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Sunday, November 22, 2009
UFC 106 Turns into an Embarrassment for the Nevada State Athletic Commission
by Ivan Trembow
In the big picture, beyond the things that happen on most MMA events (some fights are good, some fights are bad, etc.), UFC 106 was a very bad event, not for the UFC or for the fans, but for the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
First of all, 48 hours before the show even took place, Karo Parisyan withdrew from his fight against Dustin Hazelett because (according to one of Parisyan's own coaches in an interview on Five Ounces of Pain) Parisyan has a serious problem with painkiller addiction. Parisyan did not want to fight with painkillers in his body and subsequently test positive for painkillers (which he would have, unless the NSAC inexplicably failed to drug-test a prior offender after his fight, like they just did when Sean Sherk fought in Nevada in May).
This left Hazelett, who has spent the last couple months of his life preparing for the Parisyan fight, without an opponent, and if there were fans who bought tickets to see Parisyan vs. Hazelett, they were out of luck.
All of that could have been avoided if the NSAC's out-of-competition drug testing program had been used to test Parisyan, whom the NSAC certainly had probable cause to test, not that they even need probable cause. They can drug-test any licensee that they want, anytime that they want.
Based on the facts that Parisyan was taking painkillers in the weeks leading up to the fight and that there was no positive drug test announced regarding Parisyan, that means the NSAC chose not to test Parisyan in the weeks leading up to UFC 106.
If the NSAC had tested Parisyan in the weeks leading up to the fight, Parisyan would have either pulled a Nick Diaz and pulled out of the fight at that time, or he would have tested positive for banned substances (ie, prescription painkillers) and would have been removed from the fight. Either way, there would have been several weeks to find a replacement opponent to fight Hazelett, instead of 48 hours.
Then there was the Ben Saunders vs. Marcus Davis fight. After Saunders knocked out Davis, he landed another punch to the head of his already unconscious opponent, which was perfectly legal because the referee hadn't intervened... but then, after the referee stopped the fight and was trying to pull Saunders off of Davis, Saunders landed another punch on the still-unconscious Davis, which is absolutely not legal.
Punching your unconscious opponent after the referee has already started pulling you off of him should at the very least be grounds for a fine, even if it were to just be a nominal fine in order to establish that it's not acceptable behavior.
But what is the NSAC going to do about this? Based on recent history, the most likely answer is "absolutely nothing." When Quinton Jackson landed two punches on an unconscious Wanderlei Silva after the referee was clearly and unambiguously pulling Jackson off of Silva (in December 2008), the NSAC did nothing. Given that the NSAC didn't think that Jackson's actions warranted any punishment of any kind, I don't think that they will do anything about Saunders' actions. (A request for comment from the NSAC on this particular matter is currently pending, and I will update this post when or if the NSAC comments.)
Most embarrassing of all for the NSAC may have been the mess of the Josh Koscheck vs. Anthony Johnson fight. After Johnson landed an illegal knee to the head of Koscheck when he was grounded and also poked him in the eye, Koscheck was grabbing his eye and saying that he couldn't see.
Referee Mario Yamasaki, who is not exactly the best referee in the business (he has made a career out of dangerously late stoppages such as Silva vs. Irvin, Lawler vs. Ninja, and many others), was quick to re-affirm his "safety first" reputation by repeatedly asking Koscheck, "Do you need me to call a doctor?"
You'd think that would be Day 1 stuff in Referee Training. If someone just ate an illegal knee to the head and got poked in the eye, they're clutching their eye and saying that they can't see, calling the ringside doctor into the cage should be one of the first things that you do as a ref.
The referee and the doctor are there to protect the fighters, often protecting them from themselves. If you think that the doctor should take a look at the fighter, you call the doctor into the ring, period. You certainly don't ask the fighter if he'd like a doctor.
Yamasaki finally called an NSAC-licensed doctor into the cage, at which point Koscheck told the doctor that he still couldn't see clearly and was experiencing blurred vision. The doctor could then be heard telling Yamasaki that Koscheck had blurred vision and that the fight could not continue. Yamasaki then said, "But he still has five minutes, right?" The doctor's reply was essentially, "I don't know." Yamasaki's reply to that was essentially, "I don't know."
So, the doctor and the ref each demonstrated that they don't know the rules of the sport, as they both make it clear that they have no idea whether a fighter has five minutes to recover in such a situation, or whether the five-minute rule is only for low blows.
Then, without the doctor having spoken to Koscheck again, the doctor left the cage and Yamasaki could be heard saying to Koscheck, "Are you ready? Are you ready?" and Koscheck apparently said yes, so Yamasaki resumed the fight.
So, to recap, in the span of 30 seconds, the situation went from the doctor telling Yamasaki that the fight could not continue, to Yamasaki asking Koscheck, "Are you ready?" and resuming the fight, all apparently without Koscheck and the doctor speaking any further.
Adding to the embarrassment for the NSAC was yet another case of a fighter with a major injury getting cleared to fight by the NSAC's doctors, as Forrest said after his fight against Tito Ortiz that he went into the fight with a broken foot, and Ortiz said that he had issues with bulging discs in his back. There have been countless cases of the NSAC clearing fighters to compete who are in need of major surgery, and in the case of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira last December, he not only needed knee surgery, but he also had a severe staph infection that hospitalized him not long before the fight.
If the NSAC was serious about making sure that fighters don't lie to the NSAC's doctors during pre-fight exams and go into fights with major injuries or illnesses, there would be actual consequences for doing so.
It is indeed against the rules of the NSAC for a licensee to lie to an NSAC doctor about pre-fight injuries, and the NSAC re-affirmed this fact at a public meeting earlier this year.
However, until someone likes Griffin or Ortiz gets suspended or fined for lying to the athletic commission's doctors about major injuries, it's going to keep on happening, in great part due to the lack of consequences.
Finally, if there's one thing that you can count on in MMA, it's that the Three Stooges of MMA Judging (Glenn Trowbridge, Abe Belardo, and Dalby Shirley) will continue to be incompetent. I'm not suggesting that there are only three incompetent judges in MMA, because the last few months alone have demonstrated that's not the case, but Trowbridge, Belardo, and Shirley have historically been as bad as they come.
Shirley has an extensive record of shameful judging in both boxing and MMA that will be hard for anyone to match.
Belardo inexplicably scored the first Griffin vs. Ortiz fight in favor of Ortiz, 30 to 27, meaning that he thought that Ortiz won all three rounds.
Finally, Trowbridge has just added to his legacy of incompetence by somehow scoring the second Griffin vs. Ortiz fight in favor of Ortiz. Common sense dictates that as long as there are no consequences for MMA judges' incompetence, there will continue to be many incompetent judges in the sport.
Other UFC 106-Related Thoughts
Tito Ortiz is now 0-3-1 in his last four fights and should not be put anywhere near the main event of a $45 pay-per-view event unless he goes on a long winning streak.
The end result of Josh Koscheck vs. Anthony Johnson was exactly what it should have been for a fight with someone who has Koscheck's ground skills going against someone who has Johnson's ground skills.
Koscheck's decision to stand up and trade strikes with Johnson for so long in a misguided outburst of machismo could have easily gotten him knocked out, and it makes no sense in the context of trying to win the fight, given how good Johnson's kickboxing is and how mediocre his ground game is.
As for why Koscheck would do such a thing, it's no mystery. The UFC often rewards that kind of behavior with their kickboxing-happy Fight of the Night Award bonuses, and surprise, surprise... Koscheck vs. Johnson was determined by UFC management to be the Fight of the Night at UFC 106.
On the bright side, Paulo Thiago vs. Jacob Volkmann ended up being a damn good, back-and-forth, very close grappling battle with plenty of big shifts in momentum.
I also enjoyed the display of great Jiu-Jitsu skills from George Sotiropoulos, and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira's impressive UFC debut.
UPDATE at 5:30 PM: I previously asked the NSAC's Executive Director, Keith Kizer, the following questions about the out-of-competition drug testing for UFC 106: "How many fighters on the UFC 106 card were tested under the NSAC's out-of-competition drug testing program, what are the names of the aforementioned fighters, and what are the test results of those fighters?" Kizer's response: "None." That has been the case for the vast majority of events since the program was instituted.
Kizer also confirmed that the NSAC will not be taking any action (a fine or otherwise) against Ben Saunders, even though he punched his unconscious opponent in the head again after the referee was already pulling him off. That's not exactly reassuring, given the fact that the NSAC's job, first and foremost, is to protect the fighters.