Eye Pokes and Pass Interference: MMA Needs Set Rules

In last weekend’s main event, Paulo Costa was given a point deduction for poking Marvin Vettori in the eye. In a split second, opinions came out on whether or not the deduction was warranted. This, however should be a moot point. It’s time for the UFC to crack down on eye pokes and other fouls if it wishes to be considered in the league with the big name sports like the NFL and NBA.

Watch any NFL game this week and you’re likely to see the following saturation:

Joe Burrow drops back to pass. Ja’Marr Chase makes his cut and Burrow lets it rip. The defender grabs the arm of Chase prohibiting him from catching the ball. Yellow flags fly and the referee gets the defender for pass interference and awards the offense 15 yards.

Now let’s look at the NBA. Steph Curry is off the ball and is looking for a pick and roll. His defender is desperate to stay with him. Curry goes around the pick and is passed the ball. The defender, again desperate to keep up with Curry, runs around the pick a little out of control and hits the hand of Curry and throws off his shot causing him to miss. The ref blows the whistle and calls a shooting foul, awarding Curry two free throws.

Let’s Get Serious About Eye Pokes

In all honesty, the UFC has an eye poke problem. Far too often are fighters getting fouled and suffering from it. This is why I am starting to lean towards every single eye poke costing the offender a point. Think about it like this. Referees are not perfect so sometimes they miss a call. How mad do you get when your favorite team is moving the ball and the refs miss a pass interference or any other call costing you a down? The UFC needs to trend that way.

An eye poke or cup shot can change the trajectory of a fight in a big way just like a charging call in the NBA. But in MMA, we don’t penalize them far too often. Who knows how many outcomes would be different if fouls were counted every time? There are no accidental holding calls in the NFL. They just train certain techniques to not do that. Sure, there will be a short period where we get a bunch of point deductions due to eye pokes, but once it costs a few fighters a fight they were winning, you can bet your sweet ass that eye pokes will happen less and less.

Looking to the NFL again, there’s the targeting rule as well. When talking about accidental eye pokes and intentional eye pokes, some will make that as a case to keep warnings how they are. But with football, there’s intentional targeting. One costs the team yards and the other costs the team yards and a player suspension. I’m not advocating for a DQ off eye pokes every time. The point is that even if targeting is accidental, it still costs the offending team.

The NFL and NBA have rules and they are (for the most part) enforced in totality. You can’t challenge a penalty or foul. You eat the penalty and move on. I know that the athletic commissions set the rules and pick the referees for the fights. But the rules are in a grey area of sorts. The rules are selectively enforced. The UFC, and any other promotion for that matter, can give referees explicit instructions to deduct a point any time an eye poke is committed. In states where there’s instant replay, this can be done and implemented between rounds and let the fighter know as the foul happens and once the decision has been made.

Part of the problem, I believe, is the lack of finality from most eye pokes. In football, a pass interference penalty leads to direct missing or dropping of the pass. There’s that hard line that was crossed. In the NBA, a shooting foul interferes with the shot outside the rules making the shot unfairly defended and most of the time missed. In fighting, most of the time the eye poke doesn’t lead to a knockout immediately. There’s not a real hard line drawn and the eye poked fighter can win the round and fight. But that doesn’t make it fair.

If the UFC is keen on getting the same respect as the NFL, NBA, and other big sports leagues, it’s time to take another step in their direction. They’ve done it in the past with the Reebok/Venum deals which led to the ESPN deal. Let’s take another step forward and get these rule infractions under control.

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