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Why are MMA referees seemingly so hesitant to take points? Marc Goddard explains

How many times have we seen it? A fighter, in a clinch up against the fence, sticks his or her fingers in and grabs the cage to help jockey for leverage.

It can happen multiple times over the course of a contest and, even after verbal warnings are given for the prohibited maneuver, it still seems like referees are loathe to take a point away.

Why is that? Why do referees view taking a point as more of a last-ditch effort rather than a regular procedure?

Marc Goddard, one of the more highly respected refs in MMA, explained to Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour that taking a point is a significant course of action, one that could directly alter the result of the fight. And referees need to see a certain degree of severity to go that route.

“What we look for with fouls is a detrimental effect on the fight,” Goddard said.

In other words, how much is a foul — like grabbing the fence — actually changing things? Goddard pointed out that sticking fingers into the fence reflexively is not the same as grabbing it fully and gaining a position from it.

Goddard was the referee for a 2015 fight between Ronaldo Souza and Yoel Romero. During the fight, Romero grabbed onto the fence while in a clinch against the cage and used it to turn what could have been a “Jacare” takedown into a position where Romero was on the ground on top. When it happened, Goddard stood the two men up, not allowing Romero to gain that position illegally.

“That is a perfect example of something that had a physical, actual detrimental effect on the fight,” said Goddard, a Scotland native.

But he did not take a point from Romero in that instance. It was the first warning and by standing the two fighters up, it allowed the fight to go on without any damage done to Souza.

If a point is taken in that spot, Romero has quite a bit to make up in a three-round fight. It can be the difference between a win and a loss or a win and a draw. In a short contest like that, taking one point is a severe action. Unlike in boxing, with 10 or 12 rounds, it’s hard to make up.

“Referees get enough heat for possibly over-interacting with fighters,” Goddard said. “The first [problem] in verbalizing and calling out every single infraction that happened in a fight, we’d get toasted, we’d get roasted and people don’t want to see the ref again. We have to let the fight ebb and flow and keep its natural rhythm. My job — a referee’s job — is there to see if something happened, a foul in particular, we’re looking for a visible impact or effect on that fight. If it does, that’s when we step in and deal with it.

“The severity of point deduction depends on was it their first warning, was the guy injured, was it intentional, was it unintentional?”

The example Goddard used was fence grabbing, but the message extends to things like low blows, eye pokes and illegal knees or kicks to the head.

Though fans are constantly calling for something more to be done than just verbal warnings, Goddard maintains it needs to be a pretty major foul for a point to be taken away. In the end, no one really wants the referee to decide who wins and loses the fight.

“I hope I’m not laboring the point, but what I’m trying to say essentially is, point deductions are a major thing in fights,” Goddard said. “Sometimes fighters are doing innocuous things without realizing it and we have to be sure.”

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