Assigning winners and losers was a theme of last week's coverage pertaining to the fallout of UFC 151.
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.
Regardless of which direction ONE FC moves from this point forward, the company's fifth card, headlined by bantamweights Bibiano Fernandes and Gustavo Falciroli, will be remembered as the event when the show veered close to vale tudo MMA rules (i.e. almost anything goes).
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.
"This was a decision that came about from our last five events," Cui said. "We keep looking to evolve and improve. For future fights and future fighters, this will make the event better. This last event we had the confusion with Arlovski, for example. The 'open attack' rule was confusing for the fighters and it was also confusing for the fans.
"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.