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Editorial: Admitted cheater Tim Elliott is daring refs to call more fouls

Tim Elliott admitted cheating at UFC 272. Is it the just the jab refs need to take fouls more seriously?

Tim Elliott admitted he cheated at UFC 272
Tim Elliott admitted he cheated at UFC 272
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

In any given MMA event, odds are good that there will be several bouts where a fighter breaks the rules. The fouls might from anything as small as a 12-6 elbow or a cage grab, all the way to an eye poke or a kick in the groin. For their actions the referee might stop a fight and warn the offending fighter, but chances are good that they won’t even go that far. As often as not, officials will simply issue a verbal warning during the course of the action. The fighter willing to take advantage of that reality will find themselves with plenty of chances to tip the scales in their favor.

Enter, then, Tim Elliott—who more or less said, “hell yes, I cheated” at UFC 272. And although nothing may come of his admission, it might be time for MMA referees to get a little more aggressive with enforcing the rules.

At this point in MMA’s decades-long history professional fighters know what is and isn’t a foul (or at least they really should). They also know referees don’t want to be seen as influencing the outcome of a fight. That’s why it’s rare for a fighter to get a point deducted even if they break multiple rules over the course of a single contest. It’s not unheard of to have a fighter get warned for a groin strike, an eye poke and another foul or two during their bout and suffer nothing more than a talking to—or at worst, the dreaded and feared strong verbal warning.

Even when referees are willing to take direct action, it’s not at all uncommon for them to stop bouts because of an eye poke or a groin strike and go on to inform both the victim and the offender they know the foul was an unintended accident. But unless they’re a mind reader, that can only ever be trusting speculation.

For his part, Elliott very clearly cheated at UFC 272. During the second round of his bout opposite Tagir Ulanbekov, he hooked his opponent’s glove and landed strikes while the Dagestani fighter struggled to free himself from Elliott’s grip.

Ulanbekov’s coach, former UFC lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, was incensed by the foul. Replays showed Nurmagomedov standing, screaming at the referee and slamming his hand on the canvas while Elliott committed the foul. Unfortunately for them, referee Chris Tognoni simply let the bout continue, offering a verbal warning during the action.

The UFC’s cameras caught a second glove grab during the round, which Tognoni appeard to miss—and which resulted in an elbow strike from Elliott. The 35-year-old from Wichita, KS walked away from the bout with his hand raised in victory. He never tried to pretend the fouls were accidental.

“If you’ve ever been in a fight — and maybe I’m different — I’m trying to win, man. It’s the referee’s job to step in there if I’m doing something wrong,” Elliott told MMA Fighting’s We Got Next podcast. “He was telling me all kinds of sh-t, he told me to let go of the glove and I let go of the glove. But for me, it’s not that big of a deal. I’m in there fist fighting. People are going on and on about the morality of the sport and the warrior spirit and all of that bullsh-t, but I don’t f-cking care. I’m not a martial artist—I’m a fighter and this is my job. I’m trying to make money at this job, and that’s what I did [at UFC 272].”

Later in the same interview, the Glory MMA & Fitness fighter seemed to put the onus on the UFC as well, saying the top brass of the promotion “don’t care” about the cheating.

“The bosses don’t care, Dana White doesn’t care, Mick Maynard—I’m good with all those guys. They had no problem cutting my checks, cheating or not cheating. I sleep fine at night and a lot more comfortably now that I have money in the bank.”

But did Elliott, for all his candidness, just spoil a good thing for his UFC cohorts? After all, the refs, officials and athletic commissions have all been happy to give fighters the benefit of the doubt on fouls for years. The end result is a fighter not only saying he cheated, but that cheating isn’t something the promotion is at all concerned about either. It’s a bold move; almost like Elliott is daring the referees and athletic commissions to take action.

Will there be repercussions for his actions? Will his words be just the nudge referees need to stop giving fighters the benefit of the doubt, and to start buckling down when the rules are broken? I for one, wouldn’t mind seeing it happen.