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Referee Herb Dean ‘definitely’ stands by no-contest ruling in Dustin Poirier-Eddie Alvarez fight

Dustin Poirier is appealing the no-contest result of his fight with Eddie Alvarez from UFC 211 on Saturday night in Dallas. Herb Dean, the referee who made the call, maintains that he made the correct choice.

“Of course, I do,” Dean told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “I definitely stand by that, ruling it a no-contest.”

Poirier’s appeal with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) will center around the belief that Alvarez should have been disqualified for landing fight-ending illegal knees and Poirier should be given the victory.

Dean’s ruling had to be one determining intent. Per rule, if the referee deems the foul to be accidental, the result of the fight is a no contest. If the referee believes the foul or fouls was intentional, it’s a disqualification.

Given what he had to work with, Dean believed Alvarez was not intentionally trying to commit a foul in that sequence of events. It wasn’t a “blatant” attempt to disregard MMA rules, Dean said. An example of that, he said, would be Wes Sims stomping on Frank Mir’s face at UFC 43 in 2003. It was clear that Sims was not trying to work within the rules, while Dean believes Alvarez was.

“His head was over Poirier’s back,” Dean said. “I can’t imagine a way where he’d be able to see his hands or his knees. I believe that he was fighting in earnest and thought that the fighter was not grounded. There’s no way I could say that for certain. I attempted to warn him before he went in with that knee, but it was loud in there and I can’t say that he heard me. I don’t believe that he was trying to fight outside of the rules when he threw that knee. I can’t say that he was.”

Alvarez landed three knees to Poirier’s head in the fight-ending sequence. The final one, with Poirier’s knees on the ground, was clearly illegal and that’s when Dean halted the action. The previous two were debatable and Dean, in his interpretation of the rules, did not believe those to be illegal.

The language of the rule states that anything other than the soles of the feet touching the fighting surfaces makes a fighter grounded, thereby making knees or kicks to the head of that fighter illegal. Dean said when he meets with fighters before events he tells them that they cannot “play the game,” or just drop a finger or hand down in order to be grounded.

Dean said he considers a fighter grounded if anything other than the soles of the feet are bearing a fighter’s weight. On the first two knees, Dean felt like Poirier was “playing the game.”

“I rule a downed opponent as supporting weight,” Dean said. “Obviously if someone’s weight is being supported by their feet and the fence and then they reach down and touch their fingers, there’s lots of gamesmanship that used to go on with that. So we started quite a long time ago, it’s very established, that we rule a downed opponent as supporting weight. Supporting weight means if you snatch their hand away, they’re gonna fall on their face.”

Alvarez used similar terminology in explaining himself after UFC 211.

“I was in a fist fight,” Alvarez said afterward. “I thought I had Dustin hurt and I thought he was a little tired. The first knee, I thought he was playing the game where he had his hand down. Herb (Dean) was very clear about you can’t play the game, so I hurt him with the first one, I think the second one may have been legal, but the third knee was illegal. I saw it on the prompter afterwards that it was illegal and I apologize to Dustin.”

Making all of this more complex is the presence of two rulesets now in MMA. The new ruleset (the official Unified Rules of MMA), which has yet to be adopted in Texas, has a different definition of a grounded fighter: no longer can just a single hand or finger make a fighter grounded. It has to be both palms or fists on the mat or, of course, something like a knee. The rule was written and passed last year by the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC) in an effort to stop fighters from “playing the game.”

The issue is that some states and commissions have not implemented the new rules and some, like New Jersey and Ohio, will not change their definition of a grounded fighter, citing concerns that it will lead to more blows to the head.

For the second straight UFC pay-per-view card, a fighter has ended controversially with questionable knees. At UFC 210 last month in Buffalo, referee Dan Miragliotta thought Gegard Mousasi landed illegal knees on Chris Weidman and halted the action. After polling an outside official, Miragliotta found that that knees were actually legal under the new rules, which have been adopted in New York. Weidman did not have both palms or fists down, nor a knee down. Because the blows were legal, Miragliotta ruled Mousasi the winner by TKO to much consternation.

“It doesn’t frustrate me that some haven’t adopted it,” Dean said of the new rules. “It frustrates me that it’s separate, that we have two sets of rules. However it came up, however we got there. New rules, old rules — I just want the rules to be consistent. That’s the biggest thing we can do for the sport.”

At UFC 210, Weidman attempted to put both of his hands down in an attempt to be compliant with the new rules, but he was unable to do it. Instead, Mousasi landed hard knees to Weidman’s exposed head. Dean said fighters should be advised to just take a knee in those situations, not try and put both hands on the floor.

“I would suggest to anybody — and I’m sure the fighters have figured this out — go ahead and put your knee down,” Dean said.

Under either ruleset, the final knee by Alvarez was illegal Saturday night since Poirier had his knees down. Even so, Dean still does not believe Alvarez had the intent needed to disqualify him in the fight.

“What Eddie did does not fit into what is blatantly outside of the rules,” Dean said.

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