Commission's answers raise questions
March, 27, 2013
By Josh Gross
AP Photo/Paul ChiassonFighting for or defending a championship title means you don't have the luxury of a one-pound leeway.
On Tuesday morning, Joyce Tremblay, a spokesperson for the Quebec Boxing Commission, emailed a statement to the media that sought to explain how the regulator conducts weigh-ins for title fights.
A response was necessary after video surfaced late last week that revealed Michael Mersch, a senior vice president with the UFC, quietly informing Nick Diaz that the commission in charge of the event would allow him and UFC champion Georges St-Pierre to step on the scale as much as 0.9 pounds above their contracted limit of 170, and still have it officially listed as a UFC welterweight title contest.
"The good news is” the Quebec Boxing Commission doesn’t “count the decimal,” Mersch told Diaz, who sat in the Bell Centre with members of his team, including one operating a recording camera. “If you're 170.2, it's 170. If it's 170.9, it's 170."
The video raised questions about the commission’s credibility, and prompted the following response:
“Currently, the [Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux] does take into consideration the maximum weight determined by contract when it carries out the weight-ins [sic] before a bout,” Tremblay said in the statement. “However, our regulation on combat sports does not take decimals into account. Their consideration is a question of interpretation likely to be debated between the two parties under contract.”
“The commission’s statement that their regulation ‘does not take decimals into account’ is bizarre and untrue,” Jonathan Tweedale, a representative for Diaz, said in a statement. “Section 74 of the regulation provides that at an official weigh-in, ‘[t]he scale shall have graduated readings at each 100 g (3.6 oz) and shall be certified by Measurement Canada.’ There would be no need to have graduated readings at each 100 g if the commission ‘does not take decimals into account.’ ”
One hundred grams is equivalent to 0.22 pounds.
Previous UFC cards in Montreal featured fighters, including St-Pierre when he defended the title against Matt Serra, whose weight included 0.5-pound increments.
It's virtually unheard of for fighters competing for a belt to weigh above their contracted limit. In most jurisdictions, though ironically not Quebec, fighters participating in non-title fights get an extra pound. Championship fighters don’t enjoy that luxury. For example, Nate Diaz, Nick's younger brother, was required to shed 0.6 pounds to earn the right to fight Benson Henderson for the UFC lightweight title late last year in Seattle.
Yet not only did Mersch claim, per the commission, the March 16 championship bout in Montreal was allowed a 0.9-pound leeway, he also said if Diaz or St-Pierre missed weight, an extra hour would be available for them to sweat off the excess.
Mersch’s statement on video flies in the face of Quebec combat regulations as they’re written, which mandate that "at an official weigh-in, no time shall be granted to a contestant to enable him to increase or decrease his weight."
When Bernard Hopkins boxed Jean Pascal in Montreal for a title in May 2011, the commission violated its own rules by allowing the American to re-weigh after he was announced at 175.9 pounds. Less than two hours later, Hopkins broke 175 and was cleared to fight.
Veteran fight promoter Stephane Patry, who’s held events in Quebec since 2000, is aware that regulations outlaw second chances to make weight, and he made it a practice to provide fighters wiggle room by giving them an extra pound in bout agreements.
"If I had a lightweight fight I had to put 156 on the contract to allow that one pound for the fighters that the commission wouldn't allow," Patry said Tuesday evening.
Rather than alleviate legitimate concerns that sprang up as a result of the video -- which the UFC removed from YouTube following a copyright claim -- the commission’s statement only served to induce additional questions.
Tremblay told ESPN.com that no contestant at UFC 158 "exceeded the weight determined in their contracts." Diaz hit 169. St-Pierre was marked at 170. The commission spokeswoman reiterated that St-Pierre did not weigh more than the welterweight limit when he stood on the scale one day prior to dominating Diaz and retaining the belt.
According to comments made by Mersch in the video, so long as Diaz and St-Pierre weighed under 171 pounds, “we should be good.” Asked by a member of Diaz’s camp why this information wasn’t passed along earlier, instead of less than an hour prior to the start of weigh-ins, Mersch responded, "It's just something to keep in mind. That's kind of an 'off-the-record' type of thing.”
Mersch did not reply to an email from ESPN.com seeking comment.
The UFC, through its head of regulatory affairs Marc Ratner, deferred media questions to the Quebec commission, though queries linger about the promoter’s role.
St-Pierre's chief trainer, Firas Zahabi, told ESPN.com that the Quebec commission informed him prior to the weigh-in that a 0.9-pound allowance was in play. He said he was told St-Pierre's contract called for a fight at 170 pounds "and that the contract does not regard any decimals or ounces."
Still, it's worth wondering why the UFC would go along with a situation in which fighters in a championship bout, who signed contracts at a specific weight, were allowed to be heavy on the scale.
This runs counter to how boxers and mixed martial artists have operated leading up to championship fights, an offense -- as Tweedale pointed out, and Patry recalled based on experiences with competitors he promoted in the past -- that’s punishable in Quebec with a 20 percent purse deduction, paid to the opponent of a contestant who “fails to achieve the weight specified in the contract at the official weigh-in.”
This, Tweedale argued, is enough for UFC to provide Diaz a rematch with St-Pierre, which is what they want, even though no proof exists that the champion missed the mark.
"The Quebec commission deliberately relaxed the rule in this case and, by its own admission, allowed their hometown fighter to 'make weight' even if he weighed more than the contracted weight," he alleged.
If a similar situation was in play when St-Pierre fought Carlos Condit last year in Montreal, the unsuccessful challenger informed ESPN.com he was not told. Eduardo Alonso and Ed Soares, managers respectively for Mauricio Rua and Lyoto Machida, who headlined UFC 113 with a light heavyweight title bout in Montreal, could not recall if a weight allowance was given to the fighters at the time.
Diaz’s camp also plans to file a formal complaint with the commission regarding the handling of St-Pierre’s post-fight drug test.
“We expect the UFC to do the right thing here,” Tweedale told ESPN.com.
Patry, who promoted and managed St-Pierre at the start of the French-Canadian’s career, claimed no dog in the fight, yet he found himself incensed by the Quebec Boxing Commission’s statement.
“I would have never reacted to that story because it's none of my business, really,” Patry said. “But when I saw the response coming from the commission spokesman it p---ed me off. It's lies. It's lies. It's blatant lies and somebody has to do something about that.
“The worst part of this story is the explanation given [Tuesday] by a government agency. This is not acceptable.”