Vitor Belfort defeated Yoshihiro Akiyama last night at UFC 133. Unfortunately, he finished by illegally punching Akiyama in the back of the head. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Everything went as planned for Vitor Belfort last night at UFC 133 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. With a fully supportive crowd who yearned to fit into their own stereotype as savages, Vitor was their man. The crowd loudly chanted his name, appreciative of his past performances and the understanding that he would deliver an impressive knockout in the face of some boring performances earlier in the evening. Belfort's hands were quick and accurate, and Akiyama was clearly overmatched on the feet. It came as no surprise that it only took Belfort roughly a minute and fifty seconds to find Akiyama's chin and end the fight emphatically.
Unfortunately, the fight's conclusion was an all-too familiar trend for Vitor Belfort. As MMA Nation's Jonathan Snowden pointed out in his post-fight article, Belfort's blows to the back of Akiyama's skull were similar to the way in which Belfort finished Rich Franklin at UFC 103 in September of 2009. Nearly every single fan and media member covering the event shockingly ignored the illegality of the finish, claiming that Belfort already had Akiyama hurt. Somehow, that completely nullifies the idea of an illegal blow.
Dan Henderson defeated Fedor Emelianenko in the exact same fashion last weekend at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, and the same response was echoed by fans and media in the aftermath of that fight. Fedor had been dropped by Henderson moments before the final blows landed to the back of Fedor's cranium. Obviously, that means we can ignore them because Fedor was already beat, right?
Wrong. Nobody is claiming that both Fedor and Akiyama weren't hurt before the finishing strikes landed. Akiyama was well on his way to losing to Belfort. But rules exist in this sport for a reason. "It's Akiyama's fault! If he had avoided getting blasted in the chin and knocked down, Belfort wouldn't have had to hit him in the back of the head," said the ignorant meathead. With that type of logic, why aren't fighters knocking down opponents, then soccer kicking their heads in or stomping them on the back of the head? There isn't a grade scale stating one illegal blow is worse than the other. They are all considered dangerous and illegal strikes. Period. Would you be up in arms if Belfort had stomped out Akiyama instead? Yes, yes you would.
The most ridiculous reasoning I've read from fans is that Akiyama shouldn't have flipped over to expose the back of his head. Let's allow Alistair Overeem to punch one of those fans with an overhand right, and try not to fall down face first. Then, for sake of our argument, he can go to town on the back of your head. Fighters don't have a whole lot of control when they are grasping for consciousness, and it's absurd to believe it's the downed opponent's fault.
For the referees, it is a difficult task to penalize fighters for back of the head strikes. The speed at which the action takes place makes it hard to pinpoint where strikes are landing, but I'm not convinced that it is impossible. There seems to be a consistent trend that strikes to the back of the head are ignored when used to finish fights, and that needs to end now. Many of the most classic cases are clear, yet go unpunished. Dean stood directly in front of Henderson's blows to the back of Fedor's head. Lavigne watched as Belfort blasted the back of Rich Franklin's head at UFC 103. Yamasaki stared at the back of Akiyama's head as Belfort brutally punished it. A light bulb has to go off at some point here.
We can't ignore the fact that fighters impulsively strike to win in fight ending situations. On the brink of a win, a fighter will do anything it takes to finish, and most of them don't realize they are illegally punching someone when they are in the heat of the moment. But that has to change, and the best solution is to stop fights, allow the fouled fighter to recover, and possibly disqualify fighters for those types of blows. Fighters will be much more aware if that's the case. It isn't all on the fighters however. Referees are the first line of defense, and they have failed spectacularly over the past couple of weeks.