Legal Breakdown of Tonya Evinger’s Invicta 20 Appeal

Update December 19, 2016 – I made a public records request to Missouri’s Office of Athletics for a full copy of their written reasons in this appeal.  They had no such document to provide but their legal counsel provided the following information

I have spoken with Director Lueckenhoff and he provided me with the basic procedural information regarding his review.  Director Lueckenhoff advised that the video and audio of the match provided by the promoter of the event was reviewed (the video can be viewed @ Based upon the review, it was determined that there was no violation of prohibited conduct and, as such, it was also determined that the decision of the fight must be changed to a no contest


Update December 1, 2016 – Today Tonya Evinger tweeted that her appeal succeeded and her bout was overturned to a no-contest.



On November 18, 2016 dominant InvictaFC Bantamweight champion Tonya Evinger saw her nine fight win streak come to an end when she tapped to an armbar to challenger Yana Kunitskaya.

The ending was controversial, however, with referee Mike England apparently telling Evinger to adjust position shortly prior to the bout ending sequence.  Evinger was caught in an armbar and defended by stepping on her opponent’s face.  A technique that is 100% legal in professional MMA.  Shortly after adjusting from the referee’s instructions Evinger was caught deeper in the hold and tapped out.  The sequence can be viewed in the below video.

As reported by Marc Raimondi, Evinger was displeased with this sequence and lodged an appeal with the Missouri Office of Athletics who regulated the event.  The former champ noted that “We are def gonna protest that call and see what can be done to get a rematch immediately“.

There is no universal set of rules for appealing a disputed bout result in MMA.  The analysis must be conducted on a jurisdiction by jurisdiction basis.  So what does Evinger need to prove to succeed in Missouri?  Here is a brief legal breakdown:

Chapter 7 of Missouri’s MMA Rules sets out the following appellate rights:

Any party may contest the outcome of any bout within ten (10) days of the decision by writing all the facts and the basis for the complaint. The complaint must be forwarded to the office. If there appears to be a violation of these rules, the director or his/her designate shall investigate, and, if the claims seem to be substantial, hold a hearing and issue its findings and decision.

So step 1 is for Evinger to lodge her complaint in writing to MOA within the 10 day deadline.

Chapter 8 of Missouri’s MMA Rules set out the below fairly universal list of fouls.  Foul “S” being the only one the referee could possibly have in mind.

(1) Fouls. The following actions in a mixed martial arts bout or contest are defined as fouls: (A) Head butting;

(B) Eye gouging or openhand attacks to the eyes;

(C) Biting;

(D) Groin attacks of any kind;

(E) Pulling hair, ear or the nose;

(F) Palm heel strikes (using the heel of the palm of the hand to deliver a blow to the face); (

G) Fish hooking which is defined as grasping or pulling the inside of an opponent’s cheek or nose;

(H) Inserting any body part into any orifice or into any cut or laceration of an opponent;

(I) Obstruction of breathing through the mouth or nose;

(J) Small joint manipulation (e.g., twisting of fingers or toes);

(K) Striking the spine, the medulla and/or the back of the head;

(L) Elbow attacks to the head or the face of the opponent;

(M) Driving or spiking an opponent straight to the ring or fighting area floor on his head or neck from an upright and vertical position;

(N) Attacking fingers;

(O) Striking downward using the point of the elbow. Arcing elbow strikes are permitted;

(P) Throat attacks or strikes of any kind, including, without limitation grabbing, striking or obstructing the trachea;

(Q) Clawing, twisting or pinching the flesh;

(R) Grabbing the clavicle;

(S) Kicking, kneeing or stomping the head of an opponent who is down or not standing. For purposes of this section, a contestant is down when any part of his/her body, other than his/her feet, touch the floor or if he/she is hanging helplessly on or over the fighting area enclosure;

(T) Kicking to the kidney with the heel;

(U) Spiking an opponent to the canvas on their head or neck;

(V) Intentionally pushing, shoving, wrestling or throwing an opponent out of the ring or fighting area;

(W) Holding the shorts or glove of an opponent and/or intentionally grabbing anything the opponent is wearing;

(X) Spitting on an opponent, referee or any other person;

(Y) Engaging in any unsportsmanlike conduct that causes an injury to an opponent or poses a safety risk;

(Z) Grabbing or holding the ropes, cage or fighting area enclosure and/or hanging the limbs of the body over the rope during a bout or contest;

(AA) Using abusive language or illicit gestures in or near the fighting area;

(BB) Attacking an opponent who is under the care of the referee or during the break;

(CC) Attacking an opponent after the bell has sounded the end of the round or bout;

(DD) Flagrantly disregarding the instructions of the referee;

(EE) Escaping or leaving the fighting area during the course of the bout or contest;

(FF) Intentional evasion of contact with an opponent, intentionally not using best efforts, intentionally or consistently dropping the mouthpiece or faking an injury;

(GG) Interference from anyone working the corner or anyone leaving the corner area, including, throwing any object on or into the fighting area by a contestant’s corner staff; and

(HH) Throwing in the towel during competition.

However, as John McCarthy (influential drafter of the so-called ‘unified rules’) notes, stepping on an opponent’s head is not a foul.


This leaves an appeal where a fighter was improperly told to change position based on referee error.  Evinger cannot be faulted for moving positions when instructed to do so as Chapter 4 of the OACs Rules mandates that “contestants shall at all times observe the directions and decisions of all officials” putting her in the unenviable position of committing a foul and arguably sanctionable offence if she did not comply with the order.

The next question is when can the OAC overturn the result of a bout on appeal?  This is where things become a little murkier.

Clearly they can change the ‘outcome of a bout‘ but I cannot find any rule the OAC uses setting out the circumstances  when they can do so. All the appellate rules reference is needing a “violation of these rules“.

The most common standards for changing the outcome of a bout across other jurisdictions are when the following occur:

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.

Assuming the OAC is prepared to use these standards, there is a strong argument that number 3 is triggered with the referee erring in interpreting the rules.  The “violation of these rules” would be unwarranted referee instruction.

To be more specific Evinger can argue that Chapter 8 of the OAC’s rules were breached, with the referee being required to “understand Missouri laws and rules relating to the contest” and enforce those rules.  Further it can be argued that the referee is only allowed to “give an official warning” for “an unauthorized blow, strike or attack” or where she a fighter is “guilty of foul tactics” none of which occurred.

If this is accepted, and the OAC further accepts that this error led to the submission, a burden Evinger will have to meet, then she may enjoy the rare success of overturning the result of her bout.

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