When former UFC champions Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski agreed to square off for a fourth time at ONE FC: Pride Of A Nation card in the Philippines, fans knew they were in for yet another classic war. Both men have been vocal about their dislike of one another, and even though both are past their primes, most MMA fans were banking on seeing some fireworks in the cage. There were some memorable quotes leading up to fight day (one particular interview from Arlovski became a viral sensation for it’s hilarity), and when the bell finally rang, it was clear from the energy in the building that this was the most anticipated bout on the card. Here were two legends trying to settle an age-old score.
That is, until the score was settled for them by OneFC’s strange rule on referee-authorized soccer kicks to downed opponents.
The fight was relatively even up until that point, with both men landing some good strikes on the feet. It was clear from the outset that neither was the fighter they once were, but they maintained a surprisingly decent pace. Arlovski was able to drop Sylvia with a three-punch combo, and as Sylvia scrambled on all fours, Arlovski delivered a pair of nasty soccer kicks to his head. The referee quickly jumped in, prompting many fans watching at home to assume that Arlovski had won via TKO.
Not so fast.
The scene went from interesting, to decently exciting, to a dead stop, and shifted gears into the realm of utterly confusing. What looked to be every referee in the building gathered inside the cage and discussed the situation extensively, leaving fans restless and bewildered. It seemed like no one involved quite knew what was going on or how to deal with it. Even the announcers were at a loss for words in trying to describe just what would happen next in such a scenario. Arlovski was assessed a yellow card (fitting, granted the name of the kick he was being penalized for), meaning that he would have to forfeit a percentage of his fight purse, but referees still continued to debate. Eventually the fight was declared a no contest, prompting the two bitter rivals to shake hands and agree on a fifth rematch right there on the spot.
The confusion stemmed from an odd rule in OneFC stating that fighters may kick the head of a downed opponent only when the referee indicates that it is legal to do so. Basically, they’d like their fighters to disengage themselves from the man trying to take their head off, and more or less ask the referee for permission to attack.
First off, I do not believe in the use of stomps and head kicks in MMA. They’re brutally dangerous, and not a great indicator of genuine in-ring ability. It takes no exceptional martial arts prowess to wind up and punt a guy who’s down on all fours, or stomp on his face while he lies on his back.
That said, I understand and accept OneFC incorporating those kicks into their rules. They’re still a young promotion trying to differentiate themselves from other products on the market; the inclusion of stomps and soccer kicks adds for them a new, vicious dimension that gives fans a reason to tune in to their show over other, better-established fight leagues. The problem with that is, if you’re going to institute a unique and complex rule, it is absolutely vital that everyone involved with that show know the ins and outs of the rules (especially when it pertains to a maneuver that could cause severe injury).
To have your biggest draw end in a no contest because of fighters not being properly educated on the rules simply reeks of unprofessionalism. Arlovski and Sylvia are both older guys, so what if one of them were to have sustained a severe or career-ending injury? How many other popular veterans are going to be anxious to get into a OneFC ring when something like that could happen to them? And how many fans are going to continue to buy pay-per-views when the fight they paid to see ends in a confusing no contest? It just hurts your brand every which way you slice it.
I believe that if OneFC wants to incorporate stomps and soccer kicks, then they should just make them fair game and leave it at that. How many fighters have spoken about the “tunnel vision” they get when they step into the cage? We can’t ask people who are in there trying to protect themselves from injury to divert their attention to a neutral third party in the midst of a barbaric war. It’s just a ludicrous notion.
Hopefully the controversy leads to a review process that will see the rule better clarified before someone winds up in the hospital, or worse.