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Cepeda: Holm, not de Randamie, should have been penalized

Elias Cepeda argues that it is Holm, not de Randamie, that should have been penalized at UFC 208
Holly Holm, Germaine de Randamie

With a couple days of repeated watching (often in slow-motion) of UFC 208’s main event, it’s clear most of the MMA world needs to take a deep breath and let go of what amounts to hysterical and unfounded criticism of Germaine de Randamie.

She absolutely got the better of Holly Holm in their five-round affair and deserved the judges’ decision. More importantly, GDR didn’t break any rules or deserve points be taken away from her.

If anyone deserved to be warned or have a point deducted from their score it was Holm. Let’s dive right in...

At the end of the second round Germaine threw a jab, then a cross to Holm’s head before the referee stepped in. Throwing a punch before the referee steps in to stop a fight or round is never illegal.

And, if you think a full-power punch can just be stopped mid-throw, you’ve never punched someone. Or at least, you’ve never punched someone very hard.

In any case, smart and rule-abiding fighters fight until the referee steps in, period.

The ABC Unified Rules of MMA state, “The end of a round is signified by the sound of the bell and the call of time by the referee. Once the referee has made the call of time, any offensive actions initiated by the fighter shall be considered after the bell and illegal.”

Sure, sometimes we see fighters hear a horn or feel an opponent’s tap and stop fighting on their own, before the referee steps in. That’s a risk smart fighters don’t take.

Professional prizefighting is not a collaborative affair between dance partners. It is a brutal science where participants are to take advantage of any hole in the defense of their opponent, within the rules.

Fighters who stop fighting when they hear the horn (if they hear it, which is not guaranteed, and why the referee's role in this capacity is so important) instead of when the ref steps in (if those moments are slightly different, as they so often are) have no reason to believe their opponent will do the same. Fighters who stop fighting when they feel their opponent tap out to their submission hold instead of when the referee recognizes it and intercedes, may have to deal with a lying opponent successfully campaigning to the referee that they never actually tapped out.

Such situations are not as rare as you may think. Murilo Bustamante had to submit Matt Lindland twice in a UFC championship fight because he let go when he felt the tap instead of when the ref stepped in, and Chael Sonnen similarly denied his obvious tap in a WEC title fight against Paulo Filho.

If critics want to say that Saturday’s UFC 208 main event referee should have gotten much closer to the action once the 10-seconds left blocks were struck in order to better be in position to halt the round, fine. If they want to argue GDR did something wrong in fighting all the way until the referee stepped in, however, they’re quite wrong.

In the next round, Holm hit a beautiful Question Mark kick that dropped GDR to all fours. As GDR had both hands on the ground, Holm loaded up and threw a kick to her head that very well could have been illegal.

Whether or not the kick landed when GDR had both hands on the mat is debatable and would need to be subject to a frame-by-frame analysis, but Holm clearly threw a kick at a downed opponent, which often results in at least a pause and a warning from the referee.

That didn’t happen at UFC 208 and a pumped-up GDR got back up and stormed after Holm with punches. Moments later, the referee stepped in to stop a heated scrap because the round had ended.

Good. That’s what’s supposed to happen.

I thought we wanted fighters who fought desperately until the ref stepped in. I guess we ordinarily do, just not if that fighter is Germaine de Randamie, after she had an arguably illegal kick smack her in the face.

Those gray moments were preceded, of course, by a clearly low blow punt to the crotch by Holm to GDR. Simply put, Holm’s low blow was one of the most blatant low blows we’ve seen in recent UFC history.

It was ignored by the ref, ignored by the commentators, and mostly ignored by fans. The tough Germaine also ignored it and kept on fighting, with no complaints during the fight or afterward.

Holm’s crotch punt could have very well resulted in a point deduction against her. That she didn’t receive so much as a warning for having done it, or the later borderline, at best, kick to the head of a downed GDR is pretty shocking.

Yet, here we are complaining about a decision going GDR’s way even though she landed far more offense en route to bruising up Holm and also thwarted almost all of Holm’s efforts. Here we are absurdly complaining about Germaine fighting to the end of each round with virtually no discussion of her opponent’s actual infractions.

It’s a strange scene. Almost as strange as a supposed women’s featherweight championship belt being wrapped around the waist of anyone else but the division’s true and longtime champion, Cris “Cyborg” Justino.

About the author:
Elias Cepeda has served as a writer and editor covering mixed martial arts and combat sports, as well as public and cultural affairs, since 2005. He began as a staff writer for InsideFighting, and not long thereafter became publisher and editor of the page. Cepeda then went to write for Yahoo! Sports' boxing and MMA pages, and edited their Cagewriter blog. He was hired away by FOX Sports, but after several years departed over philosophical differences with the executive leadership around important issues of journalism ethics. A student of and sometime competitor in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA since 1999, Elias brings a unique and vibrant presence to reporting, and enjoys trying to highlight shared humanity and connect common experiences from seemingly different worlds.

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