A Legal Breakdown of the UFC’s Options Addressing Roy Nelson’s Referee Kick

Update November 18, 2016Brazil’s Super Justice Court of Sport has now addressed this matter and handed Nelson a $24,000 fine and 9 month suspension.


At UFC Fight Night 95 Roy Nelson unceremoniously kicked referee John McCarthy after a perceived late stoppage.  This upset the heavyweight who believes he had to then inflict unnecessary damage on his opponent.

The UFC has previously expressed a zero tolerance stance on aggression towards referees when they cut Jason High after he pushed a referee with company president Dana White stating as follows:

That Jason High kid got up and pushed a referee – he’s cut….I’m going to cut him…. You don’t ever, ever f——- touch a referee, ever. You’re done here. He’s been apologizing on Twitter, but he’s done.”

It is unclear why the UFC has not acted with equal swiftness against Nelson although issues of due process may explain inaction to date.

The UFC can take contractual action directly against Nelson for allegedly violating his promotional agreement with the company along with the UFC’s Fighter Conduct Policy.

Standard language in the UFC’s promotional agreements gives them broad language to terminate athletes who “materially breach, violate or are in default of any provision” of the contract.  These provisions are broad and include the following requirements:

Fighter shall conduct himself in accordance with commonly accepted standards of decency, social conventions and morals, and Fighter will not commit any act or become involved in any situation or occurrence or make any statement which will reflect negatively upon or bring disrepute, contempt, scandal, ridicule, or disdain to Fighter, the Identity of Fighter or any of Fighter’s Affiliates, Zuffa or any of its officers, managers, members, employees or agents.  Fighter’s conduct shall not be such as to shock, insult or offend the public or any organized group therein, or reflect unfavorably upon an current or proposed arena, site hotel, sponsor or such sponsor’s advertising agency, or any network or station over which a Bout is to be broadcast.”

This requirement, as expanded by the UFC’s Fighter Conduct Policy, goes on to expressly prohibit “violent, threatening or harassing behavior“.

Nelson’s actions likely breach these previsions which provide the UFC with the unilateral ability to impose sanctions.  The punishment options include “fines, suspension and secession of service“.  The policy does spell out due process rights for athletes including an arbitration process.

If the UFC does take action Nelson can argue that if his conduct did not amount to a breach of regulatory requirements then his actions do not amount to a breach of this policy although this would be a hard sell.  Nelson can also point to seeming inconsistent application of this policy with actions such as Fabricio Werdum kicking an opposing trainer failing to trigger UFC discipline.

Ultimately in-cage misconduct is best governed by Athletic Commissions who are tasked with overseeing the integrity of the sports they regulate.  Once due process plays out with respect to any regulatory consequences the UFC would be on firmer ground to pull the trigger on in-house sanctions.  The Brazilian Athletic Commission has been slow to take action with the regulatory saga apparently now playing out before Brazil’s Superior Justice Court of Sport.  For everyone’s sake hopefully this conduct is addressed by the Brazilian Commission in a fair and transparent manner.


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