Officiating and drug testing have long been the hot topics of discussion in mixed martial arts. They are often the axis point for most conversations, both with media and fans. Getting solid, factual information can sometimes be challenging in a sea of opinions, so the decision to get an authority on these topics seemed only logical.
UFC vice president of government and regulatory affairs, Marc Ratner was the perfect choice to get some quality information out to our readers. In a recent MMA Sentinel interview, he discussed the ins and outs of officiating, testing procedures, his thoughts on throwing in the towel, legalizing MMA in NY and more. Here's what he had to say:
MMA Sentinel: There was a pretty controversial fight at Ultimate Fight Night 30, between Rosi Sexton and Jessica Andrade. There was some controversy over whether or not that fight should have been stopped. There was also some controversy over the Cain Velasquez and JDS fight, and the Sanchez Melendez bout. Can you tell us about the criteria on stoppages?
Marc Ratner: Well, with the Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez fight, the only way that would have been stopped is if the doctor had deemed the fighter unable to go on. It would not have been right to stop that fight, unless he couldn't continue medically.
With the Dos Santos fight... I believe in those kind of fights, more so than the referee or the doctor, that the corner has to be involved. If their fighter is taking a severe beating, then they should jump in. The referee is the closest guy to the fighters, and he was certainly looking at Dos Santos and Cain, and he deemed it not necessary to stop the fight.
I have a boxing background, and sometimes in one sided fights, I believe in having it stopped, but it's up to the referee's judgment. Sometimes the decision should be made in conjunction with the doctor, and they can have the doctor come in between rounds, which I believe they did in Houston.
With the Rosi fight... In the second round, she took a pretty good pummeling, and it certainly could have been stopped. In between rounds, the doctor looked at her. Rosi was vehement after the fight that if they had stopped it, she would have been really mad. She felt like she was always in it. Aesthetically though, she did take a pummeling, and between the referee, the doctor and the corner, the fight could have been stopped, but it's always going to be a judgment call.
MMA Sentinel: Speaking of corners stopping fights, back in 2009 the corner throwing in the towel was removed as a foul from the unified rules, but it's still on the books as a foul in Nevada. Is that just a clerical issue, or is there a genuine difference between jurisdictions in how a corner should stop a fight?
Marc Ratner: If a corner wants to stop the fight, and they've been told this, the corner man will climb the stairs and inform the inspector in the corner. The inspector would then get the referees attention. If you throw in a towel, they don't know where the towel came from, so it will just be thrown out, that's why we don't use that. It's just an old boxing axiom.
In MMA the inspector gets hold of the referee if the corner wants to stop the fight; he would make sure the referee saw him, and the fight would be stopped then.
MMA Sentinel: The other fight from that event that was somewhat controversial was the co-main event between Ross Pearson and Melvin Guillard. Marc Goddard, the referee for that fight, came out and said he felt it was clear that Pearson was trying to be a grounded fighter, and for a lot of the time he was a grounded fighter, so he felt like he made the right call. Is that something you agree with? Do you think, with the benefit of hindsight, that the referee made the right call?
Marc Ratner: I was right there, and I had the monitors, so I could really look at it, and I saw it slowed down. It was very, very close one way or the other. I don't think there was enough evidence to change the referee's decision. I certainly go along with the referee's decision; that's one of the hardest things to see, and he had a good view of it. It's a tough call. What I'm against is when a fighter is putting his hand up and down, over and over again, trying to draw a foul, but that's a lot different from what happened with Ross Pearson.
MMA Sentinel: I know there was a change recently giving the referee discretion if he feels a fighter is trying to draw a foul, but do you think the three point rule in general should be removed, or do you think it belongs there?
Marc Ratner: We're in this for health and safety, that's the main thing. That's why you have commissions, or in this case, the UFC self-regulating. We don't want a fighter to get hit in the head when he's in a defenseless position, and I say that referring to three points on the floor; two feet and one hand.
If you're trying to win a fight by DQ, by putting your hand up and down, then you're putting yourself in jeopardy and putting yourself in danger of getting hit. I don't know how you could improve the rule at this time. I'm taking that under advisement and talking to a lot of different commissions, though.
MMA Sentinel: Going back a little bit, Rousimar Palhares held onto a heel hook for quite a long time against Mike Pierce, what was your reaction when that was happening?
Marc Ratner: Completely... I was not in Brazil, but I was emailing back and forth, and the first thing we were talking about was, ‘if this is submission of the night, he cannot get a bonus, because he did something completely wrong.' I wanted to make sure of that. When we watched it again, we saw he did not break the hold, so I back Dana's decision to cut him from the UFC. Plus, he had a prior history of this, which factors into it even more.
MMA Sentinel: When you are in the UK, can you give us a bit of detail about how the UFC handles the drug testing; what you test for, and what labs you use?
Marc Ratner: I can tell you that every fighter on every card we do when we self-regulate is tested. They are tested for all street drugs, like cocaine and marijuana, for barbiturates and for performance enhancing drugs like steroids. We run the whole gamut. The testing isn't quite ready for things like growth hormone, but I think you'll see that coming up. I believe the laboratory we use is Quest Laboratory; we have an assistant from the lab who watch the samples and has a chain of custody. Everybody is tested, and when somebody tests positive for something, I tell the world.
MMA Sentinel: It seems like when the UFC handles the testing, you do a more thorough job than most commissions. Do you think the commissions could be doing more to help rid the sport of PEDs?
Marc Ratner: I'm for a clean sport, obviously. Each state has a slightly different way of doing things, and we leave it up to them. They're all government agencies. But I have no problem with everybody being tested. We want to clean it up, and we're going to keep pushing that way. I think it's very, very important that nobody has an unfair advantage.
MMA Sentinel: Does the UFC do any out of competition testing right now on its fighters?
Marc Ratner: We haven't done it much as a company; we're formulating policies for that. I know Nevada has out of competition testing, and I believe California does too. When we talk about self-regulating, we're not doing that many fights; it seems like we're doing more than we are. Now that Brazil has a commission and Australia has a commission, we maybe do five or six events a year that we self-regulate, but we test every single fighter on those.
MMA Sentinel: Dana was saying a little while back that he wanted the UFC to be doing their own independent testing of guys on TRT. Do you know if that's still the plan, or if anything has come of that yet?
Marc Ratner: We're still studying that. There are a few guys that are on this therapy, and now we're following the state of Nevada guidelines, where they have to go to an endocrinologist and get a complete history before they start doing anything. I think you'll see less guys on it, because it's going to be harder to get that exemption.
MMA Sentinel: Something else Dana was discussing was testing every fighter who is signed before they get a contract, has that come into effect yet?
Marc Ratner: Yeah, we make them take a complete drug screen, the same as they would on fight night. To be on ‘The Ultimate Fighter' show, or to fight for the first time in the UFC, you have to be clean and test negative for all drugs.
MMA Sentinel: Has there ever been a situation where a fighter has failed a test, and the UFC has chosen not to announce it, or are all test failures made public?
Marc Ratner: Any test when we self-regulate is made public. There is no grey area there. In my seven years we have probably had six or seven failures when we were self-regulating. We can't fine them, because it's our company, but we can suspend them, and we give punishments as if we were the state of Nevada. If a fighter tests positive when I'm self-regulating, and he won the fight, we take that win away.
MMA Sentinel: Are there any other steps or policies you are considering just now, or that are planned for the future, to help combat PED use, that you can tell us about?
Marc Ratner: I think we just have to keep educating. Every year we bring the fighters in for the summit, and we go over the dangers of PED use. One of the big problems is that some of these fighters have played football or other sports, and they have taken something in the past, so we have to try to make them understand the dangers. This sport is so new, it's only 20 years old, that we don't know the effects of everything ten years from now, or twenty years from now. We really believe in education and health and safety, which is the reason you have commissions.
MMA Sentinel: There has been a lot of controversy, especially in the past few months, about some of the judging decisions, and the quality of some of the refereeing. What do you think could be done to improve the quality of judging and officiating?
Marc Ratner: Well first of all, I'm very happy about the officials in the UK. I think the officials we have been using there overall do a very, very good job. I thought the judging at UFN30 in Manchester was good. There are always some rounds that I disagree with, for instance I thought the second round in the Rosi fight was a pretty clear 10-8 round, but only two of the judges saw it that way, but my goal in judging is; did the person who won the fight get the decision? Sometimes that doesn't happen, and I'll go over the film and talk to the judges.
It's about education. It's about the judges watching film. I'll send DVDs to England so every judge can see every minute of every round, and that's the only way to get better. We just have to keep developing the officials. We have a pretty good nucleus in the UK, we have a good nucleus now in Australia that are working there, and right now in Brazil we've developed I believe three judges and a couple of referees. We're trying to deepen the pool of good officials worldwide.
Judging is always going to be subjective; boxing is over 150 years old and they still had that crazy decision between Pacquiao and Bradley. I was at that fight and I thought Pacquiao won nine rounds. So these things do happen. The judges are on three different sides of the cage or the ring, and they sometimes see things differently.
What I don't like is when there is a fight where one judge sees it 30-27 for one fighter, and another judge has it 30-27 for his opponent. That doesn't make sense. There has to be some commonality in the scoring. It's a problem, but we're going to keep working on it.
MMA Sentinel: I know Herb Dean is running a referee school, do you think that kind of thing will help to increase the pool of high quality officials?
Marc Ratner: Whether it be Herb Dean or Mario Yamasaki or John McCarthy, they're putting on seminars around the world, especially around America, and they're teaching and showing film. I think that's a big help.
Wherever we go, I'm making notes on every fight card about officials. If I see somebody that I think has potential in Illinois, or did a good job in New Jersey, I have a complete book on a lot of guys now. You're not just seeing two good referees, or three or four good judges, we're seeing more.
It's up to the states who actually officiates, though. It's up to them. I can't assign officials when we go to Texas, it's up to them. I can recommend officials; I can give them my list, but they have the final selection. The only place I can choose the officials is places we self-regulate.
MMA Sentinel: Dana is extremely outspoken about some referees. Does he discuss that with you, or is that Dana being emotional and speaking from the cuff, as it were?
Marc Ratner: Dana is a fan first, and sometimes people forget that. When he sees something he feels is outrageous, he makes a comment about it, and I have no problem with that.
I watch these fights very closely. When I'm at a fight, if it starts at four o clock, I'm there at three thirty, and I'm sitting cage side watching every minute of every fight, and I try to really have an opinion. I've seen enough rounds in boxing and in MMA to have a pretty good idea of who should win a round. Not always, but most of the time. I look at the scores, and if I think that they are way off, I will talk to the officials.
MMA Sentinel: Cole Miller came out today and said something along the lines of, ‘this is ruining guy's careers, I should have won my last four fights, but I'm getting losses because of a couple of bad judges.' Do you think that judges are aware of just how much control they have over these guys' futures?
Marc Ratner: Anybody who is a professional judge realizes how important it is. Most of the time, the guy who gets the decision deserves it, but not always. If you look at the decisions throughout the world, not just in the UFC but in competing organizations as well, it's not like 50% of the fights that go to a decision are wrong. It's probably less than 10%, but when it happens in a fight that everybody is watching, then it blows up. I think that we have to keep deepening the pool, which means trying out new officials and you have to really guide them.
I believe that if somebody is fighting for the UFC, and should have got a decision, and fought a good fight but got robbed, we would never cut them.
MMA Sentinel: I want to chat a little bit about the fight to get MMA legalized in New York. Is that something you're still involved in at this point, or have you passed it off to the lawyers?
Marc Ratner: I've been to Albany, New York, 20 times in the last four years. I was there just a month ago. It's one of my business goals here, and we're still fighting for it. We're a fighting company and it's not a question of if, it's a question of when. I believe in the assembly we had about 90 votes there, but the vote never got to the assembly floor. It only takes 76 votes to get it approved, but the speaker never let it get to the floor, and there is some controversy in that regard. We'll be up in Albany after the first of the year, in the capital of the state of New York, and we'll keep fighting.
MMA Sentinel: It has been said that Sheldon Silver is something of a one man blockade to getting this passed, would you say that's a fair sentiment?
Marc Ratner: In the state of Nevada there is a labor union called the Culinary Union. That's the food workers and hotel workers union. They've been trying to organize the casinos of the UFC owners, the Fertitta brothers. They haven't been successful, so their sister union in New York has put pressure on different politicians, including Mr. Silver. So we haven't been able to get a vote, but we'll keep pushing it. As I say, it's not a question of if, it's a question of when; we will have a fight in Madison Square Garden someday.
MMA Sentinel: When it comes to the culinary union, they were trying to cause problems in Boston earlier this year, and fortunately they mostly failed at that, but does it frustrate you? Not just in terms of how much they attack the UFC to try to achieve their objectives, but even just the fact they must be wasting so much of their members money trying and failing, and accomplishing nothing, really.
Marc Ratner: Well that doesn't frustrate me, but I think it might frustrate them. They caused problems in Boston, but they gave us some publicity and we even sold more tickets because of it. They tried to stop Chael from fighting, but he did everything he's supposed to do, so they failed.
We're used to it. Every time they do something, we'll counter it and our fights will go on. Our business is doing fine, knock on wood. We're right where we need to be.
MMA Sentinel: The UFC fighter insurance was an absolutely fantastic thing, can you give us some detail about when fighters are eligible or ineligible for claiming that insurance?
Marc Ratner: I think, to my knowledge, in combat sports we're the only people who insure guys who get injured in training. I don't mean the cold or the flu, but if he tears his knee, or dislocates his shoulder or something, we have insurance for that. It's very, very, very important.
On the night of the fight, we have complete medical insurance, so nobody pays a thing; there's no deductibles there. We take care of the fighters even to the point where we have a plastic surgeon in house, who can sew them up right there. Like in the case of Ross Pearson; he needed 35 stitches or something, and we had somebody right there so he didn't have to sit around at the hospital, he got taken care of right away. We take that very seriously.
MMA Sentinel: Something Steph and I were discussing after the fights in Manchester was the idea of having mandatory CT scans after fights like that. Is that something you have considered, or something you might consider in future?
Marc Ratner: This goes through the doctors, but that night she did have some kind of screen, whether it was an MRI or a CT scan I don't remember, but she was tested and cleared that night.
MMA Sentinel: If you want to let people know how to contact you, or tell people about anything, the floor is yours, sir.
Marc Ratner: I do have a twitter, which is @MarcRatnerUFC. If somebody wants to email me, I'm happy with that too. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org I want to ask everybody to make sure to check out our next show in the UK as well, which is in London on March 8th.
I'm also excited for our 20th Anniversary show - UFC 167 - coming up on Nov. 16 in Las Vegas. This sport has come a long way in the past two decades and we're really excited for what the future holds. This is truly a global business and you'll see the Octagon in many new countries and cities in 2014 and beyond.
For more information on what we have planned for the 20th Anniversary celebration, visit: http://www.ufc.com/news/ufc-