This weekend's fights were very solid and a lot of fun. The WEC card was especially entertaining with great action top to bottom. But there was a very big negative that stuck out on the UFC and WEC events, reffing. To be more specific, the lack of consistent handling of fights and rules enforcement.
Herb Dean taking a point from Keith Jardine following a first accidental foul (an eye poke) was very far outside the normal and expected enforcement of the rules and in a three round fight it has an immediate impact on the outcome of the fight and the gameplan of the penalized fighter. It is extremely rare to see a point deduction on a first accidental foul. Dean justified his decision to deduct a point by saying that the eye poke was "damaging." In a sport so dependent on reflexes, vision and timing isn't every eye poke damaging? What do we rely on to determine if a foul is "damaging?"
The last thing I want to see in MMA is the kind of shameful acting displays that plague soccer. I don't want every accidental foul met with an attempt to sell it as damaging enough to result in a point deduction.
Worse than Dean's somewhat random decision to take a point from Jardine was Josh Rosenthal displaying a complete disregard for consistent reffing by deducting a point from Kamal Shalorus in the second round after multiple low blows to WEC 49 opponent Jamie Varner. Early in the third round Shalorus landed yet another low blow (this the hardest one of the fight) and Rosenthal did not take a point. Once it is established that points are being taken for repeated fouls you have to either continue to take points or move on to a disqualification. You can not backtrack and avoid the path that you have already established.
These are issues of the lack of clear and consistent guidelines having been established for referees and too much being left up to their own judgment. Herb Dean is making the judgment call that the first accidental foul met some "damage threshold" that deserved an immediate deduction. Josh Rosenthal is making his own judgment call that he should only deduct one point over the course of a fight. Steve Mazzagatti made the judgment call that Brock Lesnar's punches to the back of Frank Mir's head were enough to earn him a point deduction with no warning. Some refs stand the fight up quickly, some let fighters work to improve position, some will never stand a fight up if a fighter is in half guard, some will stand a fight up no matter what the position.
There should not be so much focus on who will ref a given fight because of how they handle fights, the ref should basically be a complete non-personality, enforcing a standard set of rules exactly the same as any other referee would.
Of course then there is the matter of how one judge managed to see all three rounds for Shalorus, or how Matt Hamill was cleared to fight despite having staph and not yet being on any antibiotics. Honestly, I just hope we're heading for a period of major overhauls of the whole system when it comes to commission oversight and judge/referee training.
Update: Mike Fagan pointed out a few passages in the unified rules in the comments of the post. Here they are:
(b) Disqualification occurs after any combination of three or the fouls listed in (a) above or after a referee determines that a foul was intentional and flagrant.
Under that rule it is probably the correct result for Kamal to have been disqualified after the final low blow.
And as for Herb Dean and the eyepoke:
1. If an unarmed combatant fouls his opponent during a contest or exhibition or commits any other infraction, the referee may penalize him by deducting points from his score, whether or not the foul or infraction was intentional. Except as otherwise provided in subsection 2 of NAC 467.698, the referee may determine the number of points to be deducted in each instance and shall base his determination on the severity of the foul or infraction and its effect upon the opponent.
I maintain that I don't like the eye poke deduction but Dean does appear to have used the rules as established. He did not HAVE to deduct, but the rules do state that he was within his rights to do so.
The issue for me remains the referees having to make judgment calls. They shouldn't be determining what is a damaging eye poke and what is not. There should be standardized rules in place.