Imagine competing in a professional MMA bout and winning by submission. Then, months later, you are told the bout was overturned to a no contest by the athletic commission in a process that you had no notice of nor were invited to participate in.
That’s exactly what MMA fighter Sean Cerveny experienced.
At LFA 80 which took place in Albuquerque, NM, on January 17, 2020, Cerveny fought Edwin Cooper Jr. and was declared the winner via tapout due to armbar.
The following month Cerveny learned that the NM Athletic Commision overturned the result and declared the bout a no contest.
Cerveny was not told the bout was being appealed, that a hearing was taking place nor invited to give any evidence. The minutes from the NMAC simply noted that “Commissioner De La Cruz made a MOTION to overturn the official result to a no contest. Commissioner Bustos SECONDED the motion. Motion PASSED by UNANIMOUS APPROVAL“.
The minutes make no mention of why the result was overturned, what evidence was relied on or even the legal basis behind it.
New Mexico, like most North American jurisdictions, has extremely limited circumstances where an in cage result can be changed. Specifically NM rules only allow a bout result to be overturned if there is collusion, a scoring error, drugs or a foreign substance or a ‘violation of rules and regulations‘.
The last category is the only one that could possibly have been in play with the fighter appealing needing to prove “That there was a clear violation of the commission’s rules and regulations governing the sanctioning of unarmed combat that affected the result of the event, contest or exhibition.”
Cerveny contacted the Commission to find out how a win can mysteriously become a no contest. The NMAC, through their legal counsel, admitted that they did so improperly in violation of Cerveny’s right to due process. The NMAC’s legal counsel noted “The Commission acknowledges that hearing the matter and subsequently voting on the fight without providing Mr. Cerveny notice or an opportunity to be heard was improper. To rectify this the Commission plans to properly hear the matter at its next regularly scheduled meeting, which is scheduled for 10 am on July 28, 2020…Both Mr. Cerveny and Mr. Cooper will have an opportunity to be heard and provide evidence to the commission before the Commission votes on it“.
As it turns out the controversy comes down to whether Cervaney’s opponent truly tapped out. He denies it. However the referee claims there was a tap. Perhaps most perplexingly the referee in question was not asked to give evidence when the NMAC initially declared a no contest. At the re-hearing the referee confirms his in cage observations giving sworn evidence that “Mr. Cooper’s free hand…tapped rapidly 2 to 3 times on Mr. Cervany’s leg prompting me to stop the fight due to tap out“.
New Mexico’s rules really leave no room for a successful appeal in these circumstances.
On rehearing this week the NMAC restored the in cage result. A regulatory saga that never should have taken place had the commission decided to honour Cerveny’s due process rights and follow their own rules in the first place.
The meeting ended with the Commission contemplating rule changes allowing appeals to succeed in broader circumstances. That is a worthwhile discussion. The lesson, however, is Commissions must follow the rules they have, not the rules they want.