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Hector Lombard’s late left hand earned him a disqualification loss against C.B. Dollaway at UFC 222 on Saturday night, but did the punishment fit the crime? MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes and retired UFC and WEC fighter Danny Downes discuss.
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Fowlkes: I never thought I’d type this, Danny, but I sort of pity poor Hector Lombard. There he is, competing in a sport where it is a documented fact that it pays to cheat, and somehow he becomes the rare bird who actually gets disqualified, all for an infraction that is at least somewhat understandable.
By now, we’ve all seen it. Lombard and C.B. Dollaway are going at it on Saturday’s UFC 222 prelims. Lombard is committing to a strategy of countering Dollaway’s kicks with punches. Then Dollaway lands a body kick right at the horn to end the first round, and Lombard fires off a two-punch combo, culminating in a blistering left hand right as referee Mark Smith yells “stop” for the second time (via YouTube):
The thing is, if he’d merely wobbled Dollaway with that punch without flooring and possibly concussing him, this might have been an advantageous breach of the rules by Lombard. (Remember when Germaine de Randamie got away with several strikes after the horn against Holly Holm?)
Instead, Lombard hits Dollaway so hard that he can’t get up, and he pays the price with a DQ loss. Was justice served here, Danny?
Downes: I guess? There’s no way they could or should let Dollaway continue after that punch. If Lombard had only stunned him, they probably would have let it continue. In that regard, I suppose the right thing was done, but it shouldn’t have gotten to that point in the first place.
Mark Smith may have said “Stop,” but that’s not enough. You have to position yourself to make sure exchanges like that don’t occur after the bell.
As a fighter, when you hear the 10-second warning, you’re rushing to score a few more points. If you let your foot off the gas, you leave yourself susceptible to an opponent’s last-second effort. I know fans don’t trust Lombard because of his performance-enhancing drug use, but I believed him when I heard his explanation here.
“It was in action. You know, we’re exchanging. He threw a kick, and I’m coming back. You’re in the fight. If the referee doesn’t get in and say (stop), but if you’re in action and you throw a kick, I follow through with one-two. … The referee didn’t step in and say anything.”
Lombard may have cheated in the past, but I wouldn’t call this incident “dirty.” It’s unfortunate for both guys. Lombard had a specific counter combination for when Dollaway kicked, and he had probably drilled that specific move thousands of times. You condition yourself to do something automatically without thinking, and that’s what he did.
While I may be a bit more sympathetic to Lombard than the average fan, part of me is glad that the disqualification occurred. Too often in this sport referees don’t want to take dramatic actions that determine the outcome of a fight.
This is an isolated incident, though, isn’t it? Do you really think this is a sign of things to come?
Fowlkes: Before we get too encouraged by it as a sign that we’re finally taking the rules seriously, ask yourself what the other options were here. Like you said, there was no way to let Dollaway continue once we all saw him propped up and asking what happened over and over. That fight has to stop right there, so what do you attribute the stoppage to?
It was clearly the result of Lombard’s last punch, which was clearly after the horn. It’s an illegal blow, so you can’t give him a TKO win for that. And the illegal blow resulted in Dollaway being unable to continue, so DQ is really the only choice.
Also, you’re right that Smith deserves to take some heat here. He needs to jump in there and stop the action at the end of the round, not just stand there and yell for everybody to stop. Fighters can’t rely on the sound of the horn, which they might not even necessarily hear all the time. Then again, if we’re going by the letter of the law, here’s how that rule reads on paper:
“The end of a round is signified by the sound of the bell and the call of time by the referee. Once the referee has made the call of time, any offensive actions initiated by the fighter shall be considered after the bell and illegal.”
I’m also sympathetic to Lombard’s explanation, though it does have its limits. For instance, he tells us he wasn’t trying to fight outside the rules, but it’s a fight and when you hit him he’s coming back at you in the heat of the moment. Fine, but where does that stop, exactly?
By that logic, does Dollaway get to counter Lombard’s counter, even if it’s well past the end of the round? Do they brawl until the ref pulls them apart at the end of each round? Because if not, then Lombard sounds like he’s arguing that only he deserves to get the last word.
Mostly, the extent to which I’m willing to feel sorry for Lombard is the extent to which I acknowledge that he couldn’t have seen this result coming. This sport doesn’t punish its cheaters like this, and his rule violation is a lot more understandable than most. Grabbing the fence or launching a blatantly illegal knee to a downed opponent, those are worse and more willful, in a lot of ways.
Everything about the way the rules are enforced probably led a guy like Lombard to believe that a punch or two after the horn would be no big deal. Then, mostly due to circumstances, he ends up as the guy who actually loses a fight because of it, and the result is unsatisfying all the way around.
Which makes me wonder, Danny, is it possible that we don’t want to see our rules enforced as much as we think we do?
Downes: I think that’s true. If the rules were enforced to the degree that we claim we’d like to see, the referee’s impact on fights would increase to a level that we wouldn’t enjoy. A single point deduction in a three-round fight is incredible. We may claim that we want to see more deductions for fence grabs or eye-pokes or low blows, but do we want to see a bunch of 28-28 scorecards? We may like the occasional draw, but we don’t want to see two to three every event.
Advocating for such strict enforcement of all MMA fouls is like asking that people receive speeding tickets for going 66 in a 65 MPH zone. Again, I think that the right call was made in this specific circumstance, but we don’t want referees becoming stars. Not only because we want the athletes front and center, but also because there won’t be enough signature hand signal salutes to go around. (You think Mario Yamasaki is going to give up that heart trademark? No chance.)
Like most things in life, we pick and choose when we want the rules followed. This weekend most people were happy to see Lombard punished for the late strikes. Most other times fans adopt a “just let them fight” philosophy.
I still think about the first fight between Donald Cerrone and Jamie Varner at WEC 38. An illegal knee forced the fight to end prematurely and gave Varner the win. The rules were followed, and fans hated it. They held that against Varner for years. If a fan favorite loses a fight or a championship because of a draconian adherence to the rules, people would be running to their Twitter account begging for the rule to be changed.
You asked if justice was served last night. I still don’t know, but I do know that whatever justice in MMA looks like, we need it to be applied to everyone equally.
Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.
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