If the message sent from mixed martial arts referees to fighters wasn't already loud and clear, it should be etched in stone after UFC on FOX 6: There are few, if any, consequences for fouls committed during their fights.
Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson's unanimous decision victory over John Dodson in Chicago on Saturday night was a solid, back-and-forth fight which earned the Fight of the Night award it was given. The bout should put to rest the silly notion flyweights are too small to headline a major event, especially in light of Sunday's news of the event's strong television ratings.
But Johnson-Dodson was also a match which turned on two fouls by Johnson, neither of which resulted in a point deduction by referee John McCarthy.
The first was a third-round strike to the groin, after which Dodson, who was coming off his strongest round of the fight in round two, slowed considerably. The more egregious foul occurred in the fourth round, when Johnson delivered a knee to the head of a downed Dodson.
Dodson had his hand on the mat when Johnson wound up and drilled him in the head with a knee. Without a point deduction, Johnson won a unanimous decision, with scores of 48-47, 48-47, and 49-46. Had a point been taken away, the score would have reverted to 47-47, 47-47, and 48-46, a majority draw.
Whether you think the "hand on the mat" rule, which enables a fighter to technically stay "downed" and avoid a knee to the head, is a good one -- plenty of people don't -- isn't the point. That's a valid debate for another time. But the referee is supposed to call the rules as they're written, not how we might want them to be.
On the Fuel TV postfight show, UFC president Dana White told MMAFighting's Ariel Helwani he felt the point should have been taken away.
"I do think that the point should have been taken away," said White. "Here's the thing about that. It was absolutely an illegal knee, but it was an illegal knee that caused damage too. After that, he had a mouse on his eye, he definitely had damage from it. There should have been a point taken away from that."
Eye pokes, fence grabs, low blows, and strikes to downed opponents have been a part of the average fight card as long as we've been watching the sport. I admittedly haven't crunched numbers on this, but it seems like with each passing show, we're seeing more timeouts due to fouls and fewer point deductions for them.
I'm not accusing fighters of deliberate cheating. Johnson comes across like the last fighter who would do so. But if the refs send the signal that when push comes to shove, they won't exercise their authority to dock a point, the fighters are given a subtle green light to go for that inside leg kick that's a little close to the groin, that borderline strike on a downed opponent, or to be a little less careful with their fingers around an opponent's face.
Last night, Johnson's knee was a turning point in a well-contested fight. McCarthy's non-call made a material difference in the fight's outcome. If a referee won't use his discretion to dock a point in such an obvious situation, then why even bother having the rules on the book?
UFC on FOX 6 Quotes
"It was a great fight. I'm happy the fans liked it." -- Johnson, whose efforts weren't booed by an unappreciative crowd this time around.
"There's a fight happening next weekend, I'm going to be there watching and I'd love to have the winner of that fight," -- Ricardo Lamas, who wants the winner of Jose Aldo Jr. vs. Frankie Edgar
"Rampage's biggest problem is that he doesn't always train. He doesn't always stay in shape. If he took this sport 100 percent serious, God knows what this guy might be able to accomplish. But he doesn't." -- White on Quinton Jackson.
Nothing worth praising in either the judging or officiating end this time around.
This one goes to the judging in Clay Guida's split-decision victory over Hatsu Hioki. Judge Richard Winter gets a pass, since he got it right in giving Hioki the first two rounds and Guida the third. Sal D'Amato gave Guida rounds two and three. Hioki controlled round two from the bottom, but we're well past the point of surprise over the fact a professional MMA judge can't discern the fact that the fighter on top isn't always winning the round.
But then there was the card turned in by Gabriel Sabaitis. Sabaitis, a Chicago native whose few major-league MMA judging assignments have been on Illinois cards, was about the only person watching the fight aside from perhaps Guida's friends and family who saw round one for Guida. Sabaitis delivered a 30-27 card in favor of the Chicago fighter. I don't want to say "hometown decision," but ...
Stock up: Anthony Pettis
All Anthony Pettis has been able to do over the past two years, as the lightweight title shot he was once promised eluded him, was take care of the things he was able to control. And boy, did he do so on Saturday night. Pettis made short work of Donald Cerrone, adding a "Showtime knee" to his repertoire and delivering a brutal kick to Cerrone's liver, which lead to a quick finish. Presumably, Pettis also shut up a fighter who had taunted him often over the past year and questioned his guts. With the victory, Pettis seems to finally have that elusive title shot in his sights, as White has said he'll fight the winner of the April 20 Benson Henderson-Gilbert Melendez bout. Sure, we've heard that one before. But there's no denying the former WEC champ did his job, and a network television audience of millions can attest to his worthiness.
Stock down: Quinton "Rampage" Jackson
Yeah, I'm starting the obvious. But "Rampage" didn't do himself any favors with his performance against Glover Teixeira on Saturday night. Jackson showed some flashes of his old power early in the fight and showed decent resolve in weathering an early storm and escaping a submission attempt. But by the third round, Jackson looked like a fighter who didn't want to be in there anymore. Jackson didn't necessarily need to defeat Teixeira in order to raise his stock, as most people understand Teixeira is a star on the rise. A spirited performance in defeat would have done the trick. But Jackson's listless showing as the fight wore on might be enough to give Viacom pause when deciding whether the former UFC light heavyweight champion's name and past glory is worth a big contract in Bellator.
Fight I Want to See: Chan Sung Jung vs. Ricardo Lamas
Lamas earned well-deserved plaudits for his nasty second-round finish of Erik Koch on Saturday night. The Chicago-area fighter is 4-0 since he dropped to 145 pounds, with his past three coming over Koch, Hatsu Hioki and Cub Swanson.
Lamas has absolutely earned the right to have his name mentioned on the short list of legitimate contenders to Aldo's title. But let's not be so quick to shove Chan Sung Jung aside. Jung's been on the sidelines healing from shoulder surgery, but he's still on a three-fight win streak, including his Fight of the Year victory over Dustin Poirier last May. Last week, the "Korean Zombie's" manager told MMAFighting that Jung should return in May. We need to see what happens next week between Aldo and Edgar first, but a fight between Jung and Lamas over who truly deserves the next title shot could be a better fight, depending on what happens. And either way it would potentially make a tremendous fight.