UFC 159 concluded in a way that many people predicted. Once the dust settled and Jon Jones’ toe was reattached, the biggest debate became rules pertaining to eye pokes.

The fights in New Jersey were tarnished with strange moments, including a fighter calling timeout because his tape was coming unraveled. Somehow, the night took me back to the feeling I had when the replacement referees were officiating the first part of the 2012 NFL season. There was a consistent feeling that things were going to spiral out of control and to a certain extent they did.

Referee Kevin Mulhall was at the center of one of the most controversial moments of the odd evening. During the third round of the bout between light heavyweights Gian Villante and Ovince St. Preux, Mulhall made one of the most knee-jerk decisions ever seen inside the Octagon, but it appears he was going by the rules in the state of New Jersey. During an exchange of punches, OSP’s finger strayed into Villante’s eye. Villante reacted at anyone would under the circumstances, cringing in pain as he tried to recover. When Mulhall asked Villante if he could see following being poked in the eye, Villante said “no.” And Mulhall immediately waved the fight off, ending it at 33 seconds of the final stanza (OSP would take the win via a technical decision).

There aren’t very many people who would be able to see immediately after being poked in the eye. Heck, most of us fall apart if an eyelash gets into our eye. If given the opportunity to take a minute and blink a bit, however, chances are your vision will come back and you could then continue the fight. Villante wasn’t afforded this opportunity when the fight was stopped without hesitation by Mulhall.

There are a couple of things I absolutely hated about the way the rules were implemented at UFC 159. For starters, as mentioned, the fighter wasn’t given a few minutes to see if his vision would clear up. Second, why should a fight go to the scorecards in the event of an eye poke? If a fighter is the recipient of an illegal blow to the eye, accidental or not, the one who committed the violation should be disqualified, just as one is disqualified for illegal elbows, a kick to a downed opponent or punches to the back of the head. What’s to stop a fighter from being ahead in a fight and purposely poking his opponent in the eye because he feels the momentum of the fight is shifting? If he does it while ahead in the fight, it’ll go to the scorecards and he or she walks away with a win. Who knows, maybe it was done on Saturday night. Surely it’s been done in the past.

I’m not quite ready to jump on the Joe Rogan bandwagon and demand a change in equipment. Although there are training gloves that provide protection from fingers, I think there should first be an implementation of some sort of consequence for poking your opponent in the eye.

Would it be too much for the UFC to track eye pokes in the same way the NBA tracks technical fouls and then fine the athlete for hitting a benchmark of violations? For example, if Michael Bisping has three eye pokes in one calendar year, he would be fined $50,000 on the third infraction.

Something even more realistic would be for an immediate deduction of a point (assuming the poke doesn’t prevent the opponent from continuing). Instant replay would need to be used to verify the eye poke did happen. Should the opponent not be able to continue (after being given five minutes to recover), the fight should be ruled a no-contest.

Of course these suggestions may require some tweaks prior to implementation, but a competition committee of sorts within the UFC can fine tune a plan that addresses this issue and maintains the integrity of the sport moving into the future.

Photo: Gian Villante pleads to continue after suffering an eye poke (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Joe Chacon
Staff Writer

Joe Chacon is a Southern California writer that has also spent time as a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, as well as a Staff Writer for Operation Sports. Joe has a passion for the sport of MMA, as well as most other sports.