It came as little surprise on Saturday night to watch Javier Vazquez dispose of Jens Pulver in the WEC cage. The finish was a gruesome arm-bar that popped Pulver’s elbow out due to how straightened the arm was. Pulver grimaced on the mat after the finish and it looked really scary on television. After yet another loss, Pulver told the fans that he didn’t want to put them through any more emotional torment. The fighters love him and the fans respect him for what he has gone through.
The truth is that Jens Pulver likely shouldn’t have been sanctioned to fight by the Ohio Athletic Commission.
The commission has taken some heat recently for not sanctioning a fight between Wes Sims and Tim Sylvia due to what they perceived as a competitive imbalance and I think it was the right call. Commissions have a tough job to do in terms of approving who can fight and who can’t fight. There are always situations where licensing certain fighters can be a gray area. Pulver was one of those fighters. Unfortunately, he has been dismantled repeatedly over his last few fights. It was sad that his quick submission of Cub Swanson wasn’t the final swan song. It seems like eons ago when that fight took place.
Pulver, like most fighters, don’t know when to quit. They have many reasons to keep fighting, with money being a primary factor. Pulver mentioned that factor during Saturday’s post-fight interview. Fighters are born to fight and want to fight until the day they die. It’s what they live for. Which is why it’s up to the promoters and the athletic commissions to step in when a fighter is shot and tell the fighter, “No more.”
For UFC, this has become an interesting political issue. The promotion has booked many fighters who are older or whose best days are behind them. Tito Ortiz comes to mind. Coming off of major reconstructive back surgery, Ortiz looked slow and sluggish against Forrest Griffin. Last month, UFC had a PPV main event featuring Randy Couture vs. Mark Coleman. Within days of that fight, Coleman was cut from UFC due to fears of safety concerns that Coleman could get damaged severely in the cage. For Zuffa management, their #1 goal is about making money.
Which apparently is also the goal of athletic commissioners these days.
In my opinion, Keith Kizer is the perfect symbol of what has gone wrong with sanctioning. I have long been a proponent of regulation of Mixed Martial Arts. For many years, I’ve watched an unregulated scene in Japan go to hell with phony drug testing policies, different rules for different promotions, and an overall Wild West chaotic scene amongst rival promoters. I thought that with regulation we would avoid seeing physically damaged fighters get licensed or complete mismatches get sanctioned.
I was wrong.
When I alluded to promoters having a lot of power in booking fights that normally shouldn’t be booked, Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin was the perfect example. Ortiz facing a Top 5 Light Heavyweight in his return match? Nevada has become the rubber stamp athletic commission for promoters under Kizer’s tenure. The fight between Ortiz and Griffin wasn’t a blow out because we found out later that Griffin was fighting with a broken foot. If athletic commissions are supposedly about the safety of the fighters, then why are guys like Griffin able to make it into the cage with broken bones? It’s inexcusable. If Mark Coleman gets cut by UFC a few days after his fight due to concern that he might die in the cage, why did Nevada allow him to get licensed in the first place? Inexcusable.
Sure, commissions like the NSAC are great when promoters need a “bad cop” to play off in the media, like UFC management does when referees stink at doing their job. “They appoint the refs!” is the first words out of you-know-who’s mouth.
Jens Pulver isn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last fighter to test the licensing process in terms of whether or not he is still qualified to be a fighter. Pulver is one of many fighters that we’ve seen recently come and go before commission sanctioning and get approved without any real rigorous skepticism. It’s not just Mixed Martial Arts that we’re seeing this happen with, either. Evander “Evan Fields” Holyfield was granted a one-fight license in Nevada to fight on April 17th against Frans Botha in Las Vegas. Holyfield, who can’t get sanctioned by the New York State Athletic Commission, magically passed the rigors of Nevada sanctioning despite the fact that he has vision problems and slurred speech. Plus he’s in his late 40s. “Evan Fields” wouldn’t like you to mention the HGH scandal, either. It’s one thing to be sympathetic to Holyfield’s financial plight, given his failed marriages and housing problems and all the children he’s had with different women. However, athletic commissions aren’t paid by states to be charitable — they’re paid, at least on paper, to do their job and protect the health and well-being of fighters. There’s a reason Evander Holyfield was fighting outside of America. Hint: It’s the same reason Ray Mercer was fighting outside of America for many years.
Then came the news that Mike Tyson — yes, that Mike Tyson — at age 43 would come back to boxing to fight, tah dah, Evander Holyfield. With… Don King as the promoter. Wonder where that fight will take place?
There are plenty of fighters over the age of 35 who look to be in great shape — like Randy Couture — who want to continue fighting and making money before the well dries up on them. I can understand that mindset. Fighters should try to make the most money they possibly can. I also, to a degree, understand that promoters want to make money at whatever cost they can as long as their reputations aren’t permanently damaged. In a capitalistic world, that’s reasonable. However, the athletic commissions in America are supposed to be the final guard, the boundary between promoters and fighters to ensure that something catastrophic doesn’t happen (like, say, a death in the ring). The commissions are supposed to be a part of the checks and balances of power in regulation.
Unfortunately, most athletic commissions these days seem to be giving big-time promoters blank checks to cash in regards to booking any fighters they want to book, safety be damned.