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To disqualify or not to disqualify? – that is the question for UFC

Crunch Time



Staff Reporter

If a fighter commits a foul — say, an illegal punch, kick or knee — against their opponent, without the intention to do so, should they still be disqualified?

The answer is “yes,” according to most fans who watched last Saturday’s UFC 211 broadcast. During the preliminary portion of the event, the fight between Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier ended in a no contest ruling.

During the second round, Alvarez landed three knees to Poirier’s head. Poirier had his hand on the mat when Alvarez delivered the first knee. Both of Poirier’s legs were on the ground when Alvarez’s second and third blows struck him in the head and couldn’t continue the fight. Referee Herb Dean ruled the fight a “no contest,” after declaring that Alvarez’s illegal knees were unintentional, much to the chagrin of fans who thought he purposely landed the knees and should have been disqualified.

Fans weren’t the only people who not happy with Dean’s ruling. Both commentator Brian Stann and UFC President Dana White felt Alvarez should have been disqualified, as did I. I don’t think Alvarez was trying to cheat to win, and he may have not seen Poirier’s positioning when he landed those knees, but the rules are in place for a reason and he broke them, whether he meant to or not. Look at other sports. Players get called for fouls for breaking the rules, even if they had no intention of doing so.

Under the current unified rules of mixed martial arts, the first knee Alvarez landed would be considered legal because Poirier was using his hand to post while he was still on his feet. However, the other two knees were illegal and according to the rules, he should be disqualified as “an intentional foul that involves a concussive blow to the head and renders a fighter unable to continue results in a disqualification win if the bout hasn’t gone past the second round.”

However, the rules also gave Dean the authority to rule the fight a no contest — “If an injury sustained during competition as a result of an accidental foul, as determined by the referee, is severe enough for the referee to stop the bout immediately, the bout shall result in a no contest if stopped before two rounds have been completed in a three round bout.”

The rules of MMA aren’t perfect and some athletic governing bodies, like the Texas Combative Sports Commission which oversaw UFC 211, has not implemented the rule changes from 2016.

Part of the issue lies with athletic commissions choosing to adopt the rule changes while others haven’t. While the UFC can’t force commissions to adhere to the updated rules, there should be a process where all governing bodies are on the same page.

Another part of this problem lies with referees. The Alvarez-Poirier fight isn’t the first time something like this has happened. At UFC 210, April 8, the fight between Chris Weidman and Gegard Mousasi ended in controversy after referee Dan Miragliotta stopped the bout when he suspected Mousasi of landing illegal knees. Miragliotta later ruled the strikes legal and Mousasi won the fight via TKO after Weidman was unable to continue.

Officials are human and sometimes they might not see something that is happening during a fight — or they might make a bad call on the spot. They shouldn’t be rushed when it comes to making decisions like whether or not a fighter purposely landed an illegal shot. One way to assist referees in this is with instant replay, which they have the option to use in most states. In February, Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC) rules and regulations committee for MMA ruled to allow officials to use instant replay if they felt that a fight was ended by an illegal action, whether intentional or unintentional.

Giving referees more time to mull over a call might interrupt the pace of a fight, but it would help prevent them from making bad decisions.

Mixed martial arts is still a young sport with regulations that need tweaking and while I think referees do a tremendous job, there’s always room to improve.

Al Stover can be reached at

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