UFC President, Dana White took immediate action following two controversial split decisions at UFC Fight Night 48 in Macao earlier this weekend. Judge Howard Hughes was told to take the rest of the night off by Mr. White himself after a flurry of complaints streamed in via Twitter and a disgruntled audience began to change the tone of the event.
Mr. White confirmed these actions during the post-fight press conference at The Venetian Macao’s Cotai Arena.
According to White, “He was involved in the first fight and the second fight, [then] I told the guys to go let him grab some beer and some popcorn and go sit down and start watching some fights, not judging them.”
Although Mr. White didn’t identify the judge by name, MMAjunkie confirmed with UFC officials that Hughes was the judge told to take the rest of the night off after the conclusion of the second fight. Some fans have cried fowl since learning of the news, accusing the UFC of inappropriately influencing the outcome of the fights. However, White admitted his decisions were based on audience reaction rather than personal interests.
“I know a lot of people, the media included and the fans I saw on Twitter, felt that Phillips won the fight, but I thought Milana won the fight, so I disagree,” White said. “But at the end of the day, who gives a s–t what I think. It’s the judges. They pick the winner, and that’s all that matters.”
What many observers outside of Asia may not know is that the audiences there are extremely passionate about combat sports. For many in Asia combat sports go hand in hand with gambling and betting and with that comes an extreme desire for clear decisions. Split decisions can affect the audience’s confidence leading to dissent that can significantly impact business in an economy that is highly dependent on it’s casino gambling.
According to a February 2013 report by BBC News, “Gambling is big business in Asia. Casinos in Singapore and Macau are among of the world’s most profitable, and betting on sporting events is increasing. But for all the legal glamour and glitz, there is also a darker side. Asia has been found at the centre of the latest global match-fixing scandal.”
Since then politicians and local officials in Macao have worked towards changing perceptions of their economy’s staple business to ensure that no further sanctions or limitations are placed on local travel and transport of money. Taking these factors into account it’s fair to assume that Mr. White was acting in the interests of the greater good for the local businesses and the audience by attempting to ensure clear and unilateral decisions are made for their debut event in China.
However, as Murphy’s Law would have it, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. As the change in judges was not properly communicated to the production crew, some of the rest of the night’s fights were announced with judge Howard Hughes still in place leaving the promotion open to even more scrutiny.
Without an athletic commission to regulate and manage the judging it is up to the promotions in these locales to appoint the judges and administer the process. And while some have been able to empathize with the UFC President’s decision others have criticized the lack of communication and coordination with officials to ensure the process is smooth and transparent.
Mr. White himself admitted the blame lands squarely on the UFC for the outcome, even though the rest of the night’s fights did result in unanimous decisions by all three judges.
“It wasn’t great tonight,” White said. “It wasn’t, and it drives me crazy. So, I can sit there and ridicule Nevada, California and all these other places we go, but nobody to point the finger at tonight except for us.”
Regional politics will continue to play an increasing and likely frustrating role for the UFC as they expand into new international territories and it may behoove them to ensure there is some distance from the judging process for their events, but it remains to be seen if those regions will be interested in establishing formal commissions to manage these processes in the future.