NJSAC's Nick Lembo responds to Villante/St. Preux and Bisping/Belcher stoppages at UFC 159

Photo via Esther Lin of MMA Fighting

Following an event with an unprecedented two technical decision caused by accidental eyepokes, the NJSAC counsel gives his thoughts on the proper way for referees to handle the situation in the cage.

It's no secret that UFC 159 was rife with accidental eyepokes. One of the most notable occurred in the third fight on the FX prelimswhen Ovince St. Preux accidentally caught Gian Villante in they eye early in the final round. In the immediate aftermath of the poke, referee Kevin Mulhall stopped the fight after Villante told him he couldn't see (remember, this was only around 5 seconds after the initial poke). Mulhall caught a lot of criticism from Villante and viewers alike for his quick action.

On Monday, NJSAC Executive Director Nick Lembo addressed the criticism levied at Mulhall (via MMA Junkie):

Technically, [Mulhall] was within the rules. When a fighter is repetitive that he cannot see, the referee is within his rights to stop the fight. But I would prefer that when a fighter is subject to an eye poke and the referee properly notices the foul – and assuming that they call it an accidental foul – if the fighter says that he can't see, initially, that you call time.

We have ringside physicians there, and if a medical evaluation is necessary, I would prefer that it be performed by the doctor and a decision be made at that point.

Later in the show, with only thirty seconds left in the fight between Michael Bisping and Alan Belcher, Bisping's thumb raked across Belcher's right eye and caused instant bleeding. Lembo pointed to co-main event referee Herb Dean as an example of how officials should respond eyepoke:

For a point of reference on the same show, I would look to how Herb Dean handled Bisping and Belcher in a similar situation with an eye poke. Ruled it accidental. Called time. Noted the foul. Put the fighters in neutral corners and then called in the ringside physician to evaluate the eye – then let the physician advise the referee whether or not to continue the fight or let the fighter have some more time because the fighter is not guaranteed five minutes, but the physician has up to five minutes for an accidental eye poke.

It should be plainly obvious that, while Mulhall didn't technically violate any rules, Dean's way is far superior. Regardless, it's becoming painfully clear that there exists a problem with eyepokes in the sport. BE's own K.J. Gould spoke about it shortly after the event and UFC Featherweight Cub Swanson discussed the design faults of the current glove model used by the UFC.


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