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ABC rules committee passes limited use of instant replay in MMA

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John McCarthy (MMA Fighting)
John McCarthy sits on the ABC’s rules and regulations committee for MMA.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Instant replay could be coming to mixed martial arts.

The Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC) rules and regulations committee for MMA has passed the use of instant replay for fight-finishing sequences, committee chair Sean Wheelock confirmed Tuesday with MMA Fighting.

The proposed rule will be brought to the ABC body and voted on at its annual conference this summer in Connecticut. Paul Gift of Bloody Elbow was the first to report the development.

The language of the proposed instant replay rule is intentionally limited in scope, Wheelock said. It says a referee “may only use Instant Replay when he/she feels that a “Fight Ending Sequence” was possibly caused by an illegal action (foul) whether intentional or unintentional.”

In other words, if a potential foul — an eye poke, blow to the groin, illegal knee, etc. — leads to the finish of a fight, a referee has the discretion to go to the replay to determine whether or not the blow was legal or not and what the fight result should be ruled.

“Once reviewing the replay the referee can either confirm or dispel whether a foul was committed that brought about the fight ending sequence and take the appropriate actions from there,” the rule states.

A potential example of this happened just over the weekend. Khalil Rountree finished Daniel Jolly in the first round of their UFC Fight Night 104 bout in Houston with a knockout via knees. The first knee Rountree threw appeared to be a legal one, causing Jolly to fall. Rountree then threw another knee, which either landed on Jolly’s chest or his head while he was technically a grounded fighter. It would have been illegal had the blow struck the head.

Referee Chris Reed appeared to step in to stop the fight after the initial knee, making the second knee somewhat moot. But under the proposed rule, Reed would have been able to look at the instant replay to determine the exact sequence of events leading to the finish.

Another recent situation that could have used replay was the finish of the fight between Tim Means and Alex Oliveira at UFC 207 in December. Means landed illegal knees to Oliveira’s head and referee Dan Miragliotta stepped in to stop the fight. The bout was ruled a no contest. With the proposed rule, Miragliotta would have been able to look at the replay to determine what happened, though ultimately he was correct and the knees were illegal because Oliveira was grounded (on his knees). A replay could have determined whether Miragliotta ruled the bout a no contest or disqualification.

The replay rule, per the codified language, would be in place to allow the referee to make the correct call in determining the outcome of the fight in calling: a winner of the match; having the fight go to to the judges’ scorecards for a technical decision; and/or whether the bout will be a ruled a no contest or disqualification.

However, it would not be used to “review the actions of the referee,” such as whether it was the right moment to stop a fight in a TKO or technical submission situation, whether or not there was a tap, or to determine whether or not a fighter committed a foul that did not lead to the finish. A fight also cannot be restarted after a referee looks at the replay.

The last thing the committee wanted, Wheelock said, was the referee looking at replays to determine every low blow or potential eye poke, stopping the action. It will only be for fight-ending sequences.

“We wanted to do it where it had very strict, narrow criteria,” Wheelock said. “I think for this to work, you have to have parameters.”

Currently, instant replay is allowed in some states like Nevada. If the ABC passes this rule, it would be available everywhere, though some smaller MMA events might not be televised or recorded, so a replay might not be possible.

“It was more of a matter of us looking at ways to improve the sport and looking at other sports,” Wheelock said. … “If this technology is there, why not use it?”

The full language of the proposed rule is below:

Instant Replay Use in Mixed Martial Arts Competition

The use of Instant Replay in MMA must be set under parameters that insure fairness in the match and a proper outcome at the conclusion of the fight. Instant Replay may not be possible in some smaller shows that are not being videotaped.

Due to the complexities involved in the sport of MMA, the referee may only use Instant Replay when he/she feels that a “Fight Ending Sequence” was possibly caused by an illegal action (foul) whether intentional or unintentional. At such a time the referee and only the referee may call for a review of the last moments of the fight. Once reviewing the replay the referee can either confirm or dispel whether a foul was committed that brought about the fight ending sequence and take the appropriate actions from there.

It should be noted that Instant Replay is not to be used to review the actions of the referee. Examples of this include:

1. Was the fight was stopped at the right moment?

2. Was there a tap?

3. Did a fighter commit a foul that did not bring about an end to the fight?

If a referee utilizes instant replay, the information obtained from the replay cannot be used to restart the fight as the fight is officially over and may not be resumed.

The sole purpose of Instant Replay in MMA is to allow the referee to make a correct call on the outcome of the fight in calling:

1. A winner of the match

2. Having the fight go to the judge’s scorecards for a Technical Decision

3. Is the fight going to be a “No Contest”?

4. Disqualification

The MMA rules and regulations committee also approved a change in the process of determining a fight result in the event of a fight-ending foul, equipment failure, or act of god. Previously, in a three-round fight, the bout would be ruled a no contest in those situations until the conclusion of the second round, and in a five-round fight it would be a no contest until the conclusion of the third round.

Under the new rule, a three-round bout would go to the judges’ scorecards for a technical decision at any time after the start of the second round. For a five-round bout, it would go to the judges at any time after the beginning of the third round.

For example, a fight between Daron Cruickshank and K.J. Noons went to a no-contest in the second round at The Ultimate Fighter 20 Finale in 2014 when Noons accidentally poked Cruickshank in the eye and Cruickshank could not continue. Under the proposed rule, since the bout had already entered the second round, it would no longer be a no contest — it would go to the judges. Cruickshank might have been the winner since he won the first round. The judges would also have to score the round in which the bout ends, even if only one second had passed.

Also passed by the the rules and regulations committee were a provision to make hand wrappings and joint coverings more uniform across the ABC and a clarification to make the loss of bodily function (vomiting, urine, bowels, etc.) during a bout lead to an immediate TKO loss for that fighter. The latter will be up to the discretion of the referee and the ringside physician, Wheelock said.

All of these rules will be brought to the ABC body at the annual convention, which begins July 22 at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. In Wheelock’s first year as chair (2015 leading into 2016), the committee’s rules package was passed in a landslide at the ABC conference last August. Those rules included the changing of a definition to a grounded fighter, the removal of a foul for heel kicks to the kidneys and a clarification on scoring criteria.

Despite the ABC making the changes a part of the Unified Rules of MMA as of Jan. 1, 2017, some states have not adopted them yet and others will not adopt them at all due to safety concerns.

The rules and regulations committee is made up of Wheelock, legendary referee John McCarthy, UFC Hall of Famers Randy Couture and Matt Hughes, veteran fighter Jeremy Horn, referees Rob Hinds and Kevin MacDonald, Nebraska commission head Brian Dunn, Nevada ringside physician Dr. David Watson, and Georgia commission director Matt Woodruff. Jeremy Arneson of the Wyoming Combat Sports Commission was recently added.