There are a lot of things we’ll never know about the illegal knee Michael Bisping landed on Jorge Rivera midway through the first round of their UFC 127 co-main event. We’ll never know if the knee was truly “intentional” or how badly it actually hurt Rivera or whether or not it directly contributed to Bisping’s second-round TKO victory. What we do know for certain is that (whether he meant to or not) Bisping very obviously broke the rules and – aside from losing an ultimately irrelevant point on the judges’ scorecards – suffered absolutely no consequences for it en route to an important win over a man who’d quickly become his arch rival.
It should be noted that blasting Rivera with the knee wasn’t Bisping’s only infraction during the fight. He also grabbed the cage to avoid getting swept from top position with about 3:40 on the clock in the first. For that instance of clear rule-breakage his only punishment was a couple of stern words from referee Mark Goddard. So in a nutshell, in just under seven total minutes of fighting, Bisping indisputably broke the rules twice, yet the end result was that he got his hand raised, got to spit in the general direction of his opponent’s corner men and almost certainly got rewarded with a hefty win bonus from the UFC. Not too bad, all things considered.
As an isolated incident, the only thing Bisping’s performance against Rivera conclusively proves is that he’s kind of an a-hole. Unfortunately, when viewed as part of the big picture of how fights are officiated under the unified rules, we’re really only left to draw one conclusion: In MMA, it makes more sense to cheat than follow the rules. So long as you can keep yourself from getting bogged down by intangibles like “honor” and “fairness,” here are three reasons why.
Reason 1: Because more often than not, cheaters win.
We’d love to see some statistics on how often a fighter either pokes his opponent in the eye, kicks him in the groin and/or delivers some other kind of illegal strike and then goes on to win the fight. We bet the results of that survey would yield overwhelmingly positive numbers in favor of cheating. Truth is, if you think you can win a fight by stoppage, any realistic risk-reward analysis clearly indicates that the upside of cheating far outweighs the potential hazards. As long as you don’t actually go so far as to get yourself disqualified, you’re probably good.
If you are, say, Michael Bisping you’re essentially gambling that by grabbing the fence, you can keep the fight in a position that gives you a better chance to win. When you’re fighting an underdog as significant as Rivera, that seems like a pretty good wager. Rather than end up on the bottom, you grab the fence to stay on top, where a couple minutes later you can illegally knee your opponent in the head. Seems like a pretty simple choice.
Sure, you might lose a point for the knee but if you’re Bisping, cheating helps you win by stoppage and winning by stoppage eliminates the consequences of cheating. It’s a beautiful little equation, really. Especially when half your paycheck depends on whether you win or lose.
Reason 2: Because somehow, it makes the other guy look like a pussy.
On the flipside to Reason 1, actually getting fouled in an MMA fight is a no-win situation. If you’re the guy who gets kneed in the head, suddenly you find yourself down on your hands and knees trying to clear the cobwebs and gauge how badly you’re hurt. Meanwhile, your opponent is on the other side of the cage taking a breather and raising his fists to the audience to show them he’s not the one to blame for this silly little delay. And they cheer him.
Everyone involved – the ref, the doctor, the fans, your opponent, the baldo who owns the company – all have a vested interest in getting things restarted as soon as possible. When the doctor asks you if you can continue, you have to say yes or you look like a pussy. You can’t quit, lest you run the risk of turning into Jamie Varner (that is, universally hated). No matter what the extent of the damage to your body, you have to go on. To make matters worse, you almost always hurry back to action before you’re fully ready.
At UFC 127, you know how much time Jorge Rivera took to recover from the illegal knee that crashed into his dome? Two minutes, eight seconds. Four minutes, 20 seconds after the knee, the round was over. Seven minutes, 25 seconds after the knee, Rivera had lost by TKO stoppage. After the event, he had to go to the hospital to make sure he didn’t have a concussion. Think maybe it’s possible he was fighting hurt there down the stretch? Again: Advantage cheater.
Reason 3: Because you may not even be penalized for it at all … and a lot of times nobody even knows the goddamned rules.
Like we said earlier, the only real consequence for breaking the rules in an MMA fight is that you might lose a point. A lot of times that doesn’t even happen. Usually, you can get away with one “minor” instance of cheating – an “accidental” groin kick, eye poke or a fence grab, for example — with only a warning. But for Bisping, all it took was one fence-grab to keep the fight where he needed it to be to win. In reality, if you’re a striker and somebody tries to take you down or sweep you, you’re kind of a fool if you don’t grab the fence.
In addition, if you do commit a foul significant enough to cause a break in the action, there’s a good chance neither the ref nor the ringside doctor is going to know the correct procedure. Pretty frequently the people in charge don’t even seem to understand what the rules are regarding fouls. Case in point: Even Joe Rogan (who watches more live MMA than almost anybody) expressed some confusion during UFC 127 if Rivera would be awarded five minutes to recover after he’d been kneed, or if that recovery period only applied groin strikes. In other words, committing a foul creates a chaotic situation where everybody feels the need to get back to the actual fighting ASAP. Once again: Advantage cheater.
In closing, here are Rivera’s comments from the post fight press conference to MMA Fighting.com, which underscore what a shitty situation he was in following the knee: “I was hurt, man. I was hurt,” Rivera said. “But the truth of it is, I knew that most of the people that were there, were there to watch this fight. I knew the hype was built up, they wanted to see it, and I didn’t want it to end like that. It’s just not in me to quit. That’s not how I wanted it to go .. I would have liked a few more minutes (to recover), but the truth is, (the doctors) want to know if you can continue now. They want to know how hurt you are. I just wanted to put on a show.”
Rivera did just that. He vaulted himself back into action and put on a show … right up to the point when he lost by TKO and likely saw his own resurgence in the middleweight division come to a screeching halt. Meanwhile, Bisping is assumedly on to bigger and better things. It kind of makes it seem like the best thing Rivera could have done for his career was – like Bisping – just to cheat his ass off.
- Chad Dundas