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Shots After The Bell: Judging the NYSAC’s handling of UFC 223

Friday’s UFC 223 weigh-ins were a chaotic affair, but was the New York State Athletic Commission really to blame?

Esther Lin

The New York State Athletic Commission hasn’t exactly built up a great reputation with the MMA community since the sport was legalized in the state. Numerous fighters have complained about their rigid adherence to bizarre regulations, like the time they refused to let athletes get stitched up backstage at UFC Albany, instead forcing them to local hospitals where they waited hours for treatment.

On Friday it seemed like we were witnessing yet another example of the NYSAC’s inability to be reasonable in the face of reality. Not only did they nuke the main event between Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Max Holloway by declaring Holloway medically unfit to fight, we then watched as the UFC struggled to replace Holloway over several hours with multiple opponents, only to run into new problems at every step.

The NYSAC took a lot of heat over all this. So much, in fact, that their PR person get some serious overtime looking up all the negative articles blaming the commission and contacting the authors over Twitter to offer a counterpoint.

Their contention: that potential replacement fighter Anthony Pettis was the one to call off his weight cut with .2 of a pound left to make championship weight, and that the UFC never even approached them with Paul Felder as an opponent. Word through the grapevine (and via Felder himself) was that the commission had ruled him out to fight #2 ranked Khabib because he was unranked.

When asked point blank regarding the Felder situation at the UFC 223 press conference, Dana White avoided the question and instead simply reiterated how happy they were with the NYSAC through all the trouble that went down. That’s a pretty big red flag right there that makes us think perhaps it was the UFC that was twisting the truth through Friday’s game of musical title shots.

But the biggest question was whether or not the Max Holloway removal was legit or the kneejerk reaction of an overly nervous administrator. Sources inside Holloway’s camp had claimed it was a commission member and not a doctor who pulled Max without any kind of medical examination. Holloway’s nutritionist was also on social media claiming the cut was going fine right up until the NYSAC pulled the plug.

Here’s what the NYSAC’s director Kim Sumbler had to say about that with KHON2’s Sam Spangler:

“That was a joint decision made by the UFC medical personnel, and our medical personnel. I had both the UFC physicians with me and my physicians with me when we made the announcement. We did that very specifically so everybody knew it was a joint decision,” Sumbler explained.

When asked if doctors were present in the room with Holloway, “Absolutely,” Sumbler replied. However, when asked if his vitals were checked, Sumbler responded with, “I can’t say that specifically, I was not in the room.”

KHON2 asked about a catchweight bout, a matchup that would not use traditional weight classes, was possible with Nurmagomedov.

”Medical evaluation did not allow him to compete,” Sumbler said. “That was never presented to me as an option. As soon as Max was unfit to step on the scale, it was declared by both physicians, the UFC never ever came to me with any proposal for a catchweight between the two.”

We’re sure more clarity will come in the following weeks as Holloway and his team open up on the situation.

The NYSAC’s devotion to the letter of their regulations shone through in another interview the director did with MMA Junkie. When asked about Al Iaquinta being given the belt by the UFC if he won, things got a bit weird.

They asked if it was a possibility for us to subtract the weight of his undergarments or his shorts. I looked through my regulations to see if there was anything in there where we could make that kind of exception. There was not. ... The commission actually decides if somebody makes weight, and he did not weigh in as a lightweight fighter. He weighed in at 155.2. That puts him in the next bracket. I can’t qualify him to fight for that title. He’s not a lightweight. Even if it’s .2 pounds, even if it’s .4. We draw that line at 155 pounds. What I saw with his official weight was 155.2. I can’t certify that.

If Dana chooses to give him that belt, I cannot officially record him as the 155-pound champion. But I also can’t say Dana can’t give him that belt. That’s Dana’s belt. But when he goes to fight or defend that belt in another jurisdiction, that’s when we’re going to come across the issue of: Is he really (the champion)? Is he not? Are they going to certify him? That’s a bridge we’re going to have to cross when we get there. Right now I cannot certify him to fight for that belt. He’s not a lightweight.

Now it’s a bridge that won’t have to be crossed at all, which is good because it sounded like the NYSAC was ready to flex their muscles if the UFC tried to put Iaquinta as their lightweight champion on any card under ABC jurisdiction.

So there’s your deeper look inside what happened between the UFC and the NYSAC over UFC 223 weekend. We’ll leave the determinations up to you as to how you feel about the job the NYSAC did — whether they were operating reasonably across the board on Friday morning or with the kind of bullheaded adherence to regulations that led them to pick a fight over Al Iaquinta’s underwear.

The next UFC event in New York is UFC Fight Night: Rivera vs. Moraes on June 1st from Utica. Can the NYSAC make it through a show without being implicated in some sort of shenanigans? We’ll have to wait and see.