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Does Mixed Martial Arts Need Instant Replay?

After suffering through some awfully dubious refereeing decisions the last few weeks, I began to ponder whether use of instant replay could be beneficial to the fighters, the sport and ultimately, the fight itself.

I realize there are a host of problems with having instant replay, so I want to propose the idea of perhaps using instant replay only to overturn, challenge or confirm those decisions by the referee not specifically related to the outcome. That is, if we begin to let fighters, coaches and managers challenge a fight every time it's stopped, our sport will devolve into a overly litigious mess.I realize there is some hypocrisy involved in suggesting instant replay could be used for challenging point deductions and not poor stoppages, but for purposes of pragmatism, it's worth defining some limits even if they are arbitrary.

The benefits of instant replay are widely documented and clear. Most notably, a poor decision by the referee to deduct points for fouls that were never committed or an actual error of the referee in, say, standing fighters up when they shouldn't be (that is, if the fighters are supposed to resume action on the ground and for no apparent reason the referee doesn't enforce it), instant replay could serve as a valuable tool in this regard. While video evidence itself is never fool proof, I do believe the replay of Marquardt's elbow to Leites' head clearly shows no foul was committed. And because the call was poor, it actually affected the outcome of the bout. It was not the sole determinant, but it was absolutely contributory.

The problems with using instant replay, of course, are numerous. One shudders to think of how many problems could arise if Pandora's Box were opened in MMA. For example, how would one actually go about challenging a call? In games where this is constant stop and start to the action such as football, use if instant replay makes a little more sense. You can question decisions or calls without actually ever interrupting active play. But MMA fighting is dramatically different. In our sport, continuity of action is highly coveted. Resting give opposition unfair advantages both to recover from physical exhaustion and inflicted damage. Worse, if a coach or corner were allowed to throw a flag (and how many flags can they throw a fight?), could do they do it at the most opportune time to save their fighter? In other words, they wouldn't really be challenging a call, just throwing a flag to affect an outcome when their fighter was in a bad spot or taking damage.

Then again, maybe there are ways to do it. Maybe if we limit the use of instant replay solely to point deduction clarification, a corner could challenge a ref's call directly after the referee makes such a call. The action is already stopped at that point, although even this is enough to stop a dishonest corner from affecting the length of the break. Maybe if the round comes to a close, a corner could have the option of challenging during the break. In this way, the break could be extended somewhat, but it wouldn't necessarily affect the fight in such a way to give a struggling opponent too much of an advantage due to the pseudo time out.

But then again maybe it would. I want to make it clear that I'm not necessarily favoring the use of instant replay. I find the idea compelling, but it's obviously a troublesome suggestion. Ultimately, I think MMA fans and fighters alike are going to have to condition themselves to swallow a higher portion of referee error when there is such an emphasis and premium on continuity. I don't know that we can have our cake of objective refereeing and eat it, too. So long as a fight necessitates as few breaks in the action as possible, error on the part of the referee will be far harder to check during the course of the bout. It's easy to suggest that this in and of itself is reason enough to stop any notion of instant replay marching forward, but what is Nate Marquardt going to do? There is no governing athletic body for him to address his grievances in the UK. Saying Dana White or internal UFC management will take care of it is essentially relying on the beneficient monarchy to do the right thing. In his case, instant replay could have prevented him from losing.

It's a complicated issue, but it's worth fleshing out. The bottom line is this: referees need to be as perfect as possible and when they're not, fighters should have recourse. How we actually deliver on that, though, makes defining parameters incredibly difficult.