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The legal argument for overturning Greg Hardy’s ‘Inhalergate’ No Contest

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Thomas Lakes, MMA Fighting

Greg Hardy’s controversial tenure in the UFC continued Friday night at UFC on ESPN 6 in Boston, Massachusetts. The former Dallas Cowboys defensive end earned a plodding decision win over Ben Sosoli that saw the 12,000 strong Boston crowd rain boos down upon the cage. While nothing much of note happened during the 15 minutes of fighting, Hardy hitting up an asthma inhaler between the second and third rounds had fans and media buzzing.

Welcome to Inhalergate.

Shortly after Hardy was declared the winner via unanimous decision, the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission declared the fight a No Contest on account of the illicit inhaler usage. But coming into our second day since the event, there’s still questions about whether or not the commission’s action will stand.

The general understanding in combat sports is that you’re not allowed anything in your corner but water during a fight. Any exceptions (apparently Gatorade in some states?!?) are usually spelled out explicitly in commission rules.

But here’s where things get thorny: Massachusetts commission regulations doesn’t say anything about anything regarding corner ‘consumables.’ Erik Magraken of Combat Sports Law explains:

Many jurisdictions have regulations dealing with ‘consumables’. These are rules that state what an athlete can consume during a bout. Some jurisdictions only allow water to be consumed. Others permit other electrolyte drinks as well. On my review Massachusetts does not appear to have a consumables rule on the books. This puts the regulator on thin ice saying a violation occurred. If their rules were violated the onus is on the MSAC to point to the specific rule that was broken. They may not be able to do so.

Even if a rule was broken the MSAC have limited authority to overturn a decision victory. According the MSAC regulation 14.20 the commission will only review an in cage result if there are “compelling and plausible allegations” of

(a) collusion or fraud affecting the result of a contest or exhibition; or
(b) scoring error resulting in a decision given to the wrong combatant; or
(c) flagrant referee error resulting in a decision given to the wrong combatant

At best the last ground is the only one which can be in play.

Then there’s the issue of the commission member who gave Hardy permission to use the inhaler.

Hardy’s corner asked the supervisor if he could take the inhaler and he was given the nod. While the inspector exceeded his authority in doing this Hardy’s corner ultimately relied on this representation. Even if the MSAC can point to a rule violation and then point to a further rule authorizing them to overturn the win, the inspector’s in cage blessing may raise an issue of estoppel. The principle of estoppel may prevent any applicable rules being applied to Hardy’s detriment when an MSAC inspector made a representation relied on by Hardy.

In the past we’ve seen commissions refuse to fix obvious screw-ups due to ‘lack of remedy,’ which is a fancy way of saying ‘the rules don’t cover this exact situation and therefore we can’t do anything about it.’ If the same reasoning (or lack thereof) is applied to the Hardy case, you’d think he could have the overturning of his win overturned.

But there’s also a long history of commissions using whatever reasoning they want to uphold the decisions they’ve made. So yeah ... we imagine any appeal launched will be initially denied, just cuz the MSAC says so. Only if Hardy’s team wants to run it up the legal ladder could things get interesting on account of these technicalities.

One thing is for sure, though: Massachusetts should probably sit down and get a few more of these ‘rule’ things written out on paper.