One of the fun aspects of an event like UFC 118 coming to Boston is that there's no shortage of MMA-related gatherings and get-togethers organized all over the place.
Thursday night, ActionFight put on their first MMA Symposium, an event that featured key industry players talking about judging, regulation, and the industry as a whole.
The panelists included UFC VP of Regulatory Affairs Marc Ratner, UFC Canada Director of Operations Tom Wright, Massachusetts Athletic Commission Chair LaTeisha Adams, judge Sal D'Amato, and WEC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson.
Ratner kicked it off by taking about the current climate of regulation, explaining the differences between North America and Europe where the UFC has to "self-regulate" by doing drug testing and bringing in refs and judges.
He cautioned against the unsanctioned events that still take place in unregulated areas, noting that they're a danger to everyone. Even if they're not branded as UFC, people will still associate the name with an incident if something bad occurs.
He added they've been talking to officials in Italy, have plans to open an office in China, and expect to run Brazil and Mexico in the next few years. He said the UFC is thrilled with the coverage they've received in Boston—especially by the Globe and Herald newspapers—and hopes the organization returns every 12-15 months.
The Wright Stuff
This was my first opportunity to see Wright in person. He was very well-spoken, eloquent on the business, and much more mild-mannered than Dana White.
He talked about how the Canadian media was instrumental in pushing the sport to legalization in Ontario and that while most US-based businesses would be happy to have 8-10% of their business come from Canada, the UFC has nearly 20%.
A key quote from Wright was that while sports like hockey, football, and cricket have difficulties translating into different countries, "there's something universal about fighting."
D'Amato spoke at length about various judging issues today, including the use of monitors, what backgrounds judges should have, and how he judges a fight.
"People always say that I look so intense when watching a fight. I tell them I'm judging a fight, not watching," D'Amato—a practitioner of kickboxing, jiu-jitsu, and more—explained.
He also said that he doesn't like 10-10 rounds, but does like the proposed half-point system as he feels the scores would then "reflect more accurately" for razor thin rounds when one fighter does just enough to win.
When discussing video, D'Amato said he's never used it but worries about missing something if he were to move his eyes from the action to the monitors and back again to the action.
Henderson said he likes the current system of judging and added that it gives fans another topic to discuss, much like the controversies with college football's polling system. He would like to see some sort of final minute replay where, in the case of a foul, a referee could review footage that might reverse an errant decision.
Henderson did pose a question about what weight an elbow strike might have vs. a leg strike and the definition of being "active."
Some other key quotes:
- When discussing the role of commentators and their effect on viewer perception, Ratner said, "Watch the fights, but if you want to judge the fights, turn the sound off."
- On potential threats to the UFC/MMA business, Wright said he sees a "chasm" between those that are knowledgeable about the sport and those that are not. He hopes that at the end of the day, people are able to make an "informed decision" even if they choose not to watch.
- Ratner said he went to Fenway Park Wednesday for the Red Sox game and didn't see any UFC/Tapout shirts anywhere, noting there's "still a long way" to be fully mainstream in those regards.
- Wright said a great indication of where the sport is when he sees UFC results on the sports ticker alongside the NFL and NHL.
In all, it was a great night with lots of informative information with great Q & A from the audience.
For more of my coverage on UFC 118 in Boston - including my chat with Henderson, visit my profile.
Josh Nason is a New England-based freelance MMA journalist that is covering UFC 118 for Bleacher Report all week long in Boston- including live blogging the event itself live. Follow him on Twitter, will ya?