rivera, accidentally poked Rivera in the eyes, unseen by the referee. With Rivera blinded, Faber landed several punches and clamped on a choke to finish the fight. Everyone that night watching the replay knew full well that Faber didn't deserve that win, and Rivera didn't deserve that loss.
I had hopes, given that the fight was in Nevada, where referees can use replays, that the video evidence of the eye poke would be enough to change the outcome. But it didn't happen, and when Rivera protested to the commission, nothing happened. Technically, the rule only allows for a decision to be overturned if the foul causes the finish, not if the foul isn't called and leads directly to the finish.
Okay, you can't implement rules that didn't exist the day the fight took place. But in the old UFC, something like that happens, and you create a rule, right away, so hopefully the situation doesn't happen again. And hopefully, not just Nevada, but every commission, uses the lesson of that fight to do so.
On Saturday night in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, referee Eduardo Herdy called a submission when one never existed, costing Drew Dober a loss in his fight with Leandro Silva. The initial reaction was to say that the referee must have known nothing about the submission game, and was incompetent. In fact, Herdy is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu who has fought twice previously. Every referee who has done the sport for any length of time has made a call they wish they could take back. And his was worse than most.
There is a tricky slope here. Overturning referee's decisions on stopping fights is not something one should be comfortable with, and shouldn't be done lightly. Even John McCarthy's moment, which he has admitted many times, where he wanted to crawl into a hole after stopping Kazushi Sakuraba while he was moving forward still going for a takedown in a fight with Conan Silveira in 1997. If that was in the old days, it could be easily overturned. On that night in Yokohama, Japan, the result was changed and a rematch was even held that same night, with Sakuraba winning. Today, that same scenario couldn't be overturned. If a referee is a little early on stopping somebody taking repeated shots to the head, or not moving out of a bad position for a long period of time, you can't overturn the judgment call.
If a referee stops a fight on an armbar, feeling he's protecting a fighter from permanent damage, that shouldn't be overturned.
If the fighter is in on an attempted choke without the right leverage to finish, and his opponent is clearly in no trouble, and getting out, and the referee stops it, that's a different story. That was what happened Saturday with Drew Dober. In situations like that, the referee should be encouraged to look at the replay and not just have the power, but be taught to admit the mistake, and restart the fight.
It does the sport no good for the fan at home seeing replay after replay and getting furious knowing there was a clear bad call made. Worse, the fan sees such an unfair verdict isn't changed. Bad calls will never go away, but referees in all jurisdictions should be both allowed, and encouraged, on disputed finishes to use the replay, and then make a call from there.
The correct result of that fight should be a no contest. If the ref didn't overturn it, the commission should. It's simply what is fair to the fighter. And if they claim they don't have the rules in place to do so, well, every commission, not just in Brazil, should be sent a tape of that fight, and then create rules to handle that situation. The past is the past, but there is no point ignoring and not learning from the past to create a sport that eliminates problems as they arise.
Let's look at how fortunes changed for five of the fighters on Saturday.
JOSH KOSCHECK - The most famous fighter on the Saturday's show came out of it with this scenario. It was his fifth straight loss. Four of those five losses were stoppages, three in the first round. He's 37 years old. His last win came more than three years ago. And Saturday was the final fight of his contract. Because of his ten years with the company, where for years he was highly ranked, he's also one of the better paid guys in the weight class. Time is cruel in this sport, and Koscheck went from a guy who could have taken a decision from Johny Hendricks three years ago, to a fighter who isn't getting out of the first round with fighters who are nowhere near Hendricks.
This may be the end of his UFC career, and it's a noteworthy one at that, starting with his buildup to his fight with Chris Leben on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. It was the first UFC television fight that became water cooler talk, and was a key part of the turning point of the sport's history.
That said, he did the UFC a favor taking a fight on short notice against a top guy and coming off a loss. Under normal circumstances, you'd say the UFC should reciprocate the favor. But one can argue that him not fighting at this point is more of a favor than him fighting again. A lot of people didn't like Josh Koscheck, but if you add up his positives and negatives on the sport as a whole, his career and its effect is very lopsided in the positive direction.
DEMIAN MAIA - Maia is 24 days older than Koscheck, started his career earlier and has had almost an identical number of fights (29 for Koscheck, 26 for Maia). He hasn't changed the sports history, but he's still beating good people today, showing that everyone ages and loses their skills at a different time in life.
Maia came into the fight ranked as the No. 7 contender in the welterweight division. With Hector Lombard on a suspension and Matt Brown coming off a loss, he could move up a couple of spots with his win. The most logical next fight would be with Tyron Woodley (15-3) or with Brown (21-13). A win there, puts him solidly in the top tier of the division. But time is not his ally.
ERICK SILVA - Silva (18-5, 1 no contest) is one of the most exciting fighters in the sport. Since 2011, Silva has had a unique legacy. Every fight he's won in UFC, where he started in 2011, has come in the first round. Every fight he's lost, aside from a disqualification loss to Carlo Prater, came when the fight got out of the first round. That's an issue he's going to have to change to ever be in title contention, a direction he was expected to be in by now after his early fights.
Three names he could go with next are Lorenz Larkin (15-4), Rick Story (18-8) and Jake Ellenberger (30-9). Ellenberger would be the highest-profile fighter, and Larkin may be the most exciting.
GILBERT BURNS - The former Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion moved to 10-0, but it was not without a scare.
Burns lost the first two rounds to Alex Oliveira (10-2-1, 1 no contest), and needed a finish, which he got with 46 seconds left in the fight.
But the nature of the win, with him coming so close to losing, raises a lot of questions about Burns' stand up game, as well as his takedown game. His strength seemed clearly his ground game once he got the fight there. A good next test could be Leonardo Santos (14-4-1), who beat Tony Martin via submission on Saturday night. Santos, like Burns, looked strong on the ground but had early problems getting it there.
AMANDA NUNES - Nunes (10-4) needed only 1:56 to finish veteran Shayna Baszler (15-10), with the key blow being a kick that took out Baszler's knee. What we've learned about Nunes in UFC is she usually starts off strong. If she doesn't win quickly, she fades as the fight goes on.
Nunes next test could be Marion Reneau (6-1), who ran through Jessica Andrade on Feb. 22.