NEWARK, N.J. – Saturday night’s UFC 159 event in Newark, N.J., will always be remembered as a card full off odd happenings. But it was a controversial call in one of the evening’s preliminary bouts that had UFC President Dana White most appalled.
“It was terrible,” White said at the evening’s post-event press conference. “He should have had a doctor come in. You stop the fight, you send the guy to a neutral corner, you have the doctor come in and check him out, and you have the doctor determine whether he’s able to fight or not. That’s what should have happened.”
White was referring to a preliminary contest between Ovince St. Preux (13-5 MMA, 1-0 UFC) and Gian Villante (10-4 MMA, 0-1 UFC), which saw the two Strikeforce veterans battle back and forth for two rather uneventful rounds until things took an odd turn in the final frame. Less than a minute into the round, a blatant (albeit inadvertent) St. Preux eye poke saw Villante clutch his face in obvious discomfort. Referee Kevin Mulhall initially hesitated to call for a timeout but then swiftly moved in to inspect the damage.
When he reached Villante, Mulhall asked the light heavyweight if he could see. While it’s common knowledge in the fight game that a negative answer leaves the referee no choice but to call the fight, Villante admitted he was struggling to maintain clear vision. Mulhall immediately waved off the fight.
In the Unified Rules of MMA, eye pokes are not technically afforded any recovery time, making the handling of the blows different than, for instance, a groin shot, in which the victimized fighter is given up to five minute to recover. Still, crafty referees will often find a way to pad the process, as one of the sport’s most-respected veterans, “Big” John McCarthy, explained Saturday night on Twitter.
“U can use the doctor 2 help in giving the fighter time 2 clear their vision,” McCarthy wrote. “There is no need to rush in this situation.”
While White was not privy to McCarthy’s evaluation of the situation prior to his comments, the UFC boss offered a similar recommendation.
“The guy said, ‘Can you see?’” White said. “[Villante] said, ‘I can’t see,’ so he stopped the fight. He’s like, ‘I can’t see because I just got poked in the f—ing eye. Give me a minute.’”
Unfortunately, Mulhall’s decision was made, and with the fight in the third round, judges were asked to render a result. St. Preux was awarded a decision win, much to the dismay of Villante.
White said he didn’t necessarily blame the commission for the result, instead insisting he views the New Jersey Athletic Control Board as one of the best commissions in the country. However, he did say it was probably time to look at revising the rules associated with eye pokes, not to mention the long-controversial definition of a grounded opponent – the text that allows standing fighters to put a hand on the mat to avoid being struck with kicks or knees to the head when working in tight quarters.
“What needs to happen is the [Association of Boxing Commissions] needs to get together, and we need to come up with a few things,” White said. “We really do need to revamp some rules and regs. I think obviously the eye poke thing is a big deal. We need to talk about that. And the other thing is this three-point (rule). I don’t like this three-point thing where you can’t get kneed if you have your finger on the ground. That’s not what the rule was meant for, so I think we’re due.”
While a rule change will be of little comfort to Villante, it could prevent future issues. In the meantime, current UFC No. 1 middleweight contender Chris Weidman, a teammate of Villante’s who worked his corner during the fight, said the team may appeal the result.
“Gian Villante got screwed,” Weidman told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “Hopefully we can get some type of protest going and get this thing changed.”
For complete coverage of UFC 159, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.
(Pictured: Gian Villante)
Christian Stein contributed to this report.