The ending of Saturday’s Jeremy Stephens vs. Josh Emmett fight just underscored yet another major problem with MMA.
There are very good reasons for having individual state-run athletic commissions, largely because of the nightmare that a national commission would be when it comes to regulating small local shows and the fact it would be almost impossible logistically to change so many laws in place to eliminate state commissions.
But while state commissions are best for local promotions, for an international entity like UFC, the lack of a national authority leads to all kinds of issues.
There are abuses that would take place without regulation in some if not many promotions, as far as medical precautions, independent testing of athletes and licensing of promoters. Plus there is a need for the independence of referees and judges not being paid by the promotion.
The bad side is that there have been changes in rules in recent years regarding downed opponents, and in judging, to quantify more closely what constitutes a 10-8 round. Some states have adopted the new rules. Others have not.
And that’s been a disaster. The idea of having a worldwide sport that is on television almost every weekend where the rules of the game and how it is judged changes weekly is preposterous. UFC 220 in Boston on Jan. 20 was the epitome of these issues, as due to a communications issue, the “new” set of rules were used in the matches lower on the card, and then, as the show was going on, the rules were changed back to the older rules. The fighters who had yet to fight were told literally in the middle of the card they’d be using different rules.
Another key in different rules is the usage of replays. In many states, the referee is allowed to use instant replays to review finishing sequences. In other states, like Florida, the site of Saturday’s show, they aren’t allowed.
So a national audience on FOX, who were allowed to see replay-after-replay, saw Stephens foul Emmett three times clearly in the last several seconds of the fight. There were two of Stephens’ many elbows on the ground that went to the back of Emmett’s head, and knee thrown that appeared to hit the side of the head,and on its backswing, the foot hit Emmett as well.
To be fair, the elbow strikes didn’t appear to be intentional. Stephens was landing blow after blow and Emmett turned his back, and the same elbows that were intended to legally finish landed in an illegal position.
The knee was a different story. Emmett was clearly downed. He was downed under any rule set, although the confusion over the rules is clearly evident with fighters and announcers, and this isn’t the first time this has come up.
The argument made on television that because the blow wasn’t that devastating, and the reality is that it appeared Stephens was on the verge of finishing are both not germane, yet were brought up as excuses as to why a clearly illegal blow wasn’t called. It was a blatant foul in the finishing sequence. The onslaught, because of the foul, should have been stopped and a break given for Emmett to recover, especially given two other illegal blows had preceded it.
Refereeing is a thankless job. At times, referees miss close calls. But what made this situation so egregious is that Florida, by not allowing replays, would not allow Dan Miragliotta to look closely at what happened. Perhaps he would have ignored it, and at that point you could argue even more strongly it was a bad call. But not, by the rules, having the ability to do so is ridiculous.
It doesn’t matter what state a fight is in, when an event is on national television and split-second actions directly involved in the finish can be reviewed at multiple angles, to have the viewer at home clearly seeing the knee and then be told since the referee didn’t react to it that it doesn’t count makes the entire sport look bush league. It’s bad enough when the announcers at the beginning of each show have to tell the viewers each week what rules and judging standards are being used.
The problem is the red tape, and time it takes to make changes. But for all commissions, you can argue the knee to the ground rule and there are arguments both ways. But a rule allowing replays to be used on finishes needs to be put in place as fast as possible. There is no argument at all that the sport is better off without it.
In this case, Emmett has filed an appeal. Since Florida doesn’t allow for instant replays to be used to change decisions, in theory no matter what videotape evidence he provides to the commission in his appeal, the Florida bylaws theoretically wouldn’t allow that to be used. Which is also preposterous.
Let’s look at how fortunes changed for five stars of Saturday’s show.
In the featherweight division, the top rung will be decided Saturday in Las Vegas with Frankie Edgar (22-5-1) against Brian Ortega (13-0), with the winner facing champion Max Holloway. Stephens should face either the loser of that fight if that fight is close, or if not, Darren Elkins (24-5) or Jose Aldo (26-4) in a fight that would determine the following championship contender.
JOSH EMMETT - Emmett (13-2) could face one of the aforementioned names that doesn’t get Stephens, because if Aldo does fight, he should face a top level guy, and Elkins at this point deserves a big name. Another person Emmett could face is Cub Swanson (25-8).
If Rose Namajunas (7-3) retains her title over Joanna Jedrzejczyk (14-1) on April 7 in Brooklyn, N.Y., Andrade is the clear top contender. If Jedrzejczyk regains the title, it becomes more problematic. The title fight still could be made, but it was May 13, 2017, when Jedrzejczyk beat Andrade convincingly over five rounds in the type of a fight that hardly was close to enough to rematch it that quickly. But a look at the rankings indicates there is no other choice.
The next contender, Claudia Gadelha, lost to Andrade and lost twice to Jedrzejczyk. Karolina Kowalkiewicz lost to Jedrzejczyk and Gadelha. Torres just lost to Andrade on Saturday
ILIR LATIFI - Latifi (15-5, 1 no-contest) ran through Ovince Saint Preux in stunning fashion, winning with a first-round guillotine. Latifi then challenged light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, which is a stretch at this point, particularly with Cormier’s fight with Stipe Miocic coming up and Alexander Gustafsson clearly in line for a shot.
MARION RENEAU - Reneau (9-3-1) was told four years ago by Dana White that she was too old for UFC. On Saturday, at 40, she defeated Sara McMann to propel herself near the top of the women’s bantamweight division.