Even 12 hours later, it’s difficult to fully grasp the ways in which Jorge Gurgel’s fight with KJ Noons turned into a terrible abortion at Saturday night’s Strikeforce: Houston show. Suffice it to say, a lot of things went horribly wrong and nearly everyone involved failed miserably to do their jobs.
As he almost always does, Gurgel came into the fight with the worst possible game plan, essentially guaranteeing defeat before the bout even started. Meanwhile, Noons crammed not one, but two blatantly illegal strikes into just over five minutes of fighting. For his part, referee Kerry Hatley seemed not to notice either of the infractions, then totally bungled one of the more obvious stoppage situations you’ll ever encounter in MMA. All the while the Strikeforce broadcast team reconfirmed for viewers its complete inability to adjust on the fly when even the slightest controversy rears its head.
First the obvious stuff: At the very least, Noons should’ve lost a point for his tardy punch on Gurgel at the end of round one and most probably, this fight should never have been allowed to see round two. After the knee? Well, you’re probably looking at DQ, or at best a no contest. Instead, Noons rolls out of Houston a big winner.
Note that the audio in the above video may be a little off. As it happened live, Noon clearly blasts Gurgel with a left hook after the bell to end the first round. Intentional? No, but Noons’ purpose shouldn’t matter when it comes to enforcing MMA’s unified rules. The blow is certainly illegal and Gurgel is obviously on queer street after absorbing it. Referee Hatley has to physically drag him to his corner during the break. After that though, the ref doesn’t do a thing. Because the camera remains in Gurgel’s corner during the one-minute respite between rounds, it’s clear that no medical official checks to see if Gurgel is mentally fit to continue before the start of the second. This despite the fact that the audio track makes it clear the fighter has no idea what just happened.
Wonder of all wonders, the BJJ ace gets knocked pretty much cold 13 seconds into the next round with the first two real strikes Noons throws. With Gurgel on the mat looking absolutely done, Noons first appeals for a stoppage (give him credit for that, at least) but then adds the illegal knee a couple seconds later. Again, no reaction at all from Hatley, who first seems hesitant to stop the fight and then appears to either totally miss or not give a damn about the knee to a downed and helpless Gurgel.
Now for the secondary stuff: Just about every chance they get, the Strikeforce broadcast team seems intent on making themselves look like fools and this fight was a great example.
After round one, the three-man team demonstrates an across-the-board failure to react to Noons’ first illegal blow. Aside from a sputtering metaphor from Mauro Ranallo – "He wrung his bell after the bell!" – and Frank Shamrock’s assurances that the punch is somehow OK because Noons throws it “in the flow” of his combination, very little is made of it. Play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson even comments that Noons has just shown “his superior boxing” by dropping his opponent after the bell.
Their reaction to the knee is even worse. To his credit, Ranallo is the only member of the team to respond to the illicit nature of shot for 10 or so seconds. Johnson is still wondering aloud if the fight is over while Noons scales the wall of the cage in celebration and Gurgel stumbles around the mat trying to figure out what’s going on. Shamrock, who has always had trouble determining when knees are illegal, then engages in a sniping back-and-forth with Ranallo, because even after the slow-motion replay "The Legend" remains convinced the knee was A-OK. I swear, sometimes it seems like this dude is watching a slightly different version of the fights than the rest of the world.
To wrap the package of incompetence up in a neat little bow, Johnson totally fails to ask Noons even one question about the stoppage or the illegal shots during their postfight interview. The ineptitude of it all actually made me wish Joe Rogan was there to show Gus how a professional might do it.
As for Gurgel, his willingness to eschew his grappling skills in some misguided attempt to be “exciting” puts my personal interest at ever watching him fight again at around zero percent. One of the reasons I watch MMA instead of, say, kickboxing is because I want to see great grapplers grapple. I don’t want to see them run around pretending to be strikers en route to getting knocked out by dudes like KJ Noons. That’s just sad.