MMA is no stranger to confusing and conflicting rule interpretations these days, and the sport’s most well-known referee says it’s a big problem.
Relatively speaking, “Big” John McCarthy recently told MMAjunkie Radio the sport of MMA is so new that it’s like the early days of American football. He said MMA is a little past the days of football players wearing leather helmets with no facemasks – but it’s still early.
“The truth is, (right now) we’re the single-bar (helmet) or the double-bar (helmet),” McCarthy said. “The leather helmet (era) is when we weren’t allowed to stop the fights, no rules – stuff like that.”
But the biggest issue McCarthy sees with the sport right now is that despite the Unified Rules of MMA, different state athletic commissions have different rule interpretations, and it causes confusion for the fighters, the referees and especially the fans.
“You look at the NFL – the NFL is a business where no matter if they go to New York or Wisconsin in Green Bay, they go down to Dallas or San Francisco, they are an organization that runs the officials, that runs the sport of football for professionals,” McCarthy said. “With that, they have rules committees that meet every year – they go about coming up with new rules they think are going to benefit the sport, the participants, try to make things better for the fans and knowing what should be done in a certain situation.
“The problem with MMA is, we have all of these athletic commissions, and each athletic commission is an entity unto itself. The athletic commission can do what it wants, and that’s the problem we have with MMA. It’s not fair to the fighters, it’s not fair to the officials, it’s not fair to the fans.”
Fighters frequently remind the media, and the fans, that the fans are who pays their bills, and that they fight for the fans, not just for money or title runs. And McCarthy believes the rules changing from commission to commisison have a negative impact on the fans paying to see shows live, or watching them on TV.
“They care that they’re seeing the sport that they like and they know exactly what is allowed in that sport and what is not,” he said. “But when it changes from state to state, that causes a problem for the fans because fans don’t know what can be done. They don’t know what’s right.”
In addition, a fighter in the UFC or Bellator might fight in Las Vegas, then Kansas City, Mo., then New York, then Brazil – and it’s conceivable that there are different rule intracacies in each of those locations. And that means the potential for the need for rule interpretations by officials who have to know all those intracacies.
It’s no wonder that from time to time, the sport sees a controversial ending to a fight – like Gegard Mousasi’s recent win over Chris Weidman at UFC 210 in Buffalo, N.Y.
“It’s a problem for fighters because fighters travel,” McCarthy said. “The low-level fighters are fighting in their state, and they’ll fight multiple times in their state, so they get used to that rule set. But if you’re a top-level fighter and you do one show in California and it’s under the Unifed Rules of MMA, and then you go to Missouri and they say, ‘Oh, we have a different set of rules,’ you just affected that fighter in a bad way. You should care about that, but that’s not what’s happening.”
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