When two fighters step into the cage, it's one-on-one, mano-a-mano, and all that.
At this weekend's UFC 127 fight between BJ Penn and Jon Fitch, I can't help but feel that external factors, the fans and the referee specifically, may have a large role to play.
A few weeks ago we saw a whole plethora of atrocious referee interventions at the Strikeforce event in New Jersey. Most notably, Antonio Silva was given very little time to work when he had Emelianenko up against the fence before the crowd's boos got to the referee, causing him to separate the fighters.
Thankfully, Silva still managed to win and so a potential injustice was averted.
This weekend could feature a similar theme.
I can't see Jon Fitch wanting to stand toe-to-toe with Penn for any extended period of time in this fight.
If Fitch is going to have success against Penn, he's going to find it when he's on top of Penn, or when he's draining Penn's cardio in a clinch against the fence.
However, when he's in these positions, there is always a danger that the referee will feel that a standup or separation is warranted. This danger is compounded by the fact that newer UFC markets tend to have little patience when there is a lack of action.
I have a hard time imagining that there won't be some serious booing during the main event if Fitch has his way and starts grinding down on Penn.
If that happens, I also have a hard time imagining that the referee in charge will not be influenced. Not only is this something psychological, the consequences for not breaking up a boring fight are very real.
Fan boos mean that the UFC isn't happy. If the UFC isn't happy, then Dana White and UFC Vice President Mark Ratner aren't happy.
Ratner and White have some say over referee assignments when the UFC holds events outside of those sanctioned by powerful athletic commissions like in Nevada and California.
If a referee doesn't do what the UFC wants them to do, the UFC can choose not to bring that referee back for future UFC events.
In most cases, referees still do a good job of letting fighters decide fights, but in a high-stakes battle, like the one this weekend, it would be a tragedy if the crowd or the referee had some undue influence on the result.
What Jon Fitch does in the Octagon may be ugly to watch, but make no mistake, it's effective.
BJ Penn is dynamic enough that he might just be able to finish off Fitch in the first minute of the fight, but if the win is facilitated by a series of premature standups, we should all feel a bit bitter about such instances when MMA isn't truly "as real as it gets."
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