The Blind Leading the Blind: Eye Pokes in MMA

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The Blind Leading the Blind: Eye Pokes in MMA
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Bisping clearly throwing strikes with extended fingers

On Saturday night in Newark, N.J. British fighter, Michael Bisping won a technical decision against Alan Belcher. The contest went to the cards when in the third round  "The Count" struck Belcher in the eye. The fight was anti-climatic and showed, once again, that Bisping never lives up to his first round knockout promises. It also showed, once again, that eye-poking is out of control.

The strategy of ignoring the issue has proven ineffectual. The fact that referees almost never take  a point for it and issue an infinite amount of warnings shows how little is being done to curtail this epidemic.

The Unified Rules of MMA rules clearly state that when a fighter commits a foul that renders their opponent unable to continue, they lose via disqualification. Here is the rule as posted on the UFC website:

"If an injury sustained during competition as a result of an intentional foul, as determined by the referee, is severe enough to terminate a bout, the contestant causing the injury loses by disqualification."

There are numerous fighters who consistently strike with an open hand. Josh Koscheck is an excellent example of that. At what point can we say this is no longer an accident? Bisping threw a left hook and then released his index finger as his fist reached Belcher's face and as a result it extended into the eye. 

The Zombie Prophet provided another one of his excellent gifs.

Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

I do not know that Bisping intentionally poked Belcher in the eye. I do believe that he is responsible for his own fingers. I also believe that he knew very well that throwing punches with his outstretched fingers could potentially injure his opponent's eye. Fighters are taught to punch through their target. It is technically unsound to stretch out the finger as the hand reaches the face. It should be ruled as an intentional foul as he is accountable for his own fingers.

This is the definition of an accident, from the Oxford Dictionaries:

Noun

1.  An unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.

It is most obviously expected that one would be struck by a finger to the eye when it is thrown at someone's face. However, not only are points not being deducted, but these fouls are being classified as accidental. In some cases, they are not even being called. Kevin Burns infamously defeated Anthony Johnson in such a manner.  

Often fighters say they are OK to continue and compete with a disadvantage for the remainder of the contest. Again, benefiting the one breaking the rules.

GSP had to defend his title with one eye after Jake Shields eye-poked him in a horrifically blatant eye strike. The interpretation of the rules by referees is definitely favoring those who  break the rules.

If an injury sustained during competition as a result of an accidental foul, as determined by the referee, is severe enough for the referee to stop the bout immediately, the bout shall result in a technical decision awarded to the contestant who is ahead on the score cards at the time the bout is stopped only when the bout is stopped after two rounds of a three round bout, or three rounds of a five round bout have been completed.

Bisping, in all probability, would have won the fight regardless of the bout going to the cards for a Technical Decision but it does not make it right. It also does not do anything to help Alan Belcher who had just returned to MMA after retina surgery to repair his eye.

These are intentional strikes. Nobody is slipping on banana peels and having their fingers randomly end up in someone's eyes. These are the best martial artists on the planet. They are jabbing their fingers at their opponent's face against all coaching and they are benefiting from it.

People have suggested modifications to the gloves. This is logical but they must not be designed to hinder the grappler who depends on using their fingers for grips. Some have suggested soft-shelled goggles. I believe that referees deducting points and issuing disqualifications are the place to start.

It would also seem prudent for the UFC and other organizations to impose penalties on fighters who eye-poke. Suspensions and banning for repeat offenders would be logical steps to protect fighters and promote safety. Referees need to begin deducting points consistently and early in the fight and rule the pokes as intentional. Until then, the advantage shall remain with the eye-pokers.

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