Yahoo! Sports Opinion: Why Dana White Pulling a Judge Should Be Cause for Concern

August 25, 2014
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The following article was written by Kevin Iole and was originally published by official content partner Yahoo! Sports in its Cagewriter blog.

Dana WhiteMixed martial arts fans collectively cheered on Saturday when UFC president Dana White yanked Howard Hughes as a judge after he was unhappy with Hughes’ work in the first two bouts at a fight card Saturday in Macau, China.

SEE ALSO: UFC Removed One of the Judges at UFC Fight Night 48 in Macao

This, though, was a decision that should have been booed, and loudly, even if one believes that Hughes clearly blew both of the first two bouts.

The UFC self regulates in jurisdictions that have no athletic commission or governing body, such as Macau. In those cases, the UFC generally appoints Marc Ratner, its vice president for regulatory affairs and, notably, the highly respected former executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission, to run such shows.

Ratner runs those shows under Nevada rules, and he appoints the judges, the referees and runs the drug testing.

But Ratner wasn’t in Macau on Saturday. Instead, he attended the card in Oklahoma later that night, though he did appoint the judges and referees for the Macau show.

Though we’ll never know, I’m certain that if Ratner had been there, Hughes never would have been yanked. White would have been just as angry with Ratner sitting there, but he’d have expressed his anger to Ratner instead of taking matters into his own hands.

Knowing Ratner, who is one of the most calm and laid back men you’re likely to meet, he would have convinced White to settle down and wouldn’t have pulled Hughes.

Whether Hughes is or isn’t a good judge isn’t the question, though Ratner felt he was good enough to be assigned to the show.

And it does not matter whether Hughes’ scoring was correct, even though he had the same winner in the opener as White did.

Hughes worked the first two bouts of the night in Macau, a women’s bantamweight bout that Milana Dudieva won by split decision over Elizabeth Phillips and a men’s bantamweight bout in which Royston Wee took a split decision from Yao Zhikui.

Hughes was in the majority in all six rounds he worked. In the Dudieva-Phillips fight, all three judges gave Dudieva the first round. In the second, Hughes and Gareth Harriman scored it for Phillips while Anthony Dimitriou had it for Dudieva. And in the third, Hughes and Dimitriou had it for Dudieva and Harriman scored it for Phillips.

In the Wee-Zhikui fight, Hughes and Paul Sutherland each scored the first two rounds for Wee, while all three judges scored the third round for Zhikui.

Hughes’ night ended after the Wee-Zhikui fight when White overstepped his bounds and yanked him.

A promoter should never cross that line and interfere with the officiating in an event.

It’s particularly sensitive for the UFC in many of its international venues, where there aren’t regulatory bodies overseeing them.

In the early years of Zuffa’s ownership of the UFC, the company refused to put on events in states that did not have athletic commissions. It hired Ratner away from the Nevada commission in 2006 in part to expedite the process of getting it regulated in all states.

Ratner did yeoman’s work and now, 49 of the 50 states regulate MMA. New York, bizarrely, is the only one that does not and that is a political situation, not an athletic one.

But it’s not simple to get foreign countries to create commissions to oversee these events. Ratner has worked on that, but hasn’t had the kind of success he’s had in the U.S. Because Zuffa wanted to expand its product to all corners of the globe, it decided to self-regulate events outside of the U.S. where no commission exists.

The judges and referees in those cases are getting paid directly by the UFC.

MMA is an extremely young sport and the pool of qualified judges is exceptionally small. Most of the judges have been involved in the sport one way or another for years and love it dearly and want to see it succeed. And so, they’ve agreed to work international shows for the UFC even though they’re getting paid directly by the promoter they’re officiating.

Imagine the outcry if Pete Carroll had the right to pick the referees who worked Seahawks’ games.

Yet, that’s what is happening here and there’s never been much of a furor raised.

All involved have accepted with the acknowledgement that though it’s not ideal, it’s the only way to expand the sport. Ratner’s integrity and professionalism is part of the reason there hasn’t previously been an outcry, though there are sure to be many concerns voiced now that White has injected himself into it.

White has to be cognizant of the situation and can’t appear to be trying in any way to intimidate or influence the judges’ work.

His voice at news conferences is powerful enough. White’s public anger following UFC 167 last year, following a series of incidents he was unhappy with, led to many changes within the Nevada Athletic Commission.

Referee John McCarthy is going to be licensed soon by the Nevada Athletic Commission, largely in response to White’s complaints about the quality of the officiating. Referee Steve Mazzagatti, whom White feels is subpar, has unsurprisingly not worked a UFC show in Nevada this year, after being a staple for years. That’s no coincidence.

White clearly wields a great deal of power. Two prominent regulators in the U.S. were asked to comment about White’s removal of Hughes on Saturday; both declined. It is a nod to the clout that White carries.

After having yanked Hughes, other judges and referees are likely to consider whether they want to work future cards and risk getting pulled mid-show by White.

Judges and referees need to be accountable and should lose plum assignments if their work isn’t up to snuff. There is no debate about that.

It’s just that White, or any promoter, shouldn’t be the one making that determination.

And so, as long as the UFC self regulates, White needs to resist the urge to intervene.

He’d face some sort of penalty were he to have so much as tried that in the U.S. in which a strong commission, such as those in New Jersey, California and Nevada, was in charge.

Given that no one had jurisdiction of the Macau show, White will skate.

But he needs to know that what he did was wrong, and shouldn’t be done again.

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  • dave

    kevin, you write some pretty stupid articles, but this one is the worst. your examples are terrible- pete caroll has a direct interest in the seahawks winning- Dana cares only that the right winner is announced- I don’t always agree with white.. but.. i agree with him on this- I might become a judge – I’m qualified- I’ve watched mma at least once…

  • Darin

    “Imagine the outcry if Pete Carroll had the right to pick the referees who worked Seahawks’ games.
    Yet, that’s what is happening here.”

    I stopped reading after this. Dana White is not coaching the fighters that were fighting that night, or any fighters at all for that matter. It’s an asinine analogy.

    But I don’t understand why Dana pulled him if another judge was scoring rounds the same as him. It isn’t as if his scores were way off what the other 2 were scoring. Maybe he just doesn’t like Howard Hughes because he’s an obsessive compulsive control freak billionaire aviator.

  • PrideMMA

    I don’t get why people are complaining about this. People always complain about bad judging and criticize the UFC even though it’s the athletic commission that picks judges. The UFC got a chance to kick a bad judge out and did it. Now people are saying bad things about that. Bottom line is people will complain about anything.

  • Timothy Malone

    Whether it was the right call to pull Hughes or not, I’m just glad someone is doing something. The athletic commissions have shown they generally just don’t care. Pulling judges for subjective opinions mid-card might be a little strong, but at the least I feel either afterwards they should have to explain a close decision or even each round should have the criteria marked on the scorecard (i.e. fighter A won grappling and octagon control, fighter b won striking and aggression, but A wins round overall)

  • drkdisciple

    Most of the mma stuff on yahoo appears to be written by clueless reporters.

  • Seth

    I guess writer has no problem with bad reffing or bad judgng. Mazzagati’s fan maybe?

    Point is – we HAVE to do something about bad scoring/reffing – and SACs showed already a million times that they do not care. They get there money anyway, so why would they? I didn’t really like Lesnar, but he did a good thing saying he doesn’t want Mazzagati to ref his fights anymore. I wish more fighters would do that, so maybe SACs would finally realize that he sucks and should be banned for life. He makes 1 good call for each 100 bad. That’s not a guy you want to ref a fight where two guys are trying to knock the f out of each other, trying to break each other’s arms and stuff like that. So if SACs don’t want to fix that problem, someone has to do that for them. There wouldn’t be a problem, if SACs would be reasonable and doing there job to PROTECT the fighters.

  • Tom Byerly

    Quote, “Imagine the outcry if Pete Carroll had the right to pick the referees who worked Seahawks’ games. Yet, that’s what is happening here and there’s never been much of a furor raised.”
    WRONG! Carroll is the coach of one of the game’s participants. A coach from one of the fighters did not pull the ref.
    While he may be the defacto Promoter of the UFC, White’s title is President….similar to the Commissioner of the NFL. The correct analogy would have been to state, “Imagine if Roger Goodell had the right to pick referees….” Doesn’t quite sound so outrageous now, does it?

    • KDP

      totally agree. however the analogy of the commissioner is not exactly correct because White is an owner with financial interest in the UFC even though he doesn’t support a team or individual. You could argue that having a fight go one way or another by eliminating a judge could be financially beneficial for the UFC.

      • Mike mckinney

        I pretty much agree with you. The analogy does fit a bit more though. Goodell is hired by the owners, and paid bonuses by them. Because of revenue sharing it can also be said that the nfl can want certain teams to win over others. In fact the nfl has been accused of creating rules to help certain teams win. Ask the 2000’s ravens, or the 80’s and 90’s raiders.