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Trading Shots: Should Eddie Alvarez have been disqualified at UFC 211?



In this week’s Trading Shots, MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes and retired UFC and WEC fighter Danny Downes discuss a controversial ending due to illegal blows at UFC 211, and try to figure out what can be done about a more and more frequent problem in MMA.

Fowlkes: Danny, my mind is still reeling over something that happened at UFC 211 in Dallas. In the prelim main event (nope, still not a real thing), Eddie Alvarez clearly kneed Dustin Poirier illegally – twice, once for each current set of rules – and as a result Poirier was unable to continue. The strikes were on purpose. They were unquestionably fouls. They effectively ended the fight.

So why wasn’t Alvarez disqualified? Why did referee Herb Dean rule it a no-contest? Why did he confer with the UFC’s Marc Ratner, as if asking permission, before he announced that decision? Perhaps most importantly, why can’t we seem to figure out what to do about knee strikes to the head in this sport?

I get that the change of rules in some places but not others has given rise to confusion. But why does it seem like you have to decapitate someone before we’ll actually disqualify you for breaking this particular rule?

And how much do we even blame Alvarez on this one? He was woozy from being nearly knocked out, and his head position at the time made it nearly impossible for him to see where Poirier’s hand and/or knee were? Still, how much should that matter in the end?

Dustin Poirier

Downes: Any other questions you’d like me to answer? What is the sound of one hand clapping? Can anyone tell the difference between butter and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter? If Ben Fowlkes scores a goal in a recreation hockey league, but nobody is around to care, did it really happen?

I will say that I am in agreement with you on the state of fouls in MMA. If Alvarez didn’t get disqualified last night, then I don’t think anyone will ever receive a DQ for knees to a grounded opponent.

Is the rule convoluted and probably unnecessary? Sure it is, but you still have to enforce it. I think a lot of the City of San Diego’s parking rules are convoluted and unnecessary, but I still have to pay my tickets. Alvarez purposefully kneed Poirier twice. These weren’t accidents or a result of Poirier playing tricks by raising and lowering his hand. Those knees were obvious infractions.

Many seem to confuse committing a foul with being a “dirty” fighter. Alvarez didn’t have the intention of fouling Poirier. I’m sure he thought he was in the clear. I’m also fairly certain he was on autopilot. Regardless of his state of mind, he still committed a foul.

If you run a player over in basketball, the ref doesn’t take the penalty away because you didn’t mean it. You still get whistled for a charging foul. I don’t know why we feel the need to apply a different mentality to MMA.

Perhaps it’s because the penalties in MMA are more severe than their counterparts in other sports. The NBA gives players six fouls before they’re out of the game. If you lose a point in a three-round fight, the deck is stacked against you.

Perhaps that’s why referees allow so much leeway with low blows, eye pokes and other infractions. Wouldn’t referees getting “tough on (MMA) crime” lead to even more controversy than the current absence of penalties?

Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez

Fowlkes: At least in this case, I don’t think so. That fight was going to be stopped as a result of those knees either way, which means we were pretty much guaranteed to feel unsatisfied with the result. But if Alvarez had been disqualified, at least we would have felt like actions resulted in consequences.

The no-contest result feels like a dodge. We hate enforcing our own rules in this sport. A no-contest lets us pretend like nothing happened. It’s an official way of throwing up our hands and saying we don’t know what to do.

Except that, according to the letter of the law, there’s a justification for it. Here’s what the unified rules have to say on the matter: “If an injury sustained during competition as a result of an accidental foul, as determined by the referee, is severe enough for the referee to stop the bout immediately, the bout shall result in a no contest if stopped before two rounds have been completed in a three round bout …”

Dean ruled the illegal knees accidental, Poirier couldn’t continue, and fewer than two rounds had been completed. Add it all together and you get a no-contest.

My issue is with the designation of the foul itself. In what way were Alvarez’s knees accidental? He meant to throw them, right? And he meant to hit Poirier in the head with them. You could say he didn’t realize that Poirier’s body positioning made them illegal (and judging by his head position at the time, that’s probably true), but isn’t it his job to know? If he can’t be sure of the legality of the blow, isn’t it on him not to throw it until he can be sure?

Downes: Look at you! You’ve been hanging at the Dundas house so much that a little lawyering rubbed off on you. Well counselor, nothing makes me happier than proving you wrong, but I can’t argue with your conclusion. Like I said earlier, Alvarez willfully and purposefully threw those knees. Not with the intent of breaking the rule, but there was nothing accidental about those strikes. It should have been ruled a disqualification, but it wasn’t.

What you’re failing to see here, though, is the bigger picture. Alvarez-Poirier isn’t an isolated case. It’s another instance of an overall lack of rule enforcement (but at least we punish those damn pot smokers).

Should we treat knees to a grounded opponent more severely than other fouls? Are knees felonies and a low blow a simple misdemeanor? You’ve diagnosed the problem, but what’s the solution?

If the solution is for referees to be more forceful and punitive, then that’s going to effect fights. Alvarez’s knee may have finished this fight, but many more fights have fouls (illegal knees or otherwise) and continue. What should be the course of action there? Do fans really want to see more DQs, draws, or matches decided by a referee’s discretion? I don’t think so.

While the status quo may have its failures, I think people are happy with it. Sure, you’ll tweet something out about how fighters should “obey the rules,” but you were probably the kid who liked narcing on your classmates. Nine times out of 10, the ref gives a little lecture, the fight continues, and we forget all about the foul when the final decision is made. Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.

For complete coverage of UFC 211, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

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