Let’s go back to last Saturday night at UFC 129. It was the main event. Georges St. Pierre taking on number one contender, Jake Shields. It was the end of the third round, and St. Pierre had looked pretty unbeatable in the fight thus far. But, something was wrong with the Welterweight Champion.
Holding his eye in obvious pain and/or confusion, St. Pierre was in a “Rush” to let his corner know of his injury. He tells Greg Jackson and Firas Zahabi:
“I can’t see out of my left eye”
If you’ve ever seen Georges St. Pierre’s title match at UFC 100 against Thiago Alves, then you already know what Greg Jackson told him about his injured eye. He told him to suck it; to continue despite the injury. And that’s exactly what Georges St. Pierre did at UFC 129.
During the TV broadcast, after St. Pierre made his announcement to his corner, with the help of replay, we were lead to believe the eye injury came at the hands of a Jake Shields jab. But just hours after the event concluded, and with the help of modern technology, we have come to find possible evidence to the contrary. In photo after photo, GIF after GIF, video after video, it’s clear to see that Jake Shields poked St. Pierre in his eyes with his extended fingers on several different occasions. Whether or not these eye pokes were intentional or unintentional is for the referee to decide, and had Herb Dean seen the pokes to Georges’ eye he would have had to make that call. Because he did not see the eye pokes, he did not stop the action in order to make a determination one way or another.
Luckily for the Champion, the contest concluded and he was awarded a unanimous decision victory.
But “what if” Herb Dean heard St. Pierre tell his corner that he couldn’t see out of his eye? “What if” St. Pierre had been unable to continue after round 3?
In response to my article yesterday about the UFC welterweight division, the first thing maniacs wanted to talk about was the eye poke, and it sparked an interesting theory. If St. Pierre had been unable to continue after round 3 of their Championship contest, would Jake Shields be awarded the victory and the Welterweight title?
Upon coming across these points, it raises question about the Unified Rules of MMA. As far as the rules are concerned, what would have happened? Let’s explore the possibilities and perhaps get a closer look at the rules that govern the sport that we all love.
First, to be clear, and make sure we’re all on the same page. Straight from the Association of Boxing Commission, and written by Nick Lembo of the New Jersey Athletic Commission:
“Fouls- (with explanations where warranted)
4. Eye gouging of any kind;
Eye gouging by means of fingers, chin, or elbow is illegal. Legal strikes or punches that contact the fighter's eye socket are not eye gouging and shall be considered legal attacks.”
This explains why there was no real outcry during the TV broadcast. The replay shown in between rounds showed that what supposedly caused the injury was a legal strike to the eye, and thus, would be perfectly legal by the Unified Rules of MMA. Had the UFC shown a replay of any of the several eye pokes, intentional or not, it would be interesting to see if Herb Dean would have taken note of the illegal move, even between rounds. But the issue we want to see here isn’t the strike that hit Georges and injured him, it is the fact that he admitted that he could not see out of his eye.
If Herb Dean hears this in between rounds, he would have had to call in the ringside physician and they would have had to come to a conclusion on whether or not the fight should be stopped. Assuming St. Pierre would have told the referee and the doctor the same information he told his corner, and thus everyone watching at home, that he in fact could not see out of his eye, the doctor would have had the right to make the call whether the fight be stopped or not. With this, and the information given to us during the broadcast via replay, IE: a legal strike is what caused the eye injury, then Jake Shields would have been awarded with the victory as a result of the doctor stoppage.
But surely it doesn't stop there.
As early as the Monday following the event, Firas Zahabi was telling the MMA media that he, in fact, saw the eye pokes as they occurred during the contest; and he even went as far as to scream this to referee Herb Dean during the fight. But Herb either didn’t hear these comments, or he ignored them because he himself did not see the eye pokes. But one has to assume that had the contest been stopped due to St. Pierre not being able to see, Zahabi would have made it well known that it was not a legal move that caused the injury, and regardless of whether it was intentional or not (for the record, Zahabi says he does not think it was), it was an illegal maneuver.
As it is unclear when referencing the rules whether or not a corner man can suggest that the referee evaluates an instant replay in order to change the ruling of a contest, we can only assume. Let’s try both instances.
1) After the fight is stopped and it is announced that Jake Shields would be the victor, Zahabi would enter the Octagon and ask the referee to reference the instant replay to see that it was not a legal strike that caused the incident. Herb Dean chooses to do so; he sees that the strike was illegal, and changes the decision……but to what?
We’ll reference this directly from the NJAC:
“If a foul incapacitates a fighter, then the match may end in a disqualification if the foul was intentional, or a no contest if unintentional. If a foul causes a fighter to be unable to continue later in the bout, it ends with a technical decision win to the injured fighter if the injured fighter is ahead on points, otherwise it is a technical draw”
2) After the fight is stopped and it is announced that Jake Shields would be the victor, Zahabi would enter the Octagon and ask the referee to reference the instant replay to see that it was not a legal strike that caused the incident. Herb Dean chooses not to do so and the decision stands.
In the event of choice #2 you would have to think the St. Pierre camp would “Rush” to the Athletic Commission for an appeal. The Commission would grant the former Champion his fair hearing, and in the meantime, a huge investigation would be underway. Every instance of Shields’ extended fingers going anywhere close to St. Pierre’s eye would be called into question, and looked at with the finest of detail. How many instances they would be able to find up until the start of the fourth round (the round this fight would have been stopped) is unclear, but one can assume they are out there.
At this point in our fictitious world it becomes very unclear what would have taken place next. The Athletic Commission would have to hear both sides of the argument, as well as look at video footage of the eye shots during the fight, and surely this would eventually have spawned one of the biggest MMA investigations in its history.
Being that the event occurred, as the investigation would occur, in Canada, you can bet this one would eventually lead to St. Pierre being the Welterweight Champion, and rightfully so. Regardless of your stance, the evidence is clear that St. Pierre took several illegal strikes to his eyes. Luckily for us, as fans, and for St. Pierre himself, the fight ended the way it should have ended; with a clear cut winner.
Seeing what could have been is certainly an entertaining task, but in this case it almost only brings up more questions regarding the rules. If anything, what we avoided in this case will happen in the future inevitably, and have to be addressed then. It has to! How many times have we seen eye pokes in an MMA fight? Probably hundreds. To say there’s a solid solution to the eye poking itself is a long shot, but it’s not out of the question to ask for protocol when a fighter cannot see, and admits as much to his own corner in between rounds. Also, what’s the protocol when the injured fighters’ injury comes at the hands of an illegal strike that is not seen by the referee? These are questions that will probably be answered in due time. Our sport is young, and is still growing. Much like children, we have to learn by trial and error.
For the sake of the event that was UFC 129, this was not one of those said “trials”. This merely could have been a close call, but was not.
To add icing on reality’s cake, it turns out Georges St. Pierre doesn’t have any extreme injuries to his eye and should be back in training within a month or so.
All is well; all is well.