UFC 140 was as usual, a smorgasboard of high-kicking, hard-punching, ground-pounding and bone-breaking spectacle. Which gave rise to one particular issue that I think is being overlooked: it was also not a night for the squeamish.
Frank Mir, taking a dangerous Jiu-Jitsu move to its logical conclusion, broke Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira's arm like a horny teen breaks a chastity promise. And defending Light-Heavyweight Champion 'Bones' Jones rendered Lyoto Machida unconscious by applying a grotesque, twisting neck choke that uncomfortably evoked the stark, intimate horror of a snuff film. What if he had pushed that extreme twisting angle that Machida's neck was in just one inch further?
It would have been the snap heard round the world, and the second bone-breaking finish of the night. The difference is, Machida would have certainly died from a broken neck. What I find disturbing is that judging from UFC President Dana White's comments at the post-fight press conference, this would have apparently been perfectly acceptable.
In his ambition to take MMA mainstream and win the approval of sports licensing bodies, White has commendably introduced rigorous safety standards into the sport. And he likes to vaunt the fact that there have been no major injuries or deaths in the UFC- something he again emphasised in the pre-fight press conference. I would personally consider Nogueira's grotesque maiming a major injury, but that's currently beside the point.
What IS the point is that, asked about the Mir-Noguiera bone-breaking, White's reply was a cavalier response that 'Nog' was a professional: he knows what happens when you don't tap out, and so he was responsible for his own injury. Not only did this remark make it officially acceptable to break bones because an opponent is too stubborn to submit, Mir was also awarded a $75,000 bonus for achieving the 'Submission of the Night'. If this is not an incentive for further bone-breaking in the UFC, I don't know what is.
An even more disturbing conclusion is inevitable if you apply White's logic to the Jones-Machida fight. By his reasoning, Jones would have been perfectly justified- and within the rules- in twisting Machida's neck until it broke, if Machida had also been too proud to tap out. So the fact that Machida didn't go home in a casket is not due to the UFC's safety standards, it is due entirely to the fact that Jones exercised a little discretionary self-control at a critical moment.
Is this discretion acceptable? It seems to leave a gaping safety loophole in the UFC fight rules. It also creates a dilemma if the loophole is to be closed via tighter regulations around submission holds. The whole point of a submission technique is to create a credible threat: the opponent must fully believe that if he doesn't tap out, he will go to a place of unbelievable pain and broken bones. If fighters are told to hold back on submissions and stop just short of breaking bones, then nobody would tap out, because they know the person administering the hold will not cross the line.
It's a difficult question with no obvious answer, but an important one to ask before the next time someone loses their limb- or life- in the Octagon, for being too proud to cry 'Uncle'. Is it okay that killing someone might just be within the rules? Thoughts?