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ASK THE COMMISSION: What's the process for appealing a fight's outcome? Print E-mail
Written by MATT SCHOWALTER   
Wednesday, 07 May 2014 10:56

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Today, Minnesota MMA News begins another new feature: "Ask the Commission." Each week, Matt Schowalter or someone else from the Minnesota Combative Sports Commission will tackle your questions. If you have a question for the commission, send them to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Enjoy!)


Here are the questions from Week One: There recently was a controversial TKO stoppage. The fighter who lost immediately posted that the Commission was ruling the fight a no-contest. I'm assuming he was premature, since it seems unlikely the Commission would make such a ruling on-site. But, what's the process when something like that happens? How does an appeal work? A TKO stoppage is a ref's judgment call, so is it rare to overturn it? ... And what happens with the ref? Just a learning moment or is he constantly being evaluated?

Before I explain the process of appealing the outcome of a bout, I'll first give you a quick overview of the entire regulatory body as it will give you a better understanding of why the process is set up as it is. In July 2012, the State Legislature decided to disband the Minnesota Combative Sports Commission and hand all regulatory duties over to the Department of Labor and Industry (DLI). The nine members of the Commission were then kept on to act as advisers to the Commissioner of DLI.

Those nine members are now called the Combative Sports Advisory Council. DLI then created a program entitled the Office of Combative Sports to handle all day-to-day duties related to regulating combative sports in Minnesota. Per statute, the Commissioner of DLI has sole authority over combative sports in Minnesota. The Commissioner is the only one who can make decisions, rules changes, policy changes, etc. The Advisory Council's only role, according to statute, is to provide the Commissioner advice when he asks for it.

Because the Commissioner is unable to attend all of the events, he had legal services draw up contracts for Advisory Council members delegating some of his authority to them when they are assigned to events, so that they could work events and do regulatory duties. The authority given

to the Councilors is limited when they are working events. Any major decisions, such as the reversal of a bout, can only be made by the Commissioner.

 

The current DLI Commissioner is Ken Peterson.

When someone wants to appeal the outcome of their bout, they must make a formal appeal by sending in a written request by email or mail. There is a form posted on our website that can be used for appeals and complaints, but it is not required. The written appeal should include detailed information about the bout, the reason for appeal, the desired outcome, and a list of facts that support the desired outcome. The person making the appeal should also include their name and contact information.

When an appeal comes in to the office, I will review it and do any follow-up research. I will then meet with the Commissioner, provide him with all the information gathered, and he will either render a decision or ask that a panel of three Advisory Council members review the appeal and offer him a recommendation.

The review panel is composed of one member representing the boxing community, one member representing the MMA community, and the Advisory Council's retired judge. If an appeal goes to the panel, they will review all the information provided and may also ask to speak to some of the parties involved in the appeal.

After reviewing all of the information, they will give the Commissioner their recommendation. The Commissioner can then accept their recommendation, or make his own decision.

Once the Commissioner makes a decision, he will send his decision in writting to the appealing party. The appealing party can then accept the Commissioner's decision or appeal it to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). Should the appeal go to OAH, a formal hearing will be set and a judge will make the final decision.

When an appeal of a bout result is being reviewed, there's certain criteria that's being looked at to determine if the appeal will be heard or not. The main thing that is being looked at is whether or not there was a rules infraction that was ignored, or overlooked, by the referee.  The rules state that the referee is the sole arbitrator of what happens in the ring or cage. However, the referee must always follow, and uphold, the rules. If a rules violation determines the outcome of a bout, and that violation was ignored or overlooked by the referee, then the Commissioner has the authority to overturn that decision. If no rules violation occurred, and the result of the bout was due to the referee's judgment call, then the initial result will stand.

The second factor that can result in the outcome of a bout being overturned is collusion or discrimination. This is a little more difficult to prove. A fighter would have to clearly prove that there was some sort of collusion or discrimination that resulted in losing a bout. For example, let's say a fighter is in a bathroom stall prior to their bout and in walks two of the judges. The fighter overhears the two judges talking about how they have a dislike for the gym the fighter trains at and that they hope he loses the bout. The fighter is smart and turns on the recording device of his cell phone taping this entire conversation. The fighter then ends up losing a split decision with those two judges scoring against him. That fighter can now appeal the decision based on discrimination by those two judges.

The Commissioner recognizes that this whole process can be very lengthy, and in some cases, a decision could easily be made at an event when instant replay is available. However, statute does not currently allow instant replay to be used. At this year's Association of Boxing Commissions' (ABC) annual meeting there will be a panel discussion on the use of instant replay. Depending on how that discussion goes, you could see instant replay used in the near future.

As it pertains to a TKO stoppage, you are correct, this is a referee's judgment call. There are very few cases where everyone agrees that a stoppage was warranted. In most cases, someone will say the fight was stopped too soon or too late and nobody can ever agree on which one it was. Everybody has a different vantage point and draws a decision based on what they see from where they are sitting. A referee may see something in a fighter's face that makes them stop a fight that the person on the other side of the cage/ring doesn't see. This is why TKO stoppages are judgment calls and are very rarely overturned. When you start taking away the referee's responsibilities and decision-making power, you create a much more unsafe environment. The regulatory body needs to trust that the referee knows what they are doing and is able to make those difficult decisions among the boos and criticism. The referee's call isn't always going to be praised by everyone, but they have to call it as they see it.

I asked one of our referees to give his take on what he's looking for before he jumps in to stop a bout and this is what he had to say: "For amateur fights, unless it's a title fight or guys with more experience, at the first sign of trouble or no reaction, I'm jumping in to stop it.  If they are knocked down hard, I am running in to stop it. They are amateurs and may have never been in that situation or don't know what to do.  If their hands are down while on the feet, looking past their opponent, the next strike and stumble I'll stop the fight. While in a submission attempt, many fighters put their hand up like they are ready to tap, but I'll give them a second to decide.  If their hand is still in the ready position and they aren't defending the submission attempt, but they don't tap, I stop the fight. If a fighter is in top position, and is connecting with multiple shots, even if damage is minimal, I stop the fight. I can ask the fighter on the bottom to improve his position, and if he just curls up with his hands over his face, he is not improving his position, so I'll jump in and stop the fight.

"For the professional fighters, I'll give them a longer leash, but still stay on top of the action. Many times I will flat out ask the guy being out-fought if he wants me to end it, and that gets them moving or reacting.  For a standing KO, I watch the arms and legs as they go down.  If they are stiff as a board, I'm stopping it immediately.  If they fall to their butt, put their hands down to catch their fall, or stumble by trying to keep their feet under them, I'll give them a little more time to recover before I step in. Taps are the same as the amateurs, defend the submission attempt while you are deciding to tap or not.  I will let the fighter know that he needs to defend or tap and the top guy usually puts the submission on a little harder and it results in a tap."

A second referee had a good take on this matter, too:

"I think the hardest part is time; the referee has a limited amount of time to make this decision. Fighters are well trained, every second I take to make a decision is multiple shots the guy gets hit with by another guy who hits hard. As you are well aware, I make my share of mistakes ...okay, more than my share of mistakes. I try to learn from them and get better, but there are always times when you have to make a quick decision, and sometimes you make the wrong one."

When it comes to action taken against the referee, you must first understand that there are two different types of officials. There are provisional officials and then fully licensed officials. When someone decides they want to be an official, and they have no experience or don't have a letter of recommendation from another regulatory body, they must go through a licensing process.

This process includes attending either a state sponsored training or an ABC certified training. Once they have completed a training they are then considered a provisional official. As a provisional official they must complete 50 bouts under the direction of our licensed officials. In the case of a provisional referee, these 50 bouts can only be done within the amateur ranks, excluding any amateur title fights. During these 50 bouts they are working side by side with one of the licensed referees.  The licensed referee working with a provisional will talk with them and give them feedback about where they need to improve and what they are doing right. Following each bout, the licensed referee will write up an evaluation of the provisional and send it into the office. When the provisional has completed the 50 bouts, the office will review all of the evaluations and determine if the provisional should be fully licensed, or if they need additional work. These 50 bouts should be used as a learning experience and we hope to see positive progression.

In terms of the fully licensed referees, there aren't any set guidelines for review and/or disciplinary action. Because most of what a referee does is based on a person's judgment, and vantage point, it's difficult to really evaluate a person's skill level. However, if there becomes a pattern of poor judgment, then we may have a chat with that referee and see if maybe more training is needed. We have to remember that MMA is still fairly young and it's popularity basically exploded overnight. Officials are trying to gain experience wherever they can, but because almost every fight has a major impact on a fighter's career, it's difficult finding ways for those officials to gain that experience without making a couple mistakes here and there. If you look at boxing, their officials are much older. The reason for this is that they've been involved since they were young and have gone through multiple training sessions, working their way up through the amateur ranks. By the time they become a professional referee, they have worked hundreds of fights. The pool of officials in boxing is extremely deep because the sport has been around for so long. Unfortunately, the number of officials in MMA is extremely low, so it's hard to develop them before they start working bouts on a regular basis.

To wrap it all up, when reviewing appeals you have to remember that any decision made will impact how future decisions are made. You can't arbitrarily make a decision and then treat a similar situation differently. Everything must always be handled in a consistent manner. Sometimes that consistency is praised, and other times it can have a negative impact. But at the end of the day people need to know that your decisions are made in black and white. Once you start introducing a gray area, you set yourself up for failure.

Officials will never be able to gain the respect of everyone. While there may be officials who are loved by many, there will be just as many people who hate that same official. Even the best referees in the business are disliked by many. Officials should be held to very high standards, but they also have to know that the reulatory body has their back and trusts their abilities. We hope to develop better training, evaluation, and disciplinary procedures for officials in the near future so that we can improve on what we have.

We all have to remember that in every bout there are two fights happening, the one actually going on in the cage or ring, and the one happening in the minds of the spectators watching the fight. Almost always, they are two different perspectives of what is happening and both feel their perspective is the correct one.