There was plenty of blame to go around for last Friday’s bizarre scene at UFC on ESPN 6 in which heavyweight Greg Hardy was inexplicably permitted to use an inhaler between the second and third round of his bout with Ben Sosoli, and fingers have been pointed at Hardy and his team, as well as the commission.
At that evening’s post-fight press conference, UFC president Dana White was mystified by the series of communications that led to Hardy’s mid-match puff (an infraction that resulted in his decision win over Sosoli being changed to a no-contest), saying that he had “no clue what anybody who was involved in that situation was thinking,” and that as far as he knew, the only thing fighters are ever allowed to ingest between rounds is water.
MMA Fighting spoke to retired referee and current Bellator broadcaster John McCarthy to get his perspective on the incident and what could have been done to clear up some of the confusion.
“The person that has knowledge, the person that is responsible for that corner is the inspector,” McCarthy said. “The Massachusetts State Athletic Commission assigned that person to that corner for that fight. He is the representative, he is the arm of the commission and Greg Hardy didn’t do anything other than ask, ‘Can I use my inhaler?’ [The inspector] asked the question of, ‘Is it approved?’ What is Hardy thinking, he’s thinking, ‘All my drugs have to go through USADA’ and so he goes, ‘Yeah, it’s USADA-approved.’ And [the inspector] gives permission—he should never have done that—to the fighter to use the inhaler, so the fighter uses it.
“Did Greg Hardy try to cheat? No. He’s asking in front of everyone, ‘Can I use this?’ So everything that you’re looking at, no matter what, goes down to one person. It was that inspector who allowed him to do that. That inspector did not know the rules and that inspector created the entire situation. All he needed to say is, ‘I don’t know. Don’t do that. Let me find out.’”
If McCarthy speaks with authority on the subject, it’s only because he’s dealt with this exact scenario before. At a Strikeforce event in Houston in August 2010, two fighters, K.J. Noons and Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal brought what appeared to be portable oxygen cans to their respective bouts and they were permitted to do so by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.
Noons had actually asked McCarthy—who was present at the event and would later oversee the light heavyweight championship headliner between Lawal and Rafael Cavalcante—if the use of an oxygen can was allowed and McCarthy told him it wasn’t. However, Noons spoke to the commission after his conversation with McCarthy and was given the green light.
In McCarthy’s opinion, it didn’t matter that Noons was not explicitly using any sort of performance enhancer or banned substance; at the end of the day, Noons was getting an advantage his opponent wouldn’t have. Later, when Noon actually used the oxygen can between rounds while fighting Jorge Gurgel, McCarthy let the commission know that they’d made a mistake.
“During the fight, all of a sudden between rounds, K.J. brings the thing out and I see it, but I’m not the referee,” McCarthy said. “I go to the commission and I say, ‘He cannot use that bottle thing.’
“‘Oh yeah, we told him he could.’
“‘What are you doing?’
“‘It’s no problem, it’s just air.’
“‘It is a problem. Do you see his opponent with that same air canister? You’re giving him an advantage.’
With the commission’s ruling set, McCarthy had no grounds to penalize Lawal later in the evening when Lawal also used an oxygen can between rounds (Lawal would go on to lose by third-round TKO to Cavalcante.)
As far as what role the referee could have played in clearing up the UFC on ESPN 6 confusion, McCarthy says there wasn’t much to be done by Bryan Miner (the attending official who McCarthy actually had a hand in training and certifying). Heading into the third round, Miner would be expected to first check on the condition of the fighter who appeared to be taking more damage, in this case, Sosoli, and then proceed to the other corner.
There are details that can be missed during these brief breaks, according to McCarthy.
“If I was officiating, as soon as that round ends, if I have someone that I’m concerned with, I’m watching them walk back to their corner and I’m going to look at them and see how they’re interacting with their trainer,” McCarthy said. “I’m not going to say anything to them, but I’m just going to watch and listen and if I need to say something, I’ll say something real quick, and then I’ll bounce over to the other corner.
“There’s all kinds of things that can happen in 15, 20, 30 seconds in one corner that you don’t know about.”
Even if Miner had been aware of Hardy’s inhaler usage, it’s unclear whether he would have been in justified in taking matters into his own hands and possibly disqualifying Hardy despite the commission’s ruling. Hardy had disclosed his use of an inhaler to the United States Anti-Doping Agency, but utilizing it during the fight was clearly unexpected given the conversation that was captured on camera between rounds.
Had it been McCarthy in the cage on Friday and had he noticed the inhaler being used, he thinks that he would carefully consider the situation carefully before making any rash decisions.
“We’ve got the power to do a lot,” McCarth said. “He could stop that fight at anytime he wants. He can disqualify a fighter. Now should you do that? No. You’ve got to be judicious and you’re looking at not just one thing.
“You’ve got to look at everything that’s involved. You’ve got to think of the promotion, you’ve got to think of the fans, you’ve got to think of a lot of things before you just make any decision. But yes, you have the ability and the power, you can stop a fight at any time.”