Jorge Masvidal defeated Nate Diaz in dominant fashion last weekend at Madison Square Garden at UFC 244. The #3 ranked Welterweight controlled the action from pillar to post and almost finished Diaz in the 1st round of the fight. However, despite desperately looking to make it 3 spectacular knockouts in a row, ultimately it was the Ringside Physician, Nitin K. Sethi who ended the bout, waving off the fight between the 3rd and 4th rounds due to lacerations over Diaz’ right eye.
This led to huge outcry, with fans immediately claiming the doctor’s decision was premature. The arguments ranged from citing the accumulation of scar tissue over Diaz’ right eye, to deeming the New York State Athletic Commission (which only 3 years ago legalised MMA) are incompetent. Realistically, pointing to a significant amount of scar tissue as evidence why the doctor shouldn’t have called the fight off only serves to suggest that previous Ringside Physicians have not protected Diaz as they should have done. Matters were made worse by famed UFC commentator, Joe Rogan, immediately jumping to his feet to declare the stoppage incorrect. It is undeniable that Rogan has done a great deal for the sport of MMA, and his expert knowledge of martial arts and signature style of calling the action has become synonymous with the UFC. However, his bizarre hot-takes about the injury which seemed to suggest he knew better than an extremely qualified and experienced neurologist were unnecessary.
Unfortunately, many fans agreed with Rogan and felt disappointed in the result. Doctor Nitin K. Sethi has since spoken out about how his practice has been receiving non-stop phone calls of threat and harassment, alongside 1 star online reviews which are damaging to his business. This disgusting behaviour paints the sport, and humanity, in a terrible light, and also crucially may deter future physicians from calling off fights when appropriate. Sethi has spoken candidly since Saturday,
“I’m a very good neurologist and a very good doctor. Calling me f*cking scum online and calling my office staff and yelling at them, threatening me, I fear for my health and safety… Somebody’s going to hurt, and it’s probably going to be me this time.”– Nitin K. Sethi speaking with MMAFighting.com
It is true that Diaz is famed for being amongst the fittest fighters to ever step into the Octagon. This has given him the stature of someone who gets stronger as the fight progresses into the later rounds. Having only been finished once in the UFC, Diaz has has a reputation for being virtually impossible to put away. However, the cut was opened within the 1st minute of the 1st round, and was only getting worse. Being clearly down 3 rounds to 0 on the scorecards would have meant Diaz would have needed to KO or submit his opponent, which is something that has never happened in Jorge Masvidal’s UFC career. So whilst many screamed at Doctor Sethi for not considering the context of the fight, in reality, Diaz had a snowball in hell’s chance of a comeback. On the other hand, Diaz’ stock remains at an all-time high, and he now has the chance to cash-in a multi-million dollar deal by signing the much-anticipated trilogy fight with Conor McGregor, or he could even potentially talk himself into a rematch with Masvidal. Were serious damage caused to his eye in those final 2 rounds, these opportunities both for Diaz and for the fans, would be been lost.
Yet the truth of the matter is, this consideration of context is irrelevant. Regardless of however you or I may feel about the odds of a Diaz comeback, the Ringside Physician’s job is to protect the fighter’s safety, not to make predictions about their chances of winning. Some will have lost a few dollars based on bets backing Diaz, yet life goes on. The risk for the doctor getting this call wrong could potentially be that life does not go on.
The uproar over the Diaz & Masvidal fight is particularly relevant this week, when it was announced that British boxing star, Nicola Adams, had made the decision to retire from competition over eye injuries that put her sight at risk. Speaking to the Yorkshire Post, Adams says she had tore the pupil in her eye and had been warned “any further impact to my eye would most likely lead to irreparable damage and permanent vision loss.” The Olympic Gold Medal Winner in London 2012 and Rio 2016 completed a storied career by retiring as the WBO Flyweight Champion with an undefeated professional record. It doesn’t get much better. Adams, who has been an inspiration to millions and a true icon of British boxing may well have given the most important lesson of all to fighters and fans worldwide: to know when enough is enough.
Eye injuries have unfortunately always been a major risk in any combat sport, yet it appears that over recent years more and more fighters are suffering horrific injuries that jeopardise their lives long after their careers are over.
Former UFC Middleweight Champion, Michael Bisping, had a long history of eye problems stemming from a detached retina in a fight with Vitor Belfort in 2013. In his podcast broadcast yesterday, Bisping revealed that in order to compete against Georges St-Pierre in New York City, the New York State Athletic Committee forced him to sign a waiver declaring he would not be able to take legal action should he lose vision or the eye itself. Ultimately, he was dropping by a massive swinging hook that he literally never saw coming. Today, his vision is severely impaired and he wears a prosthetic. His injuries certainly live with him. Many object to the regulations that govern combat sports in the United Kingdom and the United States, but as has been proven time and time again, they do exist for a reason. Just 2 weeks after the St-Pierre fight, Bisping stepped in to fight Kelvin Gastelum in Shanghai, after Anderson Silva was pulled from the fight following testing positive for banned substances. This fight would never have been permitted to take place in the US, where the majority of UFC events happen, yet China sanctioned the bout and allowed Bisping to compete. The result: a vicious 1st Round KO for Gastelum, again with a massive strike Bisping could never have seen coming. It should be noted that the UFC could have declined his offer to save the day. Thankfully, “The Count” retired several months later, and recently was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.
This is a prime example of why eye injuries must be taken incredibly seriously and it is a disservice to the sport and to its athletes to diminish the serious risks involved with competing. It is true that boxing and MMA has probably seen worse cuts than the one we saw on Saturday night. And yes, Joe Rogan may very well have seen more gruesome things on his days hosting Fear Factor, however, combat sports have a responsibility to continue to develop methods of keeping fighters as safe as possible.
Ultimately, fight fans were treated to a brilliant card on Saturday night. From the undercard to the main event, the quality was consistently top notch and there was no shortage of spectacular finishes. For the UFC, a brand which is desperately attempting to disassociate itself from its barbaric “Just Bleed” beginnings, the fact that the doctor wisely stepped in to save Nate Diaz is a blessing. The athletic commission works independently from the organisation, yet they have gone a long way to increasing the legitimacy of the premier organisation in a sport once dubbed “human cockfighting” by US Senator, John McCain. Some will object to the doctor stealing two rounds of a beaten-up Nate Diaz in a fight with a foregone conclusion. But keep in mind that saving those 2 rounds could give us an extra 2 years of Diaz in the Octagon, and much more importantly, those 2 rounds may prove to make all the difference when it’s all said and done for Nate Diaz.