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Panel Discussion: The Tim Kennedy-Yoel Romero Controversy

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John S. Nash takes a look at the controversy surrounding the Tim Kennedy-Yoel Romero fight with fighters Josh Burkman, Conor Heun, Lew Polley, trainers Cesar Gracie and Javier Mendez, and referee Robert Hinds.

The Tim Kennedy-Yoel Romero match at UFC 178 provided all the excitement fans hoped for, winning Fight of the Night on a card packed with great bouts. It also provided a great deal of controversy. At the end of the second round, Kennedy managed to catch Romero with a series of strikes that would have surely finished him if he had not been saved by the bell. What followed has become known as Stoolgate, after Romero was allowed to stay seated - for some reason or another - for almost an extra half minute.

After the additional rest period, Romero came out in the third round and finished Kennedy by TKO. The talk coming out of the event though wasn't on this incredible comeback but instead "did the extra time given Romero save him from sure defeat and assist in his victory?" This is surely Kennedy's viewpoint, even telling Romero during a confrontation the two had backstage, that he thought he should have been declared TKO for failing to stand from his stool at the end of the rest period.

This scandal was soon followed by another - lets call it Glovegate - as a .gif began making the rounds that showed Kennedy clearly grabbing Romero's glove when he started his striking sequence at the end of the second round. So was Kennedy now a cheater who's foul set up Romero's strange stool incident?

Unsure of what I was actually seeing in either incident, one of the first things I did was contact several fighters and trainers, people who have much more expertise in these matter than myself, to get their opinions. I quickly noticed that what they saw and thought was very different from that of many of the fans, who were filling the comment threads with their own strong opinions. I therefore thought it might be interesting and enlightening to put together a discussion panel of fighters and trainers (all of whom are also cornermen) to record their views on what they witnessed during the Tim Kennedy-Yoel Romero fight and what they thought should happen going forward.

Taking part are three fighters who have also worked extensively as corners: Josh Burkman, Conor Heun and Lew Polley, as well as renown trainers Cesar Gracie of Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and Javier Mendez of American Kickboxing Academy. Rounding out the group is professional referee and judge Robert Hinds.

So tell us your thoughts on the delay during the rest break between the second and third round? What do you think you saw and who do you think was responsible, if you think anyone is, for what happened?

Conor Huen:

I saw Kennedy almost KO Romero at the end of the round, only to be saved by the bell. Then I saw Romero sit and sit some more when he should have been standing. I don't know who's to blame, but he should have been standing that's for sure and I think everyone - including his corner and the referee - should have known that he shouldn't be sitting.

Before the fight, there's a meeting with the commission where you're told what the rules are and what you can and can not do as a corner. So when the warning goes off right before the round starts and they says, "seconds out," you know you have to get out. You know you have to get your guy up and take the stool out.

You're also usually told before about how you're supposed to handle your water. Who can give it to the fighter. That you can't throw it, that you have to use ice so you don't make a mess. So not speaking English shouldn't have lead to his corner having a problem with any of this.

So obviously something happened that shouldn't have happened, and I can understand why Kennedy was mad because even few more seconds can make a big difference in a fight. It might have made a big difference in this one.

Javier Mendez:

Originally I only saw Dana's comment about 28 seconds. and I tweeted "what does 28 seconds matter?" Then I watched it. In my eyes, 100%, someone should have been disqualified. When I watched it I saw someone from his corner splash water on his back and that's illegal. Someone should have been on them about that right there.

As for speaking Spanish and not knowing the rules: everyone knows the rules, doesn't matter if you speak English or not. You know you have to take the stool out when you hear [the signal] to exit. If you don't know the rules what are you doing there? So I don't think you can use that as an excuse.

Whether if it was intentional or unintentional [the delay], it doesn't really matter because they got 28 seconds added to the one minute. That's a lot of time in a fight. How many times do you see a guy almost finished and then recover because he got a few seconds to clear his head? A few seconds rest can be an eternity in a fight.

Josh Burkman:

How they left him there on his stool, with everyone standing there, the ref, the commission. For Tim Kennedy, I think it was a shame.

My wife was watching with me and she's not even a fight fan and she was saying "that's not fair" when it happened, so even for the average observer something was going on and it wasn't fair.

The blame falls on McCarthy. He's usually a great referee, but this time he missed it. I think he's got to be aware that Romero got rocked and his corner might do something to buy time. So McCarthy should have been on his corner to make sure they weren't going to spill a bunch of water or put on too much vaseline to buy him that time, because if you're a corner and your guy gets hurt, that's when you're going to try and buy him some time.

But I think they were so blatant about it. Having him put on too much vaseline knowing they weren't going to wipe him down. And leaving him on his stool the whole time because he was probably a little wobbly. So it was actually a great job by Romero's corner to buy him extra time and get him that rest.

Fans that think the extra time isn't a big deal, they just don't realize how much you can recover in ten seconds. Look at boxing where you get dropped and you can get back up in ten seconds before you're counted out and be ready to continue. And he didn't get ten seconds, he got a full extra thirty seconds to recover.

Cesar Gracie:

I don't know if it was on purpose, but the issue has to be addressed or will become a strategy employed to give a fighter time to recover.

I believe a fighter should be deducted a point if he does not promptly answer the bell within 5 seconds and DQ'ed at some point afterwards.

Lew Polley:

I've cornered fights in the UFC and Bellator a bunch of times before and I can tell [Romero's corner] knew [what they were doing]. We've all seen it before, when your fighters in trouble you pour a little too much water on him, spill a bunch in the cage, drop some ice, take your time. And you can't really use "he can't speak English so he can't understand" as a defense, because if he doesn't understand English at all how does he train in the US? How does he order food? He has to understand enough. He has to at least know what the 10 second warning is and that he's supposed to grab the stool.

Really, his corner did their job because they got him that time. What they did worked. It's McCarthy and the officials job to be on them when they see them trying to do that. They should have been warned immediately and he should have been told to get off the stool and ask if he could continue. If he didn't respond then you call the fight. That's what should have happened, but it didn't. His corner did their job, the officials didn't.

Robert Hinds:

Watching that whole thing take place and how it progressed and progressed and progressed, it was what I call a complete team fail. Officials are supposed to work as a team, so it was a team fail. The referee is the sole arbiter of the match itself but there are also state inspectors that are supposed to expedite things during that period and make it timely, and make sure the corner people are following the rules and all those things. This was a situation where a cutman stayed so long. Where the corners spilled water and didn't exit timely. So many different people involved, that's what I call a group fail.

They poured an entire bottle of water on his back and that's illegal. They should have been told that at the pre-fight meeting. Again the inspector is supposed to be watching for that and not let that happen.

The language barrier is really a nonissue. If you really can't understand what is being said you still know when the warning goes off and people are trying to usher you out they should know they have to get out.

After the ten-second knock, realistically it is the inspector's job to get the corners out. That's what they are supposed to do, get people out of the cage in a timely manner. When that didn't happen McCarthy came over to expedite the situation. And now we are already into the round time. So what happened is McCarthy was doing the inspector job so much instead of focusing on the fighter and telling Romero "you need to get off that stool or I'm calling the fight." But because he was doing the inspector's job John he couldn't address the fighters.

What a lot of people have to remember, is that the corner people's job is to do whatever they possibly can for their athletes. Some stick to the rules, some bend it. But at the end of the day they are going to do what they can for their athlete. Saturday night they did a great job playing dumb or playing the language barrier to buy Romero time. That's to be expected, but it's still not the right thing to do.

Obviously hindsight is 20-20, but as soon as the ten second goes and you don't see the guys moving, you step over there right away and you tell the corner guys to get out and you tell the inspector to get them out. To literally pick up the stool and walk those guys out. And that gives you one on one time with the fighter so you can tell Romero, you need to get up off this stool or I'm going to stop this fight, That would be the proper process. To go over there, Make a quick assessment. Have the inspectors help you out and address the fighter directly.

What about Kennedy's glove grab? Do you think it  was intentional or unintentional? Does it matter? Should he have been warned or should a foul have been called?

Cesar Gracie:

In real time, it wasn't as flagrant as it appeared in slow motion and maybe should have merited a verbal warning from the ref.

Lew Polley:

He's a grappler so he could have done it intentional. But its so quick I can't say for sure it was or not. Those are fouls, but I don't see it as the same as the stool incident. That was a game changer. Grabbing the gloves, that happens all the time. I mean it shouldn't happen, and it's a foul, but at the same time you know it's going to happen in a fight. So unless it's obvious, they're going to let it go.

Josh Burkman:

It's pretty common. if you watch my fight with Steve Carl, you can see he gets his fingers in my glove. I didn't even notice it in my fight. it might be so common that I might have brushed it off.

You also often see guys get their gloves caught with other guys gloves. If they continue to hold then you know it's intentional, but usually they let go as soon as they can get their finger free.

This one was real quick so I can see why the referee missed it. It's not one you would expect them to catch.

Javier Mendez:

I can't tell you that was right either, because that resulted in what happened. But was it intentional or unintentional? Did the ref see it or not see it? Whether it was intentional or not I don't know. You can't blame McCarthy for missing that. McCarthy is one of the best, if not the best, but he's not perfect, and something like that is going to be missed by a lot of referees. People didn't even notice until it was played back in slow-mo.

Conor Heun:

I didn't see it during the fight, it went so quick.  Hard to know if it was intentional. Might have been, but he went for the wrist so he just as easily could have been just fighting to keep control of [Romero's] arm. It's a foul, but I don't know how you expect that to be called. It's like fence grabs. People grab the fence all the time, often without trying. They happen, it's only when you see the real obvious case of someone holding the fence for an advantage that it's called. The same with grabbing the glove. Even then Ryan Schulz did it against Chris Horodecki in the IFL and they didn't call it. And that was much, much worse, so it's not surprising this wasn't called.

Yeah, I'm sure some fans think the glove grab is as bad as the extra time. I don't agree, but hey, everyone has an opinion I guess.

Robert Hinds:

Reaching inside of the glove is a foul. John McCarthy just happened to be on the other side when that happened while there also happened to be a flurry of punches going on. I know they slow it down and it looks so obvious, but really something like that, that happens in a split second, is easy to miss. That's something I don't think everyone takes into account, the speed at which these things happen.

Yes, the glove grab is unfortunate and shouldn't happen but it pales in comparison to giving your opponent extra time.

I think if Stoolgate was not such a big deal, people may or may not have brought it up. That being said, it is a foul, and fouls should be called, but it's understandable how John missed it.

What should happen next? Should the NAC investigate? Should the fight be overturned?

Cesar Gracie:

A petition to have the fight declared a no contest would most likely be unsuccessful because (correctly or not) it was the referee that allowed the delay and this remedy is not part of NAC's bylaws. Mr Kennedy's best recourse, in my opinion, would be to petition Zuffa for a rematch based on the unfairness of the situation.

Lew Polley:

I thought Romero should have been disqualified. Fans don't understand how big a deal just a few seconds is. How many times has a fighter been knocked out and then wakes up as soon as he hits the ground? A few seconds matter in those situations so you can't let corners get away with delaying tactics because those are game changers. This is a situation where I think they have to send a message.

So when it happened I thought Kennedy should have been declared the winner. Now after the fact it should be a no contest.

Josh Burkman:

I personally think it should be a no contest. I think it was a big enough incident to cost Tim Kennedy that fight. I mean who knows what would have happened if they did it right, but he needs to be off that stool. And I think the reason it should be a no contest too is to bring light to that situation. Because now, who's to say other cornermen don't see that and do the same thing.

Javier Mendez:

I think they should change the outcome to a win for Kennedy.

Conor Heun:

It's "dirty," but it's not "dirtiest trick in the book?" I think loading your gloves is much dirtier.

I think the referee should have been asking [Romero] can he stand and if he wants to fight right away? And if he wasn't able to he should have awarded the fight to Kennedy.

We'll never know what would have happened now if they didn't give him that extra time. Maybe [Romero] still wins. Maybe Romero can't fight without the extra time and its ruled a KO. Maybe Kennedy is more focused without all this stuff going on - because something like that can easily get in your head and screw with it. So maybe he's more focused and Romero is still wobbly and Kennedy finishes him? We'll never know.

Overturning it and giving Kennedy the win might be too much, because really it was the official's job to step in and they kind of screwed that up. But I think they should rule it a no contest. I think that would be the best result, to preserve his record because really what happened shouldn't have happened.

Robert Hinds:

There should be something done. Changing the outcome of the bout is always a sketchy event. First we would have to determine if it was an intentional foul or not. It would have to be a no contest if it was ruled unintentional and a disqualification if was ruled it was intentional. And that might be very hard to determine either. If you had the corner on video or the audio of them saying they were cheating that would make it easier for the commission. Even then changing the outcome is a slippery slope, so it's unlikely.

A more likely solution, if Romero's corner is proven to have cheated, is suspending their licenses. A suspension is honored by all state and tribal commissions so that would send a clear message. If they cheated or not, no matter what though it should be looked at by the commission.

In situations like this, I believe there should be accountability. The fact that they are not addressing it is the issue. Even if they said "We're going to take a look at this. We're going to get a bunch of experts to look at this and come up with solutions, to make sure it doesn't happen again" would be a good step. The fact that they're saying that nothing is probably going to happen is what makes people worried that they're giving the green light to others to do this.

For the athletic commission to dismiss it before they give a solid review to the footage, that's really a disservice to the athletes, the trainers, and even the promotion.

And that ends our discussion. A big thanks to our panelists.