Ever wonder what an athletic commission considers a conflict of interest?
It’s a question running amok in my brain as I type and mull over last weekend’s featherweight bout between Clay Guida and Hatsu Hioki.
Guida took home a split decision nod over Hioki after three tough rounds.
The bout was certainly a closely contested match. But by the 10-point must system in which the UFC abides, it’s relatively easy to understand how Clay Guida exited the cage victorious, despite being out-struck by a tally of 74-40 (according to Fightmetric) and having half of his takedown attempts thwarted.
Clay obtained and secured top position for extended stretches of the fight, and regardless of how active a fighter is or isn’t from his back, the common misconception among uninformed judges is that the man on top is winning the fight by default.
Fair enough, I’m not outraged by the outcome, despite having scored the fight in Hioki’s favor by one point. I can understand why Guida was afforded the win, whether I agree with it or not, and I’m not out to slight Guida or his in-cage efforts.
However, one must wonder: at what point does an athletic commission, or those assigned the task of overseeing a MMA event, examine the deeper relationships between appointed judges and the fighters whose fights they score?
Both Gabriel Sabaitis (the judge who scored the bout a clean sweep, 30-27 in Guida’s favor) and Clay Guida are Illinois representatives. Fair enough, UFC on FOX 6 was hosted by the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. It’s not baffling to know that the Chicago Sports Commission would employ the services of a local judge.
But the relationship between Guida and Sabaitis stretches a bit more. See, Sabaitis and Guida are also “Facebook friends.” Big deal, you ask? Maybe, maybe not.
From a neutral stance, it seems a bit questionable that a man assigned the task of judging two fights on one card would just so happen to draw a bout featuring a hometown favorite. It also seems a bit questionable that no one would question the depth of Sabaitis and Guida’s relationship, given their online status as acquaintances.
Does Gabriel really know Clay? It’s tough to say. For all we know, the two may have never shared any communication other than a “friend accept” in the vast expanse of the interwebs. But if a commission aims to ensure fair judging, it seems as though a hint of research might ensue prior to assigning judges specific tasks.
Questionable situations such as the one we currently eye could easily be avoided with a few Google searches.
Standing here, on the outside looking in, I'm forced to admit that appointing Gabriel Sabaitis as one of three judges set to score Clay Guida’s fight looks a little suspect. Sabaitis’ questionable scoring (again, a reminder that Gabriel was the only judge who seemed to feel Hatsu Hioki didn’t do enough to secure a single round) only raises further question marks and eyebrows.
Did Gabriel give Hatsu a fair shake? Furthermore, did the commission afford Hatsu a fair shake?
I’m not here to accuse anyone of misconduct. Don’t misconstrue this piece. This is about raising awareness in regards to the judging system (and not just in Chicago) worldwide. Fighters invest every ounce of their being in the sport, the preparation for competition, competition itself and every subplot of the assignment (i.e., press, travel, public appearances, etc.) in between. I think they certainly deserve to have an unbiased eye overseeing their work in the cage.
The question now becomes this: did Hatsu Hioki receive three pairs of unbiased eyes to judge his bout with Clay Guida, or only two?
For the record, all information revealed in this article, including the image, are publicly available. If you’ve got a Facebook page, you can view Gabriel’s page publicly, and you can view his friends as well. You’ll spot Clay in the lineup, and if he happens to disappear in the wake of this release, well, you’ve got an attached image that proves the two are FB buddies.
Follow me on Twitter. To my knowledge, neither Clay nor Hatsu and I are “friends.”