Confusion reigned at ONE FC
ONE Fighting Championship wasn't mentioned on many lists, at least from the selection I saw, but the Singapore-based promotion probably should have been. Friday in Manila, the upstart held its fifth event and likely benefited from a news vacuum created in the wake of 151's implosion. That meant North American media and fans paid more attention to the card, which was streamed online Friday morning for $10. The event presented ONE FC an opportunity to stand out on an otherwise depressing UFC-less weekend.
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Confusion due to the show's "open attack" rule (which allowed for soccer kicks to the head of a downed opponent upon a prompt from the referee) caused an unceremonious end to a heavyweight bout between Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski. Earlier in the evening Phil Baroni slammed soccer kicks into the head of Rodrigo Ribeiro after referee Yuji Shimada, the old Pride rules director, sounded flustered while calling for, stopping, then initiating "open attack" scenarios.
Whether or not fighters were lucid enough to follow through on Shimada's commands is worth wondering.
This confusion, ONE Fighting Championship CEO Victor Cui told ESPN, demanded a new course insofar as the rules go. That, he said, ensured soccer kicks will be a full-time addition. They're immediately available to use in all fights in ONE FC. With a melding of Eastern and Western rule sets, Cui's show finds itself operating under the most liberal set of rules mixed martial artists can find today.
"I think this will simplify and clarify for all parties."
Arlovski unleashed kicks at Tim Sylvia's head when the big man went down in Round 2. He thought he was within his right to do so, but Shimada had not given him the signal. That meant one of the most experienced heavyweights in the sport was unclear about what he could or could not do. Cui hopes this rule change will remove any ambiguity that emerged during Friday's open attack scenarios.
"The 'open attack' rule sounds great in principle but it's very difficult to implement in the heat of the fight," Cui said. "Ensuring the safety of the fighter continues to be protected by the referees in a timely manner. This gives the fighter an opportunity to continue to fight without having to worry about waiting for an 'open attack' or not. It also allows the referee to jump in and stop the fight if he feels the fighters' safety is at risk."
Cui stood firm that rules for ONE FC don't need to conform to the Unified standard employed throughout North America and most of the world.
"It's not necessary that the Unified Rules are the best rules in the world," he said. "There's a lot of room for adaptation; for changes.
"And if you look at the fact that our judging is not on the 10-point must system [in which judges award 10 points to the fighter whom they felt won the round], that alone changes the dynamics of a fight and how a fighter approaches a fight for ONE FC.
"What we want to adopt is a global set of rules. I really think that everything about ONE FC is a blend of taking the best practices of East and West. We want to put that together. It's what makes exciting fights. It makes fighters excited to compete in our organization. And it ensures the safety of our fighters, which is the most important thing."
The notion that allowing kicks to the head of a downed opponent (stomps are still banned) at any time will increase safety standards is hard to buy. But there is some truth to the necessity of change in light of the confusion that reigned as ONE FC officials wavered back and forth between yes and no "open attack" scenarios.
At the end of the event, officials gathered and went over options. It was unanimously decided, according to Cui, that referees would no longer be responsible for calling and policing open attack situations. Instead, fighters will walk into the cage knowing that almost anything is possible.
ONE FC grades
Phil Baroni (15-15) is as passionate and hard working as they come, but the guy can't win a big fight anymore. So he's left fighting opponents like Rodrigo Ribeiro (9-10) and acting as if beating guys of that caliber holds some value. Yep, Baroni, 36, smashed Ribeiro in 60 seconds -- but it will take a sort of miracle for him to re-emerge as any kind of contender. I don't like his chances.
By any measure, Eric Kelly is the only prospect listed among the fighters this week. The unbeaten Filipino featherweight handled Jens Pulver within two rounds. That isn't much of an accomplishment these days, but Kelly handled his business as he should have. Kelly (8-0) is a competent striker whose improving wrestling (especially on the defensive side) will serve him well against the type of opposition ONE FC can throw his way. Next up is a bout on Oct. 6 against fellow countryman Honorio Banario (7-1) for the promotion's vacant belt.
Bibiano Fernandes took a unanimous decision against Australian Gustavo Falciroli (12-4). It was hardly the Dream grand prix winner's best effort, though Fernandes (12-3) showed flashes of why many regard him as an extremely dangerous bantamweight. He's dynamic and technical on the floor -- opponents don't want to scramble with the guy, as Falciroli quickly found out. By spurning the UFC, Fernandes, 32, chose to make himself the proverbial big fish in a small pond. In terms of competition, that's too bad, but he believes he's doing the right thing by his family, and that's hard to argue with.
Were it not for the confusing "open attack" rule, odds are Andrei Arlovski (17-9) would have stopped Tim Sylvia late in Round 2. But because the 33-year-old Belarusian kicked when he shouldn't have, the result was determined to be a no-contest and a fifth contest is likely. Everyone is fired up about that.
The 36-year-old former UFC heavyweight champion needed to make a point against Arlovski. He ultimately fell short, but Sylvia (31-7) appeared motivated and effective until things went against him in the last minute of Round 2. He's big and clumsy, true. But Sylvia is also a gamer and when he's training properly, he's no easy out. Don't count on him ever returning to the UFC -- despite the best lobbying efforts of his fans on Twitter.
Jens Pulver, 37, actually looked halfway decent in the opening round against Eric Kelly. Then reality caught up to him, he started taking punches, and a kick to this midsection forced a painful end to the evening at 1:46 of the second period. The loss dropped Pulver to 5-10 over the past five years. He's done. Washed up. He knows it. Everyone knows it. Interest from promoters and his financial needs will dictate how much longer he continues. Expect Pulver (26-17-1) to return to 135 pounds and fight a few more times, at a minimum.
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