Solving UFC’s Eye Poke Problem
by Mike Fagan, May 8th, 2013
“We’ve got to do something about this, Mike. I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe some sort of webbing in the fingers, or gloves that cover the fingers or something.” – Joe Rogan
I’d love to tell you that quote is verbatim from a specific UFC event, but it isn’t. It’s probably pretty damn close, though, to the rerain Joe spouts off every time a fighter takes a finger in the eye. It’s Pavlovian for Rogan. As is my indignant groan that follows.
I asked Rami Genauer of FightMetric what sort of data they had on eye poke rates in the UFC. While they don’t have complete data, they did find 32 eye pokes (that led to a pause in the action) from a sample of 1333 fights, and Rami estimated you’re likely to see an eye poke in 3-4% of UFC fights. Taken at the high end, you’re likely to see an eye poke once every 25 fights or so.
That means if you’re picking out an event to watch from your totally-legit-DVD-hard-copy-not-downloaded-from-your-favorite-BitTorrent-tracker UFC library, you have just under a 50/50 chance at hearing Joe ramble on his diatribe against the current glove design. And it’s as much the tone of Joe’s rants as the content of that diatribe that causes my indignant groans.
Mixed martial arts requires a glove that protects the striker’s hands while allowing the flexibility and movement necessary to effectively grapple. Hence, the current gloves. (You can make an argument the sport would be better off without gloves at all. That would also require Bacta Tanks for hands.) The basic glove design should remain the same to avoid meddling with the striking/grappling balance of the sport.
Basically, if you want a sport where you can both punch and choke, you’re gonna have to accept eye pokes as a necessary risk.
Yet, conservatively, 96% of all fights transpire devoid of eye pokes. To add perspective, Rami estimated that groin shots are twice as common as eye pokes, and no one suggests the sport require old-school Pancrase leg pillows. (And, christ, no one mention this to Rogan, please.)
There is, however a simple solution: automatic point deductions. You poke your opponent in the eye, accidental or otherwise, you lose a point. Two eye pokes lead to a DQ. And warn a fighter who waves stray digits in front of their opponent’s face. Second instance is a point.
Harsh? Yes! Impractical? You bet!* But hell if it doesn’t provide an incentive for fighters to close their damn fists.
* – Actually, if you liberalize the scoring and automatically DQ a fighter for feigning an eye injury, you could probably institute something like this.
THE HISTORY OF EYE POKES IN MMA (VOL. 1)
Anthony Johnson vs. Kevin Burns – Arguably the most infamous instance of fingers to the eyes in the UFC, if not MMA. Burns poked Johnson’s eye multiple times during the bout, though referee Steve Mazzagatti did little more than warn Burns in the second round to “keep your hands closed on [the] jab.” Despite the warning, Johnson took another in the eye with 90 seconds remaining in the third. In a twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan or Vince Russo, Mazzagatti awarded the TKO victory to Burns, on account of Johnson being unable to continue. Johnson’s appeal to the Nevada commission fell on deaf ears.
Georges St. Pierre vs. Jake Shields – The UFC pulled no punches with their first foray into Toronto: two title fights, including Georges St. Pierre in the headliner, before a sold out Rogers Centre crowd. The 55,000+ in attendance wouldn’t know until later just how close they were to witnessing a bizarre title change. St. Pierre looked troubled as he told his corner following the third round that he could not see out of his left eye. Trainer Greg Jackson assured him he was OK, he had one working eye, and as long as Georges could see him, he could see Jake Shields’ punches coming. Jackson’s pep talk prevented the referee or ringside doctor from overhearing talk of vision loss, and St. Pierre would go on to win a unanimous decision.
Don Frye vs. Gilbert Yvel – This one took place at Pride 16, less than two weeks after the plane hijackings of 9/11. Frye frustrated the younger Yvel with a mauling clinch/dirty boxing game. Yvel drew a yellow card for gouging early on as Frye had him in the clinch up against the ropes. As the fight wore on, Yvel shamelessly grabbed and hooked the ropes to prevent takedowns, flagrantly ignoring the warnings of referee Yuji Shimada. At the 7:27 mark, Yvel again found himself trapped in the clinch, this time up against the ring post. He went back to the gouge game, and Shimada quickly called the fight and awarded Frye a victory by DQ.
Gian Villante vs. Ovince St. Preux/Alan Belcher vs. Michael Bisping – The UFC went 20 years without a technical decision, then it got two on the same night at UFC 159. Villante took one in the eye from St. Preux, and informed questioning referee Kevin Mulhall he couldn’t see. Mulhall was forced to stop the fight, and the decision went St. Preux’s way. Belcher situation was less controversial, but more harrowing: Belcher was three years removed from surgery to repair a detached retina.
Randy Couture vs. Vitor Belfort – Not EXACTLY an eye poke, but Couture took a grazing punch from Belfort that cut his left eyelid. The ringside doctor refused to allow the bout to continue, and Couture lost his title after 49 seconds. He would regain the title with a TKO victory over Belfort at UFC 49.
EDDIE VS. THE WORLD
At the time of writing, it has now been 6 months and 25 days since Eddie Alvarez last fought. Alvarez, in his words, is caught in a “big dick-swinging contest between two big companies” as Bellator/Viacom and the UFC/Zuffa battle in court over his contractual rights. Should the parties fail to reach a settlement (and given Alvarez’s recent rant, a settlement seems unlikely), it’s a good bet that Alvarez will be out of action for another 6 months. By that point, the New Jersey lightweight will find himself on the wrong side of 30. No matter what your opinion on the matter (and, if you have a soul, Bellator/Viacom are the bad guys here), no one benefits when a top 10 talent loses out on an entire year of his prime.
SPEAKING OF SOULLESS
It’s only the soulless who could watch the Youtube video of Miguel Torres recovering from his knockout loss to Michael McDonald at UFC 145. The footage, since removed by Zuffa, appears taken from UFC.tv, which allows the user to choose from a variety of video angles and audio tracks during a bout. Watching Torres struggle to regain consciousness and find the balance to sit himself on a stool is bad. The ensuing conversation between Torres and trainer Firas Zahabi is worse. Torres asks Zahabi how he lost (an uppercut), what weight the fight was took place (135), and who is opponent was (he mistakenly thinks it was Mark Hominick) before circling back around and asking just how he came to be knocked out (uppercut, still). I’m sure the video can be found through “alternative” means, though one risks losing their appetite for the fight game on viewing.
Mike Fagan is a dude who used to write about MMA for part of his living, and now does so on the side. He also hosts Untethered MMA, which can be heard Thursdays at 7 p.m. ET on FightFansRadio.com, or as a downloadable podcast on iTunes and other platforms.