Like all human beings, fighters can be jerks. Many would likely transcribe Michael Bisping's name on the ever expanding jerk list. Though some of the behavior exhibited by Bisping before and after his recent match can, at the least, be categorized in the poor taste section, those offenses are very minor compared to the illegal knee he delivered to Jorge Rivera's head at UFC 127. True, the shot may have not been deliberate. Only Michael Bisping knows whether it was purely an accident or a malicious action. Often times we,as MMA fans, witness a knee delivered to the head of a downed opponent when that grounded opponent is transitioning from the ground to the standing position or vice versa. Usually, only one knee is in contact with the mat.
Of course, both of Rivera's knees were on the ground when he caught what was a solid knee strike to the head. It did not appear to me that he had begun the process of standing, either. Jonathan Snowden's assessment of the situation is at least technically correct:
I couldn't find a record of any fighter in UFC history suspended by the athletic commission for a foul committed during competition. Bisping was punished for the illegal knee. Per the Unified Rules, an important point was taken from him, something that could have been the difference between a win, a draw, and a loss. It was more than sufficient.
I have two concerns in regard to infractions of this nature. The first is an obvious one; that's fighter safety. When a fighter goes into a fight he has to trust that his opponent will adhere to the rules. One obviously can't plan to thwart the plethora of potential illegal activities that his counterpart could undertake. MMA is a dangerous sport. Period. All we can do is minimize the likelihood of bodily catastrophe.
My second concern has more to do with the how the outcome of a fight can be altered due to an illegal strike. Bisping probably was going to stand victorious, illegal knee or not. Probably is the operative word here. Yes, Rivera was checked out and cleared to go on. He, himself, made the final decision to continue on. With no other information, I have to assume he was alright to continue. However, the pressure on fighters, referees and ringside physicians to allow fighters to fight and not draw the ire of paying fans and sponsors is immense. A fighter doesn't want to appear to wimp out, anyway, even if the wisest move might be to seek further medical attention.
Face it, although "valuable," a point deduction may be worth tilting the playing field in one's favor. Certainly, I'm not accusing anyone of doing such a thing, but it could figure into the math for a competitor trying to make it in an ultra-competitive sport.
In conclusion, I can only think of two actions that would alleviate the potential moral hazard involved with illegal strikes while also helping to bolster fighter safety. The UFC, and other organizations, can do what the NFL has decided to do, make players aware that they are going to penalize the hell out of perpetrators of actions which the sanctioning body deems as detrimental to other players and the league as a hole. These penalties, assessed at the discretion of the league, have drawn much criticism from fans and players due to their subjective nature.
The other choice - which is much narrower in scope - would be to legalize knees to downed opponents. At least, everyone would know what to expect and could plan accordingly. I think this is a tough one to sell politically as the UFC and other proponents of MMA are trying to sell the sport in locations where it's currently not permitted.
Those are my thoughts. What do you think? No action is without significant downside. The question is whether downside risk associated with a particular action is greater than the downside risk associated with inaction.