The controversies have added up over the months for the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC). So the knee-jerk reaction whenever its officials make a disputed call is to blast them. And so it was one day after Daniel Cormier so obviously pulled the wool over the commission’s eyes, distributing his weight onto a towel to “lose” 1.2 pounds in less than three minutes.
Maybe it’s difficult to blame the pundits and fans on social media for directing their ire at the NYSAC when the UFC 210 co-main event between Gegard Mousasi and Chris Weidman earlier this month ended in a terrible anti-climax.
But here’s the hard truth: The officials got it right.
Mousasi hit Weidman with what were unequivocally legal knees. Referee Dan Miragliotta thought at least one of them was illegal — and it’s hard to blame him given the speed and angle he had — and halted the action.
When Miragliotta asked referee John McCarthy, who was watching on the outside, if the blows were illegal — a referee technique called polling — McCarthy informed him that the knees were actually perfectly legal. From there, Miragliotta changed his call and the fight had to continue immediately. No one who gets hit with a legal blow gets a timeout in an MMA fight and that was the situation.
However, the NYSAC ringside physicians determined Weidman could not fight on. Since Weidman was hit with legal strikes and that’s how the bout ended, Mousasi was rightfully given a TKO victory.
The argument that Weidman should have been allowed to continue because he wanted to continue is silly, frankly. Fighters are willing to compete no matter what the circumstances and health risks. They’re fighters. Doctors and referees are in place for the very reason of stopping a fight to save a fighter from himself or herself. That’s presumably what happened here.
Instant replay and whether or not it’s legal in New York has been perhaps the most discussed thing coming out of Mousasi vs. Weidman. But McCarthy’s tweet this week has rendered it somewhat moot. He said he didn’t consult any video replay when Miragliotta polled him regarding the knees.
Even if McCarthy did look at a replay to see the placement of Weidman’s hands, it’s still not clear that replay is actually illegal in New York, like what Joe Rogan and UFC regulatory head Marc Ratner said on the UFC 210 broadcast. Nothing in the NYSAC provisions online mention replay, but they don’t expressly forbid it, either.
Furthermore, there is actual precedence that the New York commission can use replay to overturn disputed results, as attorney Erik Magraken noted on combatsportslaw.com. So if the commission can look at replay after the fact to determine the correct result, it seems Weidman’s appeal doesn’t have much of a chance. The knees, after all, were legal.
The other wrinkle in this controversy is the fact that it involves a new rule. The previous Unified Rules of MMA stated that anything but the soles of a fighter’s feet touching the mat makes for a grounded fighter. Weidman had his fingertips on the canvas when Mousasi nailed him, so a few months ago those would indeed have been illegal knees.
But the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC) voted on and changed the regulations last year and some commissions, including New York’s, adopted the new Unified Rules. Now, a fighter cannot just put a finger down. He or she must have both fists or palms down to be considered grounded. Weidman was attempting to put both fingertips down against Mousasi, but even that wouldn’t have cut it.
What Weidman should have done, in hindsight, was take a knee and defend his face with his hands. That’s what the regulators in favor of this new rule were hoping fighters would do in these sequences. They don’t want fighters in that vulnerable, one-or-two-hands-on-the-ground position at all, ever.
“If you’re on your feet and you wanted to make yourself grounded by putting your hands down, you would have to put both hands, palms down or fist down baring weight to make yourself grounded,” McCarthy said this week on MMAjunkie Radio. “So what I’m telling you is, ‘Don’t ever (expletive) do that.’
“Only if you fall to that point, that’s the only time I want to see that. We did that in putting that rule in place because we didn’t want someone that was hurt falling forward, and have a guy be able to come up and soccer kick or punt them to the face.
“The rule has been working beautifully everywhere. It’s hard for athletic commission people to understand, because how many fights do they do? But I do fights every week, multiple times a week, everywhere. And it’s been freaking awesome. We’ve gotten guys to get away from doing this stupid thing of putting one hand down and thinking they’re safe. It’s changed what they’re doing.”
The detractors to the new rules quickly pointed to this Weidman fiasco as a reason to go back to the old ways. The New Jersey State Athletic Control Board (NJSACB) issued a statement urging the ABC to revert back to the old grounded fighter definition April 10, two days after UFC 210.
In the statement, NJSACB commissioner Larry Hazzard Sr. said the Weidman-Mousasi fight demonstrated how fighters are still going to try to “play the game” by dropping hands to the mat, even under the new rule, to make themselves grounded and avoid knees and kicks to the head.
“Referees are still required to make difficult determinations as to whether a fighter is down and contestants can still place their hands up and down and up again,” Hazzard wrote. “Mr. Mousasi himself stated the he believed Mr. Weidman was trying ‘to take advantage of the rules.’ In short, the rule change caused a controversial ending to a very high profile bout. This had not happened under hundreds of UFC main and co-main events over the past several years under the prior rule.”
To compound matters — and this is the worst part — not every commission has adopted these new rules. So fighters are now in the absurd position of having to figure out what state they are in mid-fight before they throw a knee or attempt to defend themselves from a knee. Mousasi’s knees would have been considered illegal in Nevada, but not New York, in New Jersey, but not California. The adjective problematic doesn’t even cover it.
With all of these things coming into play, it’s still incumbent on referees like McCarthy and Miragliotta to get it right. It wasn’t the conclusion anyone wanted — even Mousasi — and maybe Weidman would have recovered if Miragliotta hadn’t paused the action.
But that’s just not how it went down. Miragliotta thought he was making the right, split-second call initially and overturned it when given better information. The doctors presumably used their best judgment to determine Weidman could no longer fight.
At the end of the day, that’s what we want from our officials, isn’t it? If they’re wrong initially on a tough call, they have the lack of ego to swallow their pride, ask for help and ultimately correct themselves.
“You have a lot of people saying, ‘That’s wrong. If you make the decision, go with the decision,'” McCarthy said on MMAjunkie Radio. “I agree with that, until you know that the decision is wrong. Would you imagine if you had that fight, and Gegard goes and does this action? It’s legal, and he loses the fight because of it? You’re going to tell me that’s right? That sits good with you?”
It wouldn’t to most fans. While this was certainly far from the ideal scenario, it was the right result in the end, given the glut of circumstances.