The occurrence of fighters getting poked in the eye seems to have become more common in recent years, with 4 happening at last night's UFC 159 event in Newark, New Jersey. Two of the instances happened in the same fight; one from each of the fighters, only it was the second one that caused the referee to intervene after the gruesome spectacle of Alan Belcher's bleeding eye left the official with no choice. The Duke Roufus fighter was clearly in no position to continue.
Twice in the same night eye pokes concluded fights, twice fans had the rare experience of technical decisions being rendered in light of them. Michael Bisping got the nod over Alan Belcher with little controversy over the scoring, himself getting a graze across the ocular region by Belcher earlier in their battle; Ovince St. Preux was given scores he clearly didn't deserve when he ended both Gian Villante's night and the audience's disinterest and boredom in a lethargic, lacklustre affair.
Phil Davis' fingers yet again found their way into his opponent's eyes as Vinny Magalhaes fell victim to the Penn State wrestler's bad habit that had also ruined Wagner Prado's evening at a UFC on Fox prelim last summer. Magalhaes was able to continue, but the gear he operated in had clearly dropped after the incident, not helped by referee Dan Miragliotta's failure to notice the foul, instead calling for the fight to continue because of his own lack of awareness.
Unlike groin strikes that can allow for 5 minutes to recover, the far more severe foul to an eye is afforded no time at all. Maybe it's because a strike to the groin is always a foul, where as there's a line of legality between a poke or gouge in the eye and a punch, elbow, knee or kick that lands there. Or maybe the referees are safety conscious and don't want to risk a blinded fighter continuing with a crucial sense for defense compromised -- though they don't do enough to warn and penalise the offending fighters to begin with.
And isn't that the real issue here? Whether a fighter is careless from bad habits, or attacks with malicious intent, the lax attitude toward illegal strikes to the eye by the regulatory bodies does nothing to discourage them from happening, which is ridiculous given how career threatening and even lifestyle changing serious eye injuries can be.
The issue with the current glove design is a minor one, as Century have been providing gloves for the UFC since UFC 75 in 2007; the recent increase in eye injuries per year possibly being simply down to the increase in UFC fights per year. Back in February UFC Featherweight Cub Swanson opined that the gloves are too square and cause your hand to be open and outstretched, and called for a more rounded design so your fingers naturally curve inwards. I would hope Century would be open to work with high level fighters like Swanson and others in the UFC to make a relatively simple sounding adjustment to the design to see if that could help.
Still though, situations where open hands with fingers pointed dangerously near to an opponent's face simply should not occur as often as they do, and arguably your hand should only be open if you have the intention of grabbing on to something.
Stricter rules and officiating that offer more frequent point deduction or disqualification might be the negative reinforcement needed to force fighters to learn better habits -- or think twice about using cheap shots.