Chan Sung Jung was losing, but at least it was intentional. Through three rounds with UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, on Saturday night, Jung had succeeded only in doing enough to make sure Aldo's notoriously attritional weight cut would catch up to him in the championship rounds. An unusual strategy for a fighter whose Korean Zombie moniker does his fighting style poetic justice -- imagine an unyielding blur of limbs guided by some unseen, unfeeling internal agent and you've imagined a Chan Sung Jung fight.
Long defined by an almost psychotic flair for seemingly reckless risk, Jung had quietly made the biggest gamble of his career. He gave away the first three rounds and moved all in on scoring a late stoppage over the greatest featherweight of all-time. It was the kind of audacious gambit the scale of which only combat sport affords.
And then Jung's right shoulder popped out of its socket. He gamely, improbably tried to pop it back in. Again: In the middle of a cage fight with one of the sport's five best fighters, Jung's shoulder dislocated and he casually tried to pop it back into its own socket using his one functional arm. It didn't work, and Aldo noticed. Referee Herb Dean either failed to do the same or thought a one-armed fighter was the kind of YOLO moment that demands narrative closure. Some 30 seconds passed before Dean finally rescued a defenseless Jung from an unnecessary Aldo assault.
It says something about MMA that a referee leaving a fighter to go on with one arm won't be remembered as the moment fans reached for their usual cocktail of Paxil and Mylanta steeped in a liquified filet-o-fish sandwich -- you need some protein to balance the thing out, trust me. The real uncut Bolivian sadness blow was collectively snorted after UFC 163's co-main event, when three judges unanimously declared Phil Davis the winner over Lyoto Machida, which would have been a dumbass conclusion for any one of them to reach, never mind all three. Official UFC statistics provider FightMetric ran the fight through its scoring algorithm and gave all three rounds to Machida, as did most any human capable of perceiving reality -- including UFC president Dana White.
Moments after the decision was announced, White tweeted this to his more than 2.5 million followers.
Wow!!! I had Machida winning all 3 rds but that's what happens when u leave it up to the judges!- Dana White (@danawhite) August 4, 2013
The core of White's sentiment is simple -- professional fighters have no right to fair judging. The core of any sport's legitimacy is that the outcomes are not predetermined or routinely botched by bureaucratic incompetence, and here's the president of by far the sport's largest promotion arguing that such matters are irrelevant. Fighters who go to a decision have failed themselves, the fans and the UFC by not trading sufficient sub-concussive damage to ensure someone forgets their grandmother's name. Ergo, they deserve to have their careers placed in the hands of a soulless Lennie Smalls. It's a craven and ongoing line of reasoning designed to influence fights and save the UFC's president from doing something, anything about the sorry state of MMA regulation.
Effecting change on MMA's regulation is an admittedly challenging proposition. Every state has its own regulatory body with its own byzantine set of legislative Gordian knots. The unified rules of MMA that the UFC so often trumps as a sign of the sport's progress are a myth. Read the actual rules and regulations of a few state bodies and you'll find enough variance to make the whole concept of unified rules a farce.
The regulatory bodies in other countries are generally no better on that front, which fact is highlighted by the UFC selectively booking middleweight star Vitor Belfort on international shows to circumvent any stateside scrutiny of his testosterone replacement therapy -- a treatment program usually prescribed to men over the age of 40 that offers desirable performance enhancements such as increased lean muscle mass and a corresponding decrease in body fat. The potential for abuse by athletes is obvious, especially given how easily testosterone levels can be manipulated by doctors willing to help athletes gain a competitive edge.
The problem is not limited to international regulation, either. The influential Nevada State Athletic Commission has granted therapeutic use exemptions for TRT to Chael Sonnen, Forrest Griffin, Frank Mir, Dan Henderson and Todd Duffee. A handful of fighters have a literal hall pass for performance-enhancing drugs. The justification for this state of affairs is a total unknown since these commissions answer to no one -- they are self-contained kingdoms of circular logic and closed doors.
So yeah, bleaching away MMA's myriad regulatory issues is an unenviable task, but watching those issues necrotize into a gnarled, self-consuming scab is a distasteful alternative. Besides, MMA is a sport that overcame its well-earned no-holds-barred human cockfighting stereotype en route to winning the acceptance of these infamously closed-minded commissions. Dana White loves claiming that accomplishment for current UFC ownership, but the truth of the matter is that the effort began under previous owner Bob Meyrowitz, who tasked UFC commissioner Jeff Blatnick with securing the sport's legitimacy.
Joined by referee John McCarthy and UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, it was Blatnick who spearheaded the effort that won over regulators and led to the UFC becoming a regulated sport. Flirting with bankruptcy, Meyrowitz sold the UFC in 2001 to Station Casinos executives Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, who appointed their childhood friend White as the UFC's president. In the decade-plus that White has served in that capacity, his accomplishments pale in comparison to Blatnick's. If anything, his blasé dismissals of incompetent judging and backwards regulations are an ongoing insult to Blatnick -- a man who put his legacy as an American Olympic hero on the line to give MMA a sense of legitimacy when it most desperately needed it.
Billionaires claiming credit for the hard work of good people who came before them is hardly a fresh American phenomenon, I'd just like to see these particular billionaires do something about the metastasizing problems they've let go on unchecked. It's not as if they're in a bad position to improve matters.
A company purchased for $2 million by the Fertittas is now believed to be worth billions. Lorenzo Fertitta is the former commissioner of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. The UFC's vice president of Regulatory Affairs is the former executive director of the same commission. Money and connections are not the problems here, the problem is motivation and a complete lack thereof. Considering that previous ownership managed the greatest regulatory triumph in the sport's history while nearing bankruptcy, the least that present ownership could do is keep MMA from becoming a biting satire of itself.
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Tomas Rios is a freelance NYC-based writer who has covered MMA for The Classical, Deadspin, The Pacific Standard and Slate. You can find him @TheTomasRios.