MMA centers on highlights, but every highlight has the other side. UFC 247 may prove to be a pivotal moment in the sport - longstanding issues around officiating may be aggressively addressed. But if it does, the impetus will have come from the other side of a highlight.
Judge Joe Soliz scored the Jon Jones vs. Dominick Reyes fight 4-1 for Jones, something commentator Joe Rogan correctly characterized as “insane.” Soliz scored every round of Jonathan Martinez vs. Andre Ewell for Ewell, who ended up winning a Split Decision; that one Rogan called “ridiculous.” And Soliz gave Trevin Giles Round 1 vs. James Krause, despite Giles spending a significant portion of the round defending a rear-naked choke.
Now TSN’s Aaron Bronsteter reports that sitting in Giles corner was Elite MMA gym founder Eric Williams, who awarded Soliz his black belt. Soliz taught at Williams' gym as early as 2002 and started training there in the early 1990s.
Bronsteter asked Soliz if he should have disclosed the relationship to the Texas Combative Sports Program.
“I haven’t been in contact or associated with [Elite MMA ] in over eight years,” said Soliz. “Under Eric Williams of Elite MMA, I received my black belt in 2008. I left Elite in 2010, and received my first-, second-, and third-degree under Octavio Couto.”
Bronsteter also spoke with Williams.
“I’ve known Joe for years,” said the coach. “I haven’t talked to him in probably a year and a half or two years. The problem is it's kind of a small world, so you get people crossing paths and I think that you're going to have stuff like that happen. Whenever you can prevent it, I would. But again, I don't worry about it. If you finish the fight, you don't have to worry about those kinds of things. I really don't concern myself with it."
Bronsteter asked Williams if Soliz should have disclosed the potential conflict of interest to the Texas commission.
“I’m assuming they all know,” replied Williams. “We’ve all been around for years. I would be highly surprised if the boxing commission doesn’t know.”
The term “MMA journalist” has become something of a joke to the hardcore MMA fanbase, but Bronsteter is a real journalist, and spoke as well with Texas Combative Sports Program spokesperson Tela Mange.
“When [a judge is] approached to be part of the event, they are supposed to tell the commission, ‘I can't judge a particular bout because I know somebody,’ or if it's something that there are a number of conflicts, then they need to tell the commission,” said Mange. “We have a number of judges that we can rely on. We get input from the UFC or any other promoter that we’re doing events with for people that they would prefer and we just go from there.”
And if you have a question about MMA officiating, there is no one more qualified to speak with than the Dean of MMA Referees, “Big” John McCarthy, who offered a straight answer.
“The judge should have approached the athletic commission, depending on if the executive director is there or a lead inspector, the person that’s in charge of regulating that event at that venue that night,” said McCarthy. “If they found out while they’re there that this person is cornering someone and they see that they’re assigned to that fight, they should go to the executive director and tell them, ‘I have trained with that person, I have received my black belt from them and I want to recuse myself from this fight.’ Then it’s up to the commission on whether or not they can judge. Most will never allow you to judge a fight when you have that sort of background with a cornerman or fighter.”
Krause’s management plans to appeal the decision.