Fixing Poor Stoppages in MMA

Update – March 26, 2015 – The Brazilian Commission has now updated their rules to allow a bout result to be overturned in these circumstances and have changed the result to a no-contest.  Here is their rule change:

“The Executive Committee may, on an exceptional basis, revert a decision to “no contest” if it determines that a good faith judgment call of a referee was mistaken and therefore considered a self-evident error. Such decision may be taken provided (i) an appeal is filed with the commission within 72 hours of the relevant bout, (ii) the appeal is accompanied by a video (or link thereto) of the bout showing the challenged judgment call, (iii) upon request by the Executive Committee, the relevant referee presents a written justification of his judgment call and (iv) after analysis of the relevant video and justification, the Executive Committee determines that the judgment call was in good faith but considered a self-evident error.”

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In what has been widely dubbed the worst stoppage in UFC history Brazilian referee Eduardo Herdy stopped a bout and awarded Leandro Silva a supposed submission victory when his opponent neither was unconscious nor did he verbally or physically tap out.

Despite the fairly patent mistake Comissao Atletica Brasileira de MMA (CABMMA) – the Brazilian MMA Athletic Commission, stood by the result stating they are likely powerless to overturn it.

Many Athletic Commissions face a similar problem.  As was demonstrated in the Urihah Faber v. Fransisco Rivera saga, other than when a positive drug test is involved, Commissions that model Nevada’s ruleset only have jurisdiction to overturn a decision in the following three limited circumstances:

1.  The Commission determines that there was collusion affecting the result of the contest or exhibition;

2.  The compilation of the scorecards of the judges discloses an error which shows that the decision was given to the wrong unarmed combatant; or

3.  As the result of an error in interpreting a provision of this chapter, the referee has rendered an incorrect decision.

The third exception likely does not help as a referee believing a tap out or loss of consciousnesses occurred when they did not is not an error interpreting the rules but rather an error of fact.

New Jersey, a leading jurisdiction in the regulation of MMA, apparently does not wish to be bound by such poor outcomes.  As Ben Fowlkes reports, Larry Hazzard, the commissioner of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board believes they can overrule the referee if there’s a palpable error that’s occurred.  He is quoted as follows:

By New Jersey rules, the commissioner can overrule the referee if there’s a palpable error that’s occurred…I don’t know about other commissions, but our rules already permit the commissioner that sort of supreme authority to overrule the referee, especially in the situation where the referee has made an obvious and palpable error.

This quote intrigued me because my jurisdiction, British Columbia, automatically borrows all New Jersey rule changes in MMA as section 24 of BC’s Athletic Commissioner Regulation adopts the New Jersey Rules “as amended from time to time.

Unfortunately, it appears there is no actual rule change in New Jersey.  I reached out to Ben Fowlkes who advised that there is no ‘new’ rule just a liberal interpretation of their existing rules.

Ben Fowlkes Tweet

I reached out to the NJSACB who brought New Jersey Administrative Code Rule 13:46-8-30 to my attention which reads “The Commissioner may in his discretion change a referee’s decision if in his judgment a palpable and self-evident error has been committed“. However this rule is under subchapter 8 which deals with “Boxing Referees and Judges” and not MMA.   (Click here if you are interested in reading an administrative decision (Mayorga-Spinks-Decision) dealing with this rule where a boxer challenged a bout result to to referee error with the commission upholding the result).

I question how such an interpretation can apply to MMA when subchapter 24A, the subchapter dealing specifically with MMA has Rule 13:46-24A.12 stating that “The referee and ringside physician are the sole arbiters of a bout” and does not contain a specific provision dealing with MMA contests being overturned by the Commissioner due to palpable error.

In any event, I applaud New Jersey for attempting to address a problem with their rule set however, instead interpreting their rules in a fashion that may not be survive challenge the State, along with other jurisdictions would be wise to consider formal rule amendment to overturn otherwise unjust results in competition.

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3 thoughts on “Fixing Poor Stoppages in MMA

  1. Great points made there. We’ll see many more poor stoppages from improperly trained referees and even from good referees who make bad judgment calls. Perhaps a rider in the state/province legislation should give the power to overturn a decision to the commission “where a palpable error has occurred”. The commission should be required to review fight tapes and have a quorum vote to overturn or not, rather than allowing the commission head alone to make that call. Just to ensure no opportunity for collusion.

    Love your articles….keep em coming.

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