by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
At Pride’s Shockwave 2005 show this past New Year’s Eve in Japan there was an occurrence that while possibly unnoticeable to many, could have shifted the tide in one of the most important matches of the evening.

The moment was late into the third round of the Middleweight Championship match between challenger Ricardo Arona and incumbent Wanderlei Silva. During an exchange on the ground it appeared as if Arona was working hard and getting the better of Silva when the two were separated and stood back up.

This moment allowed Silva to get out of a bad position in which he was clearly getting the losing end of and it allowed him to go back to his feet and work his way into dominant position and land damage on Arona as the fight came to a close. So why where they separated when Arona was clearly working his advantage? The answer is the yellow card.

Under Pride rules, if a fighter is not working and by definition “stalling” the action, then he is issued a yellow card which signifies a warning from the referee that he is to begin working and that his pay has been docked by ten percent. A yellow card can be issued to an individual, as in the case of Silva, or both individuals if no one is working to better their position to induce action.

The yellow card has no impact on the judges’ scoring; it is merely a warning, yet it could have influenced this fight. Because Silva was allowed to get up off his back, the momentum that Arona had achieved was halted, and the work he was doing ended. Arona was working; he was pressing the action and scoring damage on Silva, yet was removed because of Silva’s inactivity.

This begs the question, should Pride’s rules regarding yellow cards be changed? If Silva had not been allowed to get back up, and remained on the ground with Arona raining down punches, it’s possible the two judges who ruled in Wanderlei’s favor could have given the bout to Arona.

In a fight that’s judged on its entirety, not per round, it’s very possible to be easily swayed by late action. Usually whoever finishes the strongest is declared the victor, even if their opponent may have done more damage throughout the duration of the fight. Had Arona been allowed to continue to work his advantage, it’s possible he may have gotten that all important late influence that can determine the outcome of a fight.

Rather than the two fighters being stood up, thus giving the advantage to the fighter that was stalling when one wasn’t, it’s possible fighters should be placed back in the position they were in before the card was issued. This could allow the fighter who was working to continue his work. If that happens, the fighter who wasn’t administering damage must then work his way out of trouble instead of being given a free pass.

There is some precedent to rules changes such as what may need to be done to Pride’s yellow card rule. Back in 2003 the UFC was in a similar situation due to what happened in a bout at UFC 42 between Duane “Bang” Ludwig and Genki Sudo.

During the fight Sudo had Ludwig in a lot of trouble on the ground. Genki was in Ludwig’s guard and was administering a viscous assault and bloodying Ludwig’s face when the referee stepped in and stopped the action to check the cut with the doctor. The doctor said Ludwig could continue, but due to the rule, the fighters were placed in the standing position, not back in the position they were before the stoppage.

A brief time later Ludwig was able to use this to his advantage as Sudo ended up on his back with Duane landing punches from the standing position. The ensuing display from Ludwig clearly influenced judges in the closing minutes of a round that for the most part Ludwig was losing before he closed out the round standing over Sudo encouraging the crowd and landing shots.

In the week after the bout, the UFC clearly recognized a problem with their rule and changed it. They issued that fighters must be placed back in the position they were before the action was stopped, thus allowing the dominating fighter to continue to work his advantage.

Pride’s rule is a good rule when both fighters are stalling and the action needs to be restarted. But when one fighter has an advantage and that advantage is removed from him because the other fighter is not working, that’s a problem. Pride may want to refine this rule in the future so such problems cannot reoccur.

It is not known that if Arona had been allowed to continue work that the fight’s outcome may be different. What is for sure, is that when it comes to matches, especially important championship matches, it’s better to have no controversy rather than some controversy.

Surely Ricardo Arona and Wanderlei Silva would like to know that their fight was truly settled through a test of skill, not a rule that may have ultimately influenced the outcome of one of the most important matches of the year.