There is, however a simple solution: automatic point deductions. You poke your opponent in the eye, accidental or otherwise, you lose a point. Two eye pokes lead to a DQ. And warn a fighter who waves stray digits in front of their opponent’s face. Second instance is a point.
Harsh? Yes! Impractical? You bet! But hell if it doesn't provide an incentive for fighters to close their damn fists.
When fighters like Michael Bisping cause an eye poke, there's rarely any justice for the injured opponent.
Several fights in the UFC have been ruined by eye pokes, so it's good to hear that the promotion will change the gloves.
But as practical as changing up the combat gear may be, that's only fixing part of the problem.
For one thing, fighters have to stop cheating.
Once you strip away all the excuses, there's no other way to describe how athletes like Josh Koscheck, Jake Shields, Phil Davis, Michael Bisping and Rashad Evans attempt to control the striking distance in their collective fights.
Are eye pokes in MMA intentional?
But regardless of intention, the habit is extremely pragmatic and low-risk to the offending fighter.
Not only does keeping your fingers extended in the stand-up help gauge distance, but the threat of an eye poke can ward off aggressive opponents from barreling in with a flurry of punches.
It's a grim practice, but it works.
More often than not, cheating and bending the rules simply works in the UFC, even at the top levels of the sport where the most scrutiny happens.
Cheating benefited Jose Aldo when he grabbed the Octagon fence to stop Chad Mendes' takedowns at UFC 142.
Cheating benefited light heavyweight champion Jon Jones—one of the dirtiest players in the game—when he dug his head into Shogun Rua's face and stuck his open hands over the former champion's eyes during their UFC 128 brawl.
Cheating benefited Bisping when he illegally kneed a downed Jorge Rivera at UFC 127 and baited him into continuing the match when he was clearly concussed.
And just like in most bouts, there was no penalty for any of these incidents.
Blame that on MMA referees, too. From state to state, commission to commission, many of in-cage officials are so inept that they'll dish out 15 warnings before issuing a single foul.
It's a common problem, as most MMA referees rarely deduct points for fouls of any kind.
Heck, except for rare cases involving veteran referees like Herb Dean and John McCarthy, most officials won't even bother telling fighters to keep their fingers closed, only reacting when an eye poke happens.
Adjusting the gloves, which some fighters like Cub Swanson equate to "crap" (via Bloody Elbow), might fix a few problems, but not all of them.
There can't be any excuse for this ignorance any longer—not in this MMA era.
Referees need to start docking points, start disqualifying rule-breakers, and start protecting the fighters.
It ultimately doesn't matter if there's any intent or malice in the motive—fighters who win fights and cause no-contest results with eye pokes are breaking the rules, and they'll continue to do so as long as they're allowed.