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Veteran MMA ref Marc Goddard says rule changes have 'muddied the waters'

When the Association of Boxing Commissions approved several changes to the Unified Rules of MMA during its annual meeting in 2016, it hoped to clarify persistent areas of confusion in judging and officiating.

Veteran MMA referee Marc Goddard thinks the influential regulatory body might have fallen short of that goal.

“They’re being used in some places and not being used in some places, so it’s kind of muddied the waters even further,” the U.K.-based official told MMAjunkie during a recent interview. “I do feel for people – press, fighters and fans. Sometimes they’re not sure what they’re looking at.”

The UFC has tried to make it clearer, of course, taking time during each event broadcast to note whether the rule changes – which include a revised definition of a grounded fighter and the allowance of heel kicks to the kidneys – have been adopted by the state athletic commission overseeing the action. It helps when the industry-leader has veteran officials like Goddard, John McCarthy and Herb Dean to call the action based on the new standards.

Yet even veteran referees have been caught in the middle of controversy over how the new rules have been implemented – or even the old rules. Dean was the recent subject of UFC featherweight Dustin Poirier’s (21-5 MMA, 13-4 UFC) complaint over the misapplication of the rule on downed opponents, failing to call a trio of knees illegal during his fight with Eddie Alvarez (28-5 MMA, 3-2 UFC) at UFC 211.

Less than two weeks ago, longtime UFC referee Mario Yamasaki incorrectly stopped the UFC Fight Night 112 headliner between Kevin Lee (16-2 MMA, 9-2 UFC) and Michael Chiesa (14-3 MMA, 7-3 UFC) that Chiesa is now appealing.

Behind the scenes, ABC member commissions continue to squabble over the implementation of the changes approved this past year by an overwhelming majority.

Goddard thinks referees need as much cage time as possible to avoid bad calls. Even then, it’s a tough ask.

“Some of the guys coming through that maybe don’t have the consistency of work, or they don’t have the regularity that me and the other guys get. If those guys are a bit sporadic in their work, depending on where they’re going to be, they’re going to get caught out, and I do feel for them, because it’s bound to happen,” he said.

For his part, Goddard wants to empower officials so those mistakes don’t happen. As a technical consultant with the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF), he educates referees in member commissions and plays a lead role in officiating the IMMAF’s annual championship. The ultimate aim is get officials to agree on the way the sport is officiated, because the regulatory framework needs to evolve with the sport.

As recent controversies show, there will be a lot of missteps before officials can walk together.

“That’s part of my responsibility with the IMMAF: getting everybody on the same page,” he said. “We’re still a million miles away from that.”

Watch the above video to hear Goddard on the challenges of regulating MMA.

And for more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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