Eye-pokes: They’re devastating, career-threatening, unfairly handled during fights, and mysteriously under-penalized. Due to the open-fingered nature of the gloves, gouging is a unique and unfortunately common problem in MMA. But can anything be done to fix it? According to UFC president Dana White during an appearance on ESPN 710am radio in LA yesterday, the promotion is looking at a new solution — changing the design of the gloves:
“We actually have started to work on a new glove that actually curves your hand. Like the glove is curved like a U, so you can still open your hand, but your fingers don’t point straight out.”
Bruce Lee’s bulky (but badass) mitts in Enter the Dragon immediately come to mind. But is the eye-poke epidemic really a hardware issue? As UFC Hall of Famer/VP of Athletic Development Matt Hughes told BJPenn.com recently, “I don’t see how you can blame it on the gloves. It comes down to the fighters making mistakes with their hands.”
And that’s exactly it. It’s a discipline problem. Why are we blaming the gloves, instead of blaming the professional fighters who blatantly throw their fingers toward the eyes of their opponents, then claim afterwards that it was an attempt at a punch?
I’m not saying that what Michael Bisping did to Alan Belcher was intentional. (Although a lot of you seem to feel it was.) I’m saying it doesn’t matter. In what world do you jab your fingers into an opponent’s eyeball to the point where he requires eight stitches, and then you get awarded a decision victory? That fight should have been ruled an automatic disqualification for Bisping, regardless of “intent.” And if Belcher was able to continue with the fight, it should have been an automatic point-deduction.
The reason why it always makes sense to cheat in an MMA fight is because referees are very hesitant to actually dock points for fouls. They know how much impact a single point can have in a three-round fight, and they clearly don’t want that kind of responsibility, so they give fighters repeated warnings for obvious fouls, assuming that the groin-kicks and fence-grabs and eye-gouges and knees-to-a-grounded-opponent were unintentional. (Pro tip: When you’re involved in a fist-fight with lots of money on the line, never assume good intentions.)
That laissez-faire attitude toward fouls constantly puts fighters’ health at risk, and that will continue to be the case until MMA fighters actually have an incentive not to cheat. So here’s the logical solution: The referees need to start enforcing the rules. If points are immediately deducted for a clear eye-poke, fighters will be a lot more careful when they’re pawing their fingers out at their opponents’ faces. And once more fights start to be affected by poke-related point-deductions, maybe the fighters will stop gouging each other altogether. Then again, that will require the referees to step up and take a harder line on fouls, and have the boos rain down on them if their decisions affect big fights. It’s a lot to ask, I know. But does it really make more sense to redesign the gloves because we assume that fighters can’t stop themselves from poking each other in the eyes?