The 1970s gave us the Watergate scandal. 2013 might as well be called commission-gate.
With most of the headline news over the last couple weeks being directed at combative sports commissions, it brought to light some of the problems that are part of our sport. To put it bluntly, MMA has no shortage of controversy amongst its fans but when that controversy is directed at the regulatory bodies entrusted to protect our sport then we have the makings of MMA news frenzy.
I recently had the opportunity to read an article by Ben Fowlkes at MMAjunkie.com titled “In the unfair world of MMA, even valid complaints offer little comfort.” Fowlkes did a brilliant job of dissecting the problems of the sport of MMA, and how left unchecked there now exists various infractions committed by athletes, officials, and even commissions that are never remedied.
He mentioned recent examples such as the situation at the World Series of Fighting, in New Jersey, where a timekeeping mistake may have altered the outcome of a fight between Anthony Johnson and Andrei Arlovski. Fowlkes goes on to address the controversial situation in Montreal with the now infamous weigh-in involving Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz. Fowlkes concludes that in this sport the rule breaker generally receives favour, because nothing is ever really dealt with, and the ones that complain are labeled as whiners.
I would like to add to his list with a recent example which isn’t as headline-grabbing as some of the ones Fowlkes mentioned, but the outcome is vastly different, one in which the regulatory commission — the Calgary Combative Sports Commission — has done something right.
A few weeks ago at the Aggression Fighting Championships in Calgary, Owen Carr faced off against Mike O’Neill and what occurred over the next 15 minutes was a textbook case of Carr abandoning the pre-fight dressing room instructions that a fighter receives in favour of a more liberal rules set, most likely created in his own mind.
I was present during this controversy, sitting cageside, judging the fight. Many of the fouls in question that Carr exhibited happened only a few feet from where I was positioned. Carr treated the Unified Rules of MMA like toilet paper by the time the bout was over. Did he win the fight? Yes. Was his victory short-lived? Yes.
The Calgary Combative Sports Commission received a complaint about the match, and within a week of investigating by gathering witness statements and deconstructing the fight video, rendered their decision. The verdict rendered was that the bout would now be declared a no contest. How did that happen, when in the world that Ben Fowlkes described Carr should have been proven victorious despite his numerous rule violations? Commissions do not overturn mistakes, do they?
Let me say that before the complaint was received, the Calgary Combative Sports Commission was well aware of what was transpiring in the cage. Their ringside operations are top-notch, and as the bout was unfolding the commission knew there were developing issues. It is pretty common in many commissions that once the fight is over you just collect your pay and head home.
Fortunately that doesn’t happen in Calgary, where post fight detailed debriefings are a matter of routine. These debriefings are not for the faint of heart, because if you screw up, you will know about it; trust me, I’ve been there done that, and have the scars to prove it.
To summarize what I am saying is that even without a complaint, the ability for Carr to escape unscathed from his performance in the cage that night was not likely going to happen.
Let’s face it, everyone makes mistakes. We have one of the most dynamic and fastest sports in the world, where testosterone and emotions can be a volatile mix. The problem is in this sport, if you admit to making a mistake, it is perceived that you look weak.
Weakness is exploited in this industry. Calgary has adopted a better policy in that in an effort to improve commission performance everything is analyzed and that if mistakes happen, then as a commission they will own to those mistakes, and try to rectify them and learn and improve from them.
Upon rendering the decision to overturn the contest, the internet forums were set ablaze with many supporting the decision by Calgary. However, like Ben Fowlkes stated in his article, there were also cries of calling O’Neill a whiner for initiating the complaint. What is even more amazing is that most of these anonymous trolls and even fighters were clueless as to what the actual rules and fouls are in the sport and what fouls were violated in the match.
Then there was last week’s UFC event in Sweden, when headliner and local hero Alexander Gustafsson met with a doctor at the request of the Swedish Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Federation after sustaining a bad cut on one of his last days for training for his bout with Gegard Mousasi. It was confirmed that the doctors would not clear Gustafsson less than one week after the cut and this decision irked Dana White who tweeted a picture of a seemingly recovering Gustasson.
Although it may not be good for business, it was the right decision both medically and for the future of the fighter. As a referee and also someone who has responded to medical calls for over 20 years as a professional firefighter, it is well known that lacerations generally do start healing quickly after being cleaned, glued or sutured but there are static forces on the skin because of its natural elasticity and proper healing will take weeks or months. After all this was an MMA fight not a golf lesson.
Here are two commissions — Calgary and Sweden — who are endeavouring to do their proper due diligence as athletic bodies charged with the safekeeping of fighters’ health and security. Yes, the dynamics of the sport of MMA that Fowlkes describes is unfortunately real. Cheaters sometimes do win and money sometimes plays more of an influence than it should. But it is nice to know that at the end of the day we still a few good men (and women) doing what is right.
Brian Beauchamp is a professional MMA referee and judge and has worked for Bellator, Maximum Fighting Championship, Super Fight League, Aggression, King of the Cage and various other organizations.
He has an extensive combative sports background and is a double black belt in both Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He was a former member of the Canadian National Judo Team and recently won a gold medal at the 2012 IBJJF World Championships (Black Belt) in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He will blog regularly for Sportsnet.ca, giving his thoughts on the world of MMA from an insider’s perspective of an official.