LAS VEGAS – UFC president Dana White was noticeably absent from The Ultimate Fighter 10 Finale post-event press conference, and it may have been for the best.
The Nevada State Athletic Commission utilized instant replay to determine the outcome of a mixed martial arts contest for the first time in its history on the card, and White's favorite whipping-boy official, Steve Mazzagatti, was responsible for utilizing the technology.
But NSAC executive director Keith Kizer was at the gathering, and he believes Mazzagatti handled the situation precisely as instructed by the commission's regulations.
"It's completely up to the referee," Kizer said. "When Mazzagatti came around and looked at the replay, they were actually showing a perfect angle. Good work by the cameramen, I must say. [Mazzagatti] saw that, and it was pretty straightforward from there."
The issue came during the evening's co-main event at The Pearl at the Palms Casino resort in Las Vegas between light heavyweights Jon Jones and Matt Hamill.
With Jones in the mount position late in the first round, he unleashed a dizzying flurry of punches, forearms and elbows from the top. Hamill did his best to survive the onslaught, but the end appeared near. Suddenly, Mazzagatti halted the bout and deducted a point from Jones for throwing a few illegal strikes from the top.
After announcing the scoring adjustment needed after Jones struck his opponent with downward elbows – textbook examples of the "12-to-6" variety – Mazzagatti went back to check on Hamill. With "The Hammer" unable to regain his feet and sporting blood across his face, Mazzagatti waved off the bout.
Jones' camp began to celebrate, but that was when history began to unfold.
"Once Mr. Jones got off Mr. Hamill, (Mazzagatti) took the point away, and when he went back to check on Mr. Hamill, he saw he wasn't in condition to continue because of the facial wounds," Kizer said. "[Mazzagatti] used instant replay to determine whether the intentional fouls contributed to those wounds, and they definitely did. He made the call he had to make."
"It's a disqualification"
Kizer said despite the numerous legal blows that came in the barrage – as many as 85 depending on who's counting – the fact that the illegal blows were shown to have caused the damage meant disqualification was the only proper call.
"At the end of the day, you have the illegal elbows that cut [Hamill] up, and that's why it was stopped," Kizer told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). "The only call you can make in that situation is a disqualification.
"Because there was definitely some damage done by lawful elbows, it was difficult to determine what caused what until he saw the instant replay. Then it was very easy. It would have been a tough call for him without the instant replay just due to the good strikes that preceded the illegal blows. That's why we added it."
Hamill also suffered a shoulder injury somewhere in the melee, but Kizer said that had no bearing on the ending of the bout.
"There was a deep, jagged cut on the bridge of the nose," Kizer said. "Obviously (there's) a lot of blood there. Steve stopped the fight initially to take the point away. He looked at [Hamill], and he couldn't continue. [Mazzagatti] had to make an initial call and then came down to look at the instant replay.
"I think, in the end, there was also damage there to the shoulder that didn't come into play with the stoppage."
Some MMA observers questioned why the fight didn't end in a no contest, but Kizer explained that only an accidental blow can result in that type of ending.
"The only time you have a no contest is if it's an accidental foul," Kizer said. "If the referee calls it accidental, it would be no contest if it happens before the end of the second round (in a three-round bout). If it happens in the third round, you go to the scorecards.
"An intentional foul, if the fighter can't continue due to the intentional foul, in whole or in part – in any round – it's a disqualification."
While the illegal strikes were deemed intentional, Kizer told MMAjunkie.com that Jones will not face any type of potential discipline from the NSAC.
"I don't think there was any ill will or anything like that," Kizer said. "[The elbows] definitely were illegal. They definitely were intentional fouls, but they weren't thrown with any type of malice."
One step behind?
Other observers questioned if perhaps Mazzagatti should have stepped in quicker and halted the bout before the illegal shots were ever thrown. Kizer said he felt Hamill was doing enough in protecting himself to warrant the continuation of the bout.
"I don't think [the fight should have been stopped]," Kizer said. "If you look at the ending there, there was a lot of nice blocking by Mr. Hamill."
Kizer told MMAjunkie.com he was happy that the NSAC had instituted the policy and was able to render a proper decision. However, he also hopes instant replay doesn't make frequent appearances.
"I still hope it's a very seldom-used deal," Kizer said. "But I think when we added it, that's exactly what we talked about – see the cuts and what caused it, or see the eye pokes. Was it an eye poke or a punch? Here's a place where you had to see what caused the cut.
"No one knew about the shoulder at the time of the stoppage. It was all about the crimson mask. His eyes were filled with blood. Obviously there were a lot of good, lawful elbows before that, but where did the multiple elbows land? There were actually three of them, and at least two landed in that area."
Kizer said since the institution of the NSAC's instant replay policy earlier this year, several interested parties have contacted him requesting details of the procedure.
"I have had a couple of commissioners from other states ask us to what exactly the rule applies," Kizer said. "I make it very clear to them and the press that its only for fight-ending injuries, like this one for example. That's the only time. We don't use it for anything else because that's when you mess with the flow or try and go retroactive. Just like the NFL, once you have the next play, you can't go back no matter how clear the replay could be.
"Also, I've actually had some media that cover baseball contact me, Sports Illustrated and some other places, contact me because of what happened in the baseball playoffs."
While the Hamill vs. Jones contest was the first example of a UFC bout utilizing instant replay, it almost certainly will not be the last. New Jersey instituted a similar policy in 2007, and other commissions, including California, are currently investigating the potential for instant replay. And UFC vice president Marc Ratner told MMAjunkie.com the UFC could "very possibly" use the technology for its overseas events, where no commission is present.
"If we had the capabilities of doing instant replay, yeah, I would like to use that," Ratner said. "I think it's a very, very important tool. I was glad they had it tonight.
"We're going to discuss [instant replay]. I'm in favor of it."