With a self-professed desire to be one of the biggest sporting leagues in the world, the UFC is unique among that group in that it doesn't necessarily have to be bothered with regulatory protocol. The NBA, NFL, and MLB staff, train, pay and penalize their own game officials. In combat sports, that's all left to the state athletic commissions.
That commission autonomy would seem to keep promoter impropriety at a minimum, but the trade-off is having regulators used to the straightforward look of boxing having jurisdiction over a far more involved activity. Time isn't healing this: In 2010, there are more questionable officiating calls than ever.
In response, the UFC's Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, Marc Ratner, told MMAJunkie.com last week that the promotion is considering recruiting and training officials in an effort to install more knowledgeable and competent supervisors.
"We feel very strongly that we need to deepen the pool of officials," Ratner said. "We'll keep working on that. There was just a seminar in Vancouver last weekend that they put on. When we go to New York, we'll help the commission put on seminars there to teach some officials, so we just need to keep pushing that."
Ratner pointed out that former fighters would be good candidates for referee or judging slots -- intentional or not, it would also be a strong step in creating a kind of unofficial pension for some athletes who put in their years of (brutal) service without the money mattress of the main eventers. It is probably not a coincidence that Herb Dean, often cited as one of the best in-ring officials in the business, has had several fights himself.
An even bigger issue for Ratner -- and one I hope he turns his attention to in the short term -- is the unholy mess of regulation on the amateur level, which is often nonexistent in many states. It would benefit the UFC to install some kind of farm league sanctioning body for these events. There's far less of a chance of finding the promotion's next Georges St. Pierre or Anderson Silva if he's busy getting mismatched or fighting with health issues during the formative years of his career. The UFC would probably cite concerns over an amateur getting hurt being attributed to their brand, but this happens regardless. (It's all "ultimate fighting" to mainstream media.)
You can't enjoy the benefits of that recognition and status without consistently contributing to the overall foundation. This is a good first step. But it's a long, long walk.