PETERSON: Fighter safety an issue in at least three instances during UFC 203 last night

By Matthew Peterson, MMATorch contributor

Travis Browne vs. Fabricio Werdum at UFC 203 (photo by John David Mercer © USA Today Sports)

Following a huge night for the hometown fans in Cleveland where Stipe Miocic defending his title against Alistair Overeem, a few questions linger concerning the safety of fighters.

For instance, the 37 year old C.M. Punk being allowed to open his pro career with no amateur fights and on the main stage against a fighter 13 years his junior.  Then there was the vicious eye poke from Urijah Faber that had Jimmie Rivera telling the doctor that he could not see at all from the affected eye for the final round. Finally, there was the dislocated finger that had Travis Browne looking to call a timeout even as Fabricio Werdum was trying to knock his head clean off.

I won’t dwell for long on the Punk issue, as that’s been well-discussed going into the fight, and the result of the fight merely underlined points already made.  After watching the final product in the actual fight, it was clear Punk had no business fighting Gall, who has admitted he’s wanted to be an MMA fighter for the last eight years and has trained for most of that time.  There’s no denying that Punk has a huge amount determination and heart, but that (buoyed by celebrity status) cannot be the only criteria for allowing someone to step out onto the big stage and get walloped like he did on Saturday night.  Here’s hoping that any state athletic commission can look at what happened and let Punk know that if he is continuing his fight career, it will be very far from UFC’s Octagon.

As for the Faber eye poke, the simple verbal warning that was given can no longer be enough.  In the still image of the poke, Faber’s finger is basically injecting itself into Rivera’s eye socket and may have caused lasting damage to the eye itself.  Faber began the fight with the open hand stance, fingers out and pointed directly at Rivera’s sight line.  Every time Faber pawed to mark the distance, those fingers were headed directly towards Rivera’s eyes.  The referee had a clear view of a number of open hand slap strikes that Faber was using and it was no surprise that one of them resulted in the brutal infraction.  Following the poke and the restart, a verbal warning was given and Faber continued to use the open hand technique which would result in another brief verbal warning. 

The verbal warning simply isn’t enough anymore when a fighter uses a tactic that will almost certainly result in an eye-poke.  Currently suspended fighter Jon Jones is constantly guilty of the same behavior and a painful enough eye poke can change the entire course of a fight.  When Rivera admitted to the referee and the doctor that he could not see, that opened up one whole side of his body to strikes he may not be able to react to.  A referee cannot tell a fighter how to fight.  But in the case of Faber and his fingers poised outwards, the eye poke should have had a point deducted if the referee truly wanted Faber to change his dangerous tactics. 

Finally, one of the most confusing events of the night was when Travis Browne tried to call his own timeout.  In the middle of the first round, Fabricio Werdum threw a punch that Travis Browne parried.  In doing so, it appeared that he may have dislocated a finger.  He immediately turned and motioned to the referee for time.  Werdum pursued Browne and attempted to continue the fight.  Referee Gary Copeland called a stop in time and Werdum was confused and visibly angered.  The doctor was called into the cage and both doctor and referee examined Browne while Werdum steamed in his corner.  Finally, Browne said he could fight and the clock was started again.

Everything about this chain of events was done incorrectly.  It was a legal punch that Browne attempted to parry and the injury to the finger was also caused legally.  Any attempt by Browne to stop the fight for any amount of time due to that injury is cause to end the fight via TKO by injury in favor of Werdum.  Copeland made the incorrect call of stopping the fight for the doctor to check the injury.  If Browne was not able to fight for any amount of time due to the injury, then that is considered a loss on him.  Werdum was correct in his anger and frustration, but no further action should be taken on Browne as he did eventually lose the fight via decision.  Referee Copeland should be informed of his mistake by the commission and the correct response should be reiterated upon him should a similar circumstance ever arise.

Another smaller but no less unfortunate event that occurred was Browne coach Edmond Tarverdyan’s very poor coaching between rounds and his post-fight antics.  After the first round where Browne was dropped and nearly finished on the ground, Tarverdyan screamed that Werdum “didn’t have shit on you!” and simply implored Browne to punch harder and use head movement.  Very little sound technical advice was ever given and Browne looked like a fighter who wanted to be anywhere else that night. 

Following the fight, Werdum taunted Browne briefly and Tarverdyan began yelled curse words and derogatory terms at Werdum before a brief scuffle broke out between them.  Referee Copeland ordered all fight corners from the cage before the decision was announced.  Between Tarverdyan’s seemingly poor coaching style, the brutal losses being suffered by his two main students Browne and Ronda Rousey, and his own recently financial issues, it may be brought to question if Tarverdyan has his fighters’ or even his best interests in mind.

(Matthew Peterson is an MMATorch contributor who has been a fan of MMA since he first watched UFC 100.  He currently resides with his wife in St. Cloud, Minn.  He believes that Chris Lytle was God’s gift to fight fans and Cowboy Cerrone comes in at a close second.  He can be reached at or on Twitter @mattpete1088.)


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