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Ontario commission reply Re: UFC 129 raises more questions than answers

About a week and a half ago, I wrote about the left eye injury that Georges St. Pierre sustained during his fight with Jake Shields in the main event of UFC 129, the first MMA event in Ontario, Canada. More specifically, I wrote about how something seemed off: GSP and his coach Greg Jackson loudly discussed that GSP had gone blind in his left eye when the camera was on them in the corner between rounds.  Surely they'd want to hide the injury from the commission and his opponent, right?  The commission finding out would result in a medical stoppage with Shields winning GSP's UFC Welterweight Title, as even if the injury was sustained during a foul (accidental or otherwise), no foul was called when he was hurt.  Shields and his corner finding out would give the challenger a huge opening, as he was now fighting something who had lost his depth perception and vision on his left side.  None of this happened.  Nobody stopped the fight or examined GSP's eye.  If Shields knew about the injury, he didn't try to take advantage of it and GSP still picked up an easy win.

I was puzzled.  As Matt Pitt of Sherdog noted, GSP outright said "I can't see...I can't see at all."  He went on to explain that if the doctor heard or was made aware of what was said, he or she would be duty bound to stop the fight because of the danger GSP was in:

A fighter with only one eye cannot see stereoscopically, cannot see in three dimensions. In a striking match, that is a crippling disability. Further, if a fighter has an injured eye, the ringside physician must assume the worst: that the damage is irreparable and the fighter has only one good eye left to live with. It would be unconscionable to leave an impaired fighter in the ring knowing that a blow to his now-lone good eye could leave him totally blind. In such a case, it is the ringside physician's responsibility to step in and protect the fighter not merely from his opponent, but from his own drive to fight on in the face of a potentially life-altering injury.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer and New Jersey State Athletic Control Board Counsel Nick Lembo told me that under their jurisdiction, the inspectors who monitor the corners would have to alert the doctor and/or referee if they heard a fighter say anything like what GSP said.  My next move was to contact the Ontario commission.  I emailed Ontario Athletics Commissioner Ken Hayashi and my message was forwarded to Richard Hustwick, the Senior Advisor and Media & Stakeholder Liaison for the Office of the Athletics Commissioner, who Hayashi had asked to respond by telling him "This one is for you."

He said that Ontario had inspectors in the corners, just like Nevada and New Jersey, and that "At no time during the bouts was a fighter not under the supervision of an OAC inspector."  In response to my question about how they developed whatever rules and regulations that aren't covered by the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, he said that "Ontario adopted the New Jersey State rules for MMA. Health and safety requirements under the Athletics Control Act, related to the licensing of events and fighters, previously applied to professional boxing and kickboxing in Ontario, now apply to professional MMA in this province."

I followed up by asking if the inspector in St. Pierre's corner heard his conversation with Jackson and if by some chance there was a difference in the role of the inspectors in Ontario.  Hustwick replied that "There is no difference between the role of a corner inspector in New Jersey, Nevada and Ontario. A corner inspector with the OAC is to bring any concerns he may have as a result of what is said or done by the fighter and his seconds to the attention of the appropriate official (i.e., referee, Athletics Commissioner, ringside doctor). In this case, no concerns were raised by the inspector presumably because nothing of concern was overheard by the inspector."  Well, that's a little strange.

My last email to Hustwick asked if the televised feed was monitored (and if an inspector could be assigned to do so in the future if it wasn't already the case), as well as where exactly the inspectors were positioned and if it was possible to place them in a location where perhaps they could better see and hear what was going on.  In this case, I'm going to post the full reply:

Good morning David,

Apologies for not getting back to you sooner. Was out of the office the last two days. As well, each time you ask a new question, the response has to go through a new round of approvals.

In regards to your latest question...

In order to ensure compliance with the rules between rounds, each OAC inspector stands as close as possible to the fighter in his / her corner without interfering with the seconds' interaction with the fighter. The inspector's responsibility at this time is to watch the fighter and his / her seconds to ensure rule compliance. As stated previously, the inspector is to alert the appropriate official to any concern he / she has with what he / she sees or hears involving the fighter and his / her seconds between rounds. As well, it is the responsibility of the fighter's chief second to bring any concern with the health of the fighter to the attention of the inspector or referee. No health concern was raised with the inspector or referee by GSP's chief second at his April 30th bout in Toronto.

Regardless of what a fighter tells his seconds between rounds, and regardless of what is or is not overheard by inspectors, the ultimate decision on whether a fighter needs medical attention and whether a fight is to continue rests with the referee and ringside doctor. In the case involving GSP and Jake Shields at UFC 129, the referee and doctor could see that GSP suffered an eye injury without having to be advised by an inspector that GSP told his corners that he suffered an eye injury. In this case, the referee and doctor concluded that GSP could defend himself and that the fight could continue.

We are not aware of any other Athletics Commission monitoring TV broadcasts of its events, and, with OAC-appointed referees, inspectors and judges in the cage and at cage-side, there is no plan for the OAC to monitor TV broadcasts of OAC-regulated events. Ontario's Athletics Commissioner is satisfied with how OAC inspectors performed during UFC 129. There is no plan to change the way OAC inspectors carry out their duties.



After reading that, I had a feeling from the tone of the message that no further replies would be productive.

Georges St. Pierre and Greg Jackson heard each other just fine.  The microphone on the camera (whose operator also "stands as close as possible to the fighter in his / her corner without interfering with the seconds' interaction with the fighter") picked up their conversation just fine, so we all heard it watching at home, as did any fans in the arena who rented one of the radios that UFC provides so they can hear the broadcast audio.   Yet the inspector either:

  • Didn't hear a fighter loudly declaring that he couldn't see and his coach loudly replying that it didn't matter, which was broadcast to the viewing audience, or...
  • The inspector did hear this, but (s)he didn't think it was an issue worth telling the referee, doctor, or commissioner about, because it may not even be his or her responsibility.

In light of all this, Commissioner Hayashi "is satisfied with how OAC inspectors performed during UFC 129" and doesn't feel that having the live broadcast monitored would help.  The doctor and referee could tell that there was an eye injury but felt GSP was good to go...even though he wasn't examined by the doctor during the fight.

Are you kidding me?  

The only reason that GSP wasn't badly maimed at UFC 129 is that Jake Shields was, for whatever reason, completely unable to take advantage of what appeared to be several attempted pokes to both of GSP's eyes, which left him with a huge blind spot and killed his depth perception.  Even though GSP and Jackson could converse fine and we could hear them at home, the inspector whose job it is to watch and listen for any issues either heard nothing or felt a fighter declaring that he couldn't see and his coach responding that it didn't matter was nothing of any concern.

We can't be sure of exactly what happened on the The Ontario Athletics Commission's end at their first MMA event to cause them to be defensive, but we know the most likely scenarios.  What's clear is that they failed Georges St. Pierre and he only came out of the event without permanent damage because UFC booked him against an opponent who was much less skilled than him.

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