The Missouri Office of Athletics (MOA) has overturned the result of Miriam Nakamoto and Jessamyn Duke's April 5th bout at Invicta FC 5. Big John McCarthy originally awarded the victory to Nakamoto after she illegally kneed a grounded Duke. Here's a gif of the finish:
Some context: Duke, a blue chip bantamweight prospect and rumored TUF 18 contestant, immediately sought to clinch with Nakamoto, a decorated Muay Thai champion. After Duke unsuccessfully attempted several trip takedowns, Nakamoto spun Duke around. Nakamoto unloaded with a knee to Duke's head, dropping Duke to her knees. With both of Duke's knees clearly on the ground, Nakamoto landed an illegal knee to Duke's head. McCarthy then called the fight. Invicta awarded Nakamoto the Knockout of the Night bonus for her performance.
After the bout, McCarthy claimed the first knee put Duke out, and that the the second (and illegal) knee did not impact the fight's outcome.
Over a month after Duke appealed the result, Missouri sided with her. Interestingly, per MMA Junkie, both Nakamoto and McCarthy urged the commission to overturn the result--so it looks like it was an easy decision for Missouri.
But here's where things start to get a little weird. McCarthy explained his agreement with the MOA's decision:
"The overturning of the bout was my recommendation, and that was what they did. The first knee was the one that hurt [Duke]. But at that time, it's still the sport, and still competition, and rules need to be followed. The second knee is the reason there's a no-contest. Fighters have to follow the rules at all times."
McCarthy implies that he mishandled the outcome of the fight--he made a mistake. But does he really mean that "fighters have to follow the rules at all times"? I don't think he does.
Consider what McCarthy said just last month about a different fight. At April's TUF 17 Finale, Travis Browne controversially KOed Gabriel Gonzaga. In the finishing sequence, Browne appeared to land several illegal elbows to the back of Gonzaga's head. Referee Chris Tognoni did not penalize Browne. Gonzaga's appeal to the NSAC was denied. The circumstances of that controversy were very similar to those in Nakamoto/Duke, with the possible exception that Nakamoto very clearly landed one illegal knee, while there is debate over how many illegal strikes Browne landed.
When asked to comment on the conclusion of Browne/Gonzaga, McCarthy seemed to support Tognoni:
"They were legal up two[sic] the last one or possibly two but he was already out," McCarthy wrote. "Legal blows put him out. The only illegal elbow strike is a linear elbow thrown with the hand traveling from the sky straight down with no arc. Any arc makes the elbow legal so the way Travis threw those elbows was legal."
Let's recap: In both Nakamoto/Duke and Browne/Gonzaga, McCarthy claims that the winning fighter threw illegal strikes but that the illegal strikes didn't impact the outcome of the fight. And yet, he urged the MOA to change Nakamoto/Duke to a No Contest, while he was fine with Browne getting the victory. Erm, wat?? So much for "fighters have to follow the rules at all times"...
The only difference I can discern in McCarthy's view of Nakamoto/Duke and Browne/Gonzaga is his characterization of the safety risk posed by elbows to the back of the head:
As for the strikes going to the back of the head, McCarthy also cleared that up, writing, "the back of the head is not bad it is the back of the neck where the spine and skull connect that is dangerous."
Just because McCarthy doesn't think elbows to the back of the head are dangerous doesn't mean they aren't illegal. If that rule is ill-conceived, commissions should change it. Referees shouldn't be empowered to ignore rules they disagree with. To paraphrase a philosopher of some repute: "This isn't 'Nam. This is MMA. There are rules."
This looks like yet another example of MMA officials making things up as they go along. In this instance, I don't blame the commission: All three individuals who were in the cage (McCarthy, Duke, and Nakamoto) agreed with the No Contest ruling. But it's troubling that McCarthy's views are so inconsistent. The conventional wisdom is that MMA needs more high quality referees like Herb Dean and Big John. Maybe so. But what happens when it's Big John, one of the most respected and experienced referees, who doesn't seem to know how to handle a situation?
It remains to be seen if Missouri's decision sets a precedent. While the Missouri commission isn't as influential as Nevada or New Jersey, the MOA's Executive Director, Tim Lueckenhoff, is also the President of the Association of Boxing Commissions, so this ruling might hold some sway. Hopefully the whole world has not gone crazy, and I'm not the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules.