UFC 127 Illegal Knee Controversy: Why the Rules of MMA Support Michael Bisping

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UFC 127 Illegal Knee Controversy: Why the Rules of MMA Support Michael Bisping
Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Michael Bisping did hit his opponent with an illegal blow, but the rules don't suggest a need for any further punishment

Much controversy has arisen over Michael Bisping's unsportsmanlike conduct at his fight with Jorge Rivera at UFC 127. Rivera's camp has now called for disciplinary action against Bisping for an illegal knee in the first round and unsportsmanlike conduct after the bout. One thing is clear, however—in regards to the illegal strike, the rules are in favor of Michael Bisping.

First, let’s get the extraneous information out of the way: the act of spitting on the member of Rivera’s corner is unacceptable. Bisping should apologize for the act rather than trying to pretend like it didn’t happen; the evidence seems to show he did do it.

Rivera’s corner is justified in pursuing disciplinary action for this unsportsmanlike behavior, and the UFC can decide how it wants to punish Bisping.

Also, the fact that Rivera made several videos ridiculing Bisping is irrelevant. Fighters will do whatever they think necessary to hype up their fights, and the UFC trying to put kid-gloves on everyone would be ridiculous.

One would hope that if mixed martial arts is to become accepted as a mainstream professional sport, then the fighters will act like professionals themselves; if Bisping believes Rivera wasn’t doing so before the match, then he certainly didn’t either with his conduct during and after the fight.

But to get to the heart of the matter, Bisping should definitely not receive disciplinary action for the illegal knee, and any pleas by Rivera’s camp to the contrary make him look at best a sore loser and at worst a fool.  

It is true that a fighter may be disqualified for any intentional foul. Generally, however, this is not done unless the foul is so bad that one fighter cannot continue. In order to determine this, the referee asks the victim of the foul a question: “Can you continue?”

What is meant by the question is: can you continue to compete? That is to ask if the fighter is still competitive. This by nature means asking if the fighter can still win the match. If the fighter could no longer win, it would be pointless to go on.

So essentially, Jorge Rivera told the referee that despite the illegal knee he was still able to win the fight. At that point, he forfeits any moral standing that he has to complain about the outcome. He got knocked out in the next round, and now wants to go back to the knee. It’s too late.

The words of Rivera’s own management are illuminating. “The rules that govern the sport are in place to protect the health and well being of the fighters,” they said in an official statement. That is correct and that is why fighters are asked if they can continue fighting.

The statement implies that Rivera lost because of the strike. “Jorge Rivera could have decided to not continue fighting and walked away with the win because he was clearly dazed and not himself,” one passage states. Yes, he certainly could have.

Either Rivera could continue and the strike wasn’t really as bad as they are claiming, or he himself doesn’t care about the fact that the rules are in place to protect his health because he didn’t bother to apply them properly for his own welfare. His management accuses Bisping of being unprofessional and continuing when you can’t win would be the same.

Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Jorge Rivera let the doctor and referee know he could still compete despite the illegal knee

Yet, should Bisping really go unpunished for the move even if it was either inconsequential, or Rivera was foolish to continue? As Rivera’s statement argues, “Bisping blatantly broke these rules, and there has to be accountability.”

Fortunately for Rivera, the rules provide for accountability, and Michael Bisping was punished for his action. The referee gave no warning as one would for unintentional fouls but immediately deducted a point.

A point deduction is a serious penalty. Either Bisping would draw a round he should have won or would fall behind a nearly insurmountable two points. If Rivera was still in a condition to continue as he claimed he was during the match, winning the fight was made a lot easier for him.

No further action needs to be taken in regards to the blow. A serious foul was committed and was immediately punished in line with the rules that govern MMA.

“… [Jorge Rivera] took the warrior’s path and fought on. Jorge is to be commended for his toughness and desire to give the fans the fight they paid to see,” says the statement released by Rivera’s management. Indeed, Rivera should be commended for his warrior spirit during the fight, but not if he is going to whine about it afterwards.

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