“What is real? How do you define real?” asks Morpheus from The Matrix. “If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” And working off the premise that one should only believe half of what you see and none of what you hear; the controversy surrounding the Don’Tale Mayes vs. Hamdy Abdelwahab fight at UFC 277 has virtually begged for an MMA Press Room review after the scorecards from one of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) judges publicly came under fire from nearly all corners of the mixed martial arts stratosphere. Having long since contended that the truth is like a prism, with there being many sides to a prism and all sides being a representation of the truth; we will attempt to unpack some of our major points of contention with this bout for our own peace of mind alone as we explore impropriety in combat sports and the parallel realities of mixed martial arts within the matrix itself.
For those who are familiar with the history of MMA, terms like No Holds Barred and Vale Tudo harkens back to a now forgotten era of combat sports where the rules were minimal and things were far more interesting than they are today. The formal adoption of the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts in 2001 throughout much of the country forever marked the end of an era as a parallel reality, of sorts, was established that would compartmentalize the way officials view and score fights by enumerating various aspects of the bouts that have had the unfortunate consequence of directly calling into question reality itself inside the ring and cage. The establishment of this parallel reality conveniently leading to the road of subjectivity and plausible deniability for two decade’s worth of controversial scoring throughout much of North America.
“So guys, there’s a situation going on in Texas,” explains former UFC middleweight contender Chael Sonnen in his August 8th, 2022 YouTube video titled, “Texas MMA Judge not happy with Joe Rogan....”
“The scores comes in, two judges give it the way that the viewing audience believed it was going to go, another judge named Fuller had it different," explained Sonnen. "He had it 29-28, that’s not a bad thing. That’s absolutely not a bad thing. That is doing the rule that you were supplied, and simple math, you got a 10-9 must system, you turn your cards in and you add it up."
"But Joe Rogan made a comment," Sonnen continued. "And Joe Rogan, who was working with Cormier and Anik said, ‘someone needs to talk to that guy, what’s he taking?’ I’m 98% quoting there okay, what’s he taking or what’s he on?”
“In a video described as a ‘clap back’ to UFC 277 commentators Joe Rogan, Jon Anik and Daniel Cormier, Texas MMA judge Seth Fuller explained the reasoning behind his score for Don’Tale Mayes and the fallout he received from being in the minority on a split decision,” writes MMAFighting.com’s Steven Marrocco in his August 9, 2022 article titled, “Texas judge responds to Joe Rogan, UFC 277 commentary team with explainer on score for Don’Tale Mayes.”
“During the broadcast,” explains Marrocco, “Rogan told Anik and Cormier ‘that guy needs a talking to...we need to check to see what he’s been on' when informed of Fuller’s dissenting 29-28 score for Mayes, in contrast to two judges who gave 29-28 scores to newcomer Hamdy Abdelwahab on the prelims of this past month’s pay-per-view.” Whether suggesting the judge was on the take or otherwise, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation official took issue with the UFC commentators’ comments and publicly released a video response to address their concerns that has been met with a wide variety of opinions from the mixed martial arts community.
According to the report, “Fuller said Rogan’s words resulted in immediate backlash from UFC fans – one of whom called him a f***tard in a text he shared – and damaged his reputation with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, which oversaw the event at American Airlines Center in Dallas.”
The fallout apparently didn’t end there either as Fuller went on to explain. “Now the commission goes, 'hey, this is why we shouldn’t have put this guy on the main UFC.' And that’s to me, a bunch of BS, because if I’m doing it wrong, then cite me for doing it wrong," argued Fuller. "But if you’re pretending that I’m not experienced, or I was careless, or I didn’t think, and do my absolute best, and I don’t care about these fighters and care that the result is the correct result according to the rules that they agreed to, you’re just plain wrong.”
Record scratch. Houston, we have a problem! Did this Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation official just admit that the TDLR is screening officials based off the approval of the UFC commentary crew? Because that’s sure what it sounds like, which would obviously beg the question of just how independent are these commissions from the bodies that they were established to govern? Which becomes an even more problematic question to consider when the actual events that happened to take place inside the cage that night are further put under the microscope for a more detailed analysis and inspection.
“Don’Tale Mayes, the favorite tonight is 30,” explained UFC commentator Jon Anik as he went over the tale of the tape leading up to the preliminary heavyweight showdown on the undercard of UFC 277. Later, Cormier went on to point out, “You know, when this fight was announced Hamdy was the favorite. And it ended with Don’Tale as an almost 2 to 1 favorite.”
As perhaps one of the only writers in the combat sports industry today to regularly write about corruption in mixed martial arts and boxing, I’ve long since criticized the prevalence of betting in professional sports and the, at times, in your face nature of the betting houses blatantly advertising right in the middle of an event for everyone to see. An insult to the viewer’s intelligence which all but explains away the unexplainable in combat sports - yet somehow the corporate intersection of betting houses and mixed martial arts is a phenomenon which seems to elude even those who could be construed as critics of the sport.
With the ability of would be gamblers to place bets on a variety of outcomes surrounding the fights depending on the particular parameters laid out by the individual betting houses in question, the controversial nature of many of these decisions inside the ring and cage become curious circumstances to consider when the relationship between these betting houses and the promotions they work with intersect to form a symbiotic relationship that could be considered inappropriate at the very least, perhaps even immoral and unethical. Which leaves one left to consider at exactly what point is the line between legal and illegal straddled before some serious questions begin to be asked concerning the legitimacy of these bouts?
With previous experience guest judging for the Kansas Athletic Commission, I’ve previously criticized the potential fight altering interference posed by the commentary crews covering these events within earshot of both the athletes and the commission officials themselves and found referee Kerry Hatley’s decisions inside the cage at UFC 277 that night particularly interesting considering the seemingly sole focus on judge Seth Fuller by much of the MMA media following the event.
Curiously, at one point nearing the end of the first round UFC commentator Daniel Cormier mentions that referee Hatley was going to bring the fighters back to the center of the octagon after Mayes found himself in a disadvantageous position shortly before the referee did just that. And if that decision wasn’t questionable enough, he repeated this exact same line of reasoning later again in the third round and that's not even getting into the low blow in the second, which was handled rather unusually on its own accord.
With a Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation appointed judge having admitted that the commission was screening his placement on the card following backlash leveled by the UFC broadcast crew following his controversial scorecard at UFC 277 and the curious nature of referee Kerry Hatley’s potentially fight altering decision making processes inside the cage that night, seemingly on reverse psychological cue by these very same UFC fight commentators, it’s little wonder that “the TDLR asks all judges to refrain from commenting publicly on scoring.” As it all but guarantees more questions than answers will arise centering around the commissions relationship with the promotions they’ve been appointed to oversee and direct while increasingly finding themselves coming under public scrutiny time and time again.
And with UFC commentator Joe Rogan suggesting a TDLR official needs “a talking to,” as the very same official in question later goes on to admit that his future is now in jeopardy as a result of the criticism leveled by representatives of the very same organization he was appointed to officiate for; a conflict of interest arises where there should be a very clear separation of church and state. The necessity for an independent athletic commission free from even the suggestion of impropriety within its ranks is essential to avoid such charges as the Don’Tale Mayes vs. Hamdy Abdelwahab fight is nearly a case study for how not to officiate a bout. With the parallel realities of the enumerated rule sets serving as plausible deniability in excusing away the subjective nature of what would otherwise be inexcusable in combat sports, one is left to question exactly what is real, how do you define real within the mixed martial arts matrix itself?