For the uninitiated, mixed martial arts pioneer Yuki Nakai will be an unfamiliar name on the lips and minds of those recounting some of the most legendary and infamous moments in the sports history. In 1995, Nakai battled UFC 1 veteran Gerard Gordeau in a Vale Tudo match in Japan that unfortunately saw Gordeau, a seasoned karate expert, thumb Nakai during their match which ultimately resulted in a gruesome eye injury for Nakai that blinded the Japanese legend for life. With the spirit of a Samurai, Nakai would go on to submit Gordeau with a heel hook despite the injury, incredibly going on to defeat yet another opponent that night before falling to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu master Rickson Gracie in the tournament finals in his third and final bout of the evening. Though Nakai showed the heart of a warrior that night, I can not help but wonder if the referee and tournament officials let Yuki Nakai down?
The referee's had advance knowledge of Gordeau's intention, with the Dutchmen reportedly having warned the referee Nakai wasn't fighting and he wasn't to take his eye out. Gordeau appeared unconcearned for the consequences of his actions due to the threat of disqualification only after multiple illegal infractions, an unfortunate rule that seems to have carried over into the modern era if even unwritten.
While MMA has come a long way since 1995, the desire to inflict as much damage as possible on your opponent however remains virtually unchanged despite a laundry list of rules and prohibited techniques that have been introduced to the sport since that time. In a September 26, 2019 YouTube video titled, “Stipe Miocic will fight when he can see out of both eyes...,” ESPN MMA analyst Chael Sonnen weighed in on the recent announcement that UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic will undergo surgery in an attempt to correct the vision in one of his eyes due to the injuries he sustained in being eye gouged by former UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier in their rematch at UFC 241 back in August of this year.
According to the former UFC middleweight title contender, “What I did think that was interesting was that Stipe said that the reason he needs some time, I believe his exact quote was, ‘I will be ready to fight as soon as I can see out of both eyes.’ He was having double vision in one eye from a number of eye pokes that he took in that contest with Daniel,” said Sonnen. Chael would go on to remark that he was actually at the fight but doesn’t recall a break in the action, likely due to the fact the referee allowed the fight to continue despite the obvious flagrant foul.
In fact, Cormier eye gouged Miocic at UFC 226 back in July of 2018 shortly before knocking Miocic unconscious and claiming the UFC heavyweight title. “It seems somewhere over Daniels career,” reflected Sonnen, “He’s been accused a number of times of being an eye poker. And there’s a couple of guys who have, Chuck Liddell use to poke the eyes, Jon Jones pokes the eyes. I can tell you my entire fight career, I fought 50 men, trained everything and I never poked anybody in the eye. And that isn’t to say that I somehow did it better than anyone, I’m just saying I don’t really get that. I don’t really know how you put your finger in an eye.”
Sonnen doesn’t get it, because even though he is well known for having more juice than Tropicana there is honor amongst thieves. While Chael may be the CEO of Bad Guy Inc., having tested positive for legendary amounts of performance enhancing drugs, it’s another matter entirely when you use illegal techniques that could potentially blind your opponents for life in the name of sporting competition.
Cormier’s blatant eye gouging techniques at UFC 241 in August against Miocic seemed to trigger an avalanche of similar game planning going the following month in September, where the main event of Bellator 226 between Ryan Bader and Cheick Kongo resulted in a no contest (NC) following a controversial eye poke which was then later proceeded by two other eye gouge incidents that prompted no contest rulings at UFC Fight Night 158 and UFC Fight Night 159 respectively. And while it may seem like Cormier kicked off a domino effect, the reality is these athletes are exploiting holes within the system that allow for athletes to deliver truly debilitating blows to their opponents with the expectation that will receive a slap on the wrist or a warning at best, before being allowed to continue on against at times, severely hampered opponents who feel the peer pressure to continue despite the illegal blows and the damage that follows.
At UFC Fight Night 147 in March, Jorge Masvidal scored a low blow right out of the gate against his opponent Darren Till who was also later knocked out cold by his opponent, highlighting just how easy it is to get away with a potentially fight changing technique with little to no penalty. The fight was marked with periods of competitiveness, but for those who believe receiving a low blow is a walk in the park you’re invited to volunteer and see for yourself who it feels to sing Soprano.
Eye gouging, the threat of eye gouging, low blows and other similar course of the fight altering techniques have the ability to not only seriously injure opponents during the fight itself but cause long term physical harm and damage to the victims of these illegal techniques throughout the rest of their lives and careers. While I have always been a proponent of the No Holds Barred era of mixed martial arts where fighters put on their big boy pants and fought with as few of rules as possible, if we are going to work within the unfortunate parameters of the unified rules system they at least should to be enforced, and at no time should illegal techniques play a central role in a combat sport athletes game planning.
The current atmosphere in mixed martial arts of slapping fighters on the wrist who eye gouge or low blow opponents needs to be re-evaluated because allowing room for one illegal fight ending technique is in fact all that is required to alter the course of the bout entirely, waiting for a second or even third foul to occur in these situations is simply ridiculous and a major loophole in the current system that is obviously being exploited to various degree's depending on the circumstances of the fight itself. While accidents can and do happen, they appear to be happening at an all too convenient and alarming frequency lately.
Under the current rules, eye gouges are prohibited but penalties may be administered at the referee’s discretion. How many Yuki Nakai’s are we going to allow to occur in mixed martial arts before the officials finally begin to catch on that these prohibited techniques are in fact being used in a purposeful fashion to alter the course of fights with the expectation the referee’s are going to error on the side of caution in administering severe penalties for these flagrant infractions?
In conclusion, there are a number of area’s in the modern era of mixed martial arts that need to be reassessed and evaluated for their efficacy and overall ideological legitimacy that are ripe for exploitation and corruption in the modern era. The UFC heavyweight champion of the world was eye gouged in both of his fights against Daniel Cormier and is reportedly undergoing surgery in an attempt to correct his blurry vision yet no penalty was administered in either contest. In fact, penalties are rarely administered for these fight altering techniques despite the increasing regularity of their use. If the powers that be insist that we work under the unified rules system, its high time they open their rule books and actually start enforcing their own written directives before they end up letting another Yuki Nakai down.