Let’s Talk Thiago Tavares’ Low Blow Loss and Illinois Rules

Earlier today Thiago Tavares was handed a TKO loss in his bout against Robert Watley at PFL 2 which took place in Illinois.

Tavares was struck with a low blow.  It was deemed accidental.  As is the norm in MMA Tavares was given up to five minutes to continue.  He could not.  He was then handed a TKO loss.  Tavares’ told MMAFighting.com that he will “undoubtedly” appeal this controversial loss.  Let’s take a look at the rules in play.

Illinois, like several other jurisdictions across North America, contains a controversial low-blow regulation.  In short the rule states that a fighter struck by an unintentional low-blow that cannot continue may be handed a TKO loss.  While the rule may seem absurd, an appeal has slim chance of success if regulators follow the letter of the law in reaching a bout outcome.

Regulation 1370.610(6) requires that male contestants wear a “foul-proof groin protector“.  While no such thing practically exists the rule contemplates a groin protector that, if struck by an accidental low blow, offers sufficient protection that a contestant will be able to continue if given adequate time to recover.

From there we go to regulation 1370.630 (c)(2)(b)(iii) which states that “A contestant who is hit with an accidental low-blow must continue after a reasonable amount of time, but no more than 5 minutes, or he or she may lose the bout by technical knockout.”

The only hope Tavares has in the appeal is by focussing on the word “may“.  The rule does not mandate a TKO loss in these circumstances but allows the referee to use his/ her discretion to reach such an outcome.  The rule exists for the presumed reason that some fighters look for a low blow as a way out of a fight.  If Tavares can produce medical evidence, for example, that the low blow led to a real injury, he can urge the State to overturn the bout to a no-contest on the basis that Rule 1370.630 (c)(B)(i) contemplates a no-contest when a fighter can’t continue after an unintentional foul with the rule reading:

 If the referee determines, either from his or her own observation or on the advise of the physician, that the bout should not continue because of the injury from the accidental foul, the bout will be declared a no contest if the foul occurred:

  • during the first 2 rounds of a non-championship bout

If the referee legitimately believed Tavares could not continue after the strike then his appeal has a chance.  If, on the other hand, the referee believed he was looking for a way out, the result is within the scope of the rules.

It is also worth noting that the concept of ‘foul proof groin protector’ is a throwback to the days when boxing was the only professional combat sport States regulated.  Some jurisdictions historically had this language on the basis that a good groin protector, if hit by padded gloves, should not result in a fighter being unable to continue.  This regulation really has no place in MMA with accidental low blows not being limited to gloved punches but also to knees, elbows and kicks.  This should have some bearing in the use of discretion here as Watley admitted the low blow was made via solid shin on groin contact noting as follows in a post fight interview“I still feel it on the outside of my shin….I know I either connected on another bone of his, or I hit the cup.”.

If the strike is so significant it leaves a legacy on the shin of the man throwing it that leads credence to the argument that Tavares’ legitimately could not continue which should have regulators seriously consider the no-contest option.

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