UFC 127: Continuing The Fight Duty Of Doctors, Not Fighters

The Decision to Continue Fight Should Be Made by a Doctor

Jorge Rivera illegal knee

Jorge Rivera down after illegal knee

After Michael Bisping drilled Jorge Rivera with an illegal knee at UFC 127 on Saturday, why is it that with a pair of ringside physicians in the cage examining Rivera and referee Marc Goddard there as well, the final decision on continuing the fight is left up to the man who just got cracked and lists professional fighter as his occupation?

There aren’t many fighters who are going to say, “Actually, I’m pretty messed up. I don’t think I can continue.”

It’s the job of the referee and the doctors to make these calls, and they dropped the ball on Saturday night.

There is no way in the world that Rivera should have been allowed to continue, regardless of his wishes or how many high-fives you want to give him for showing heart; his was a decision based on pride, and just like Marsellus Wallace said in Pulp Fiction, “Pride only hurts; it never helps,” and that was true here.

Rivera was allowed to continue and took more punishment without reason. I’m far from a doctor, but I’m pretty sure getting punched in the head shortly after being concussed isn’t a good thing.

The fighter should have no say in the matter; he shouldn’t even be asked whether he feels he can continue or not. If they want out, they’ll make it known, but short of them saying, “I’m done, let’s wrap this up,” the referee and the doctors need to take control of the situation and make the decision that is in the best interest of fighter safety.

Asking a dazed and confused fighter if he wants to continue in the biggest fight of his life doesn’t meet that end.

While there have been some examples of correct decisions in regards to doctor stoppages of late – Fedor Emelianenko vs. Antonio Silva and the nasty growth under the eye of Dwayne Lewis at MFC 27 come to mind – we’ve also seen Josh Koscheck be allowed to continue with his right eye nearly swollen closed as well, punctuated by Joe Rogan admonishing the doctor to get out of the cage.

Sorry Joe, but you were dead wrong on that one.

Like any fan, I don’t necessarily want to see a fight stopped by a cut or a doctor’s decision, but if we want to see this sport continue to make strides towards mainstream acceptance, we should be encouraging ringside physicians and referees to make the difficult calls when it comes to fighter safety.

We’re seeing more and more scrutiny over participant safety in football and hockey, with rule changes and heavier fines coming into play for hits that endanger players. Fans of those sports are, for the most part, behind the move to increase safety, and we need to have everyone involved with this sport thinking the same way.

MMA is already stigmatized for the brutal nature of the action, and having moments where fighters who are clearly not 100% allowed to continue only gives the critics more ammunition to use against us.

Calling an end to the GSP-Koscheck fight after the fourth doesn’t change that bout; St. Pierre still wins convincingly and Koscheck takes five minutes less punishment on his broken orbital bone.

The same goes for Fedor’s fight with Antonio Silva.

While it’s all well and good to speculate as to what might have happened in the final round and envision the iconic Russian heavyweight pulling out a miraculous victory, the more likely scenario was a repeat of Round 2 and that wouldn’t have been pretty.

Referees don’t give fighters who suffer a flash knockout a chance to recover and decide if they want to continue, and the same judgment should have been made in regards to Rivera on Saturday night.

It was clear that the knee did some serious damage, and that Rivera was a little south of normal when he finally made it to his feet, so why give him the option? Rivera isn’t a guy who is going to back down, so keep him out of the decision-making process and do what is in his best interest.

Goddard gets a thumbs-up for taking a point away from Bisping right away, which was the right thing to do, but a thumbs-down for not taking full control of the situation in the cage when it was his responsibility to do just that.

Doctors and referees are being paid to protect fighters, and fighter safety must be first and foremost in the cage.

We need to ensure that no one suffers a critical injury in the cage, and if that means frustrating some people with a stoppage in the name of safety, so be it.

Protect the fighters at all cost, even when they aren’t willing to fully protect themselves.