2.05.2009

Thoughts on the GSP-Penn Aftermath and Exclusive Comments from NSAC's Keith Kizer


(This is an article I wrote today for FightTicker, after speaking with the Nevada State Athletic Commission's Executive Director, Keith Kizer. I re-posted the full article here because what's developing right now is one of the more important issues to impact MMA.)

For anyone who has visited virtually any MMA site out there since Saturday’s UFC 94 event, they’ve undoubtedly been assaulted with an astounding number of articles on the recent controversy between allegations of Georges St. Pierre’s cornermen “greasing” him between rounds. Some people are complaining that the issue, dubbed “Grease-Gate” in many circles, has already taken up too much time and internet space while others make the argument for the more far-reaching effects of such a violation.

These articles have everything from still-shots from the fight video, actual video clips of the scenes between rounds, reports from fans at the fight, members of the athletic commission, comments and responses from both camps, and most recently a letter from B.J. Penn’s lawyer requesting that an official investigation regarding the allegations commence. You can find that letter on FightTicker here.

I’m one of those who feel that even if it did happen, it likely did not have a major effect on the outcome of the fight. GSP’s performance over Penn was a dominant one. However, I’m also one of those who feels that whether or not it affected the outcome of the fight, the possible violation does need to be addressed in an official capacity.

Check after the jump for my thoughts on the whole situation as well as excerpts from a conversation I had with Keith Kizer, Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

The letter from Penn’s attorney subsequently launched a large number of new posts on multiple sites stating that Penn requested an investigation. The pertinent text of the letter read “While this letter is not a formal complaint to the Nevada Athletic Commission, it shall serve as a formal request to the Commission to that it engage in a comprehensive investigation and review of the activities involving and relating to Georges St. Pierre (“GSP”) prior to and during the bout.”

I initially wondered – what’s the difference between a formal complaint and an investigation? Then, if a finding is made that Vaseline was applied in an illegal way, what would be the punishment? Seeking answers, I thought I’d go to the source most likely to have those answers – the Nevada State Athletic Commission. I was curious about some of the stats from the fights (i.e. paid attendance) that hadn’t yet been released, so I figured I could kill two birds with one stone.

My phone call was directed to Keith Kizer’s (NSAC Executive Director) voicemail, and at that point I have to admit, I thought my call might get brushed off – I was skeptical that Kizer himself would take the time to give me a call back. However, Kizer not only called me back, but spoke at length about the GSP situation and was an extremely nice guy all around.

Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

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FT: Can you explain to me the difference between requesting an investigation and actually filing a complaint?

KK: I’m not sure there’s really any difference of significance. Every fighter has the ability to write to us and I guess “complain” is the proper legal term, about any events that occur. We, in conjunction with the Attorney General’s office, review the letter or the complaint and see if there’s anything the Commission needs to do.


FT: What kind of time frame do you expect that something like this will take to be resolved?

KK: The next step is to give the St. Pierre camp a chance to respond to the letter from the Penn camp. That’s only fair, of course, so we’re going to send a copy of the letter to the St. Pierre camp and ask them to respond to that letter within a certain timeframe, probably 20 days, they can send it in earlier if they want to. My guess is that the next step is that there would be some sort of public hearing if the Commission sees it as a necessity on the matter, for a review on the fight. That would probably happen sometime in March if that occurs.


FT: I’ve noticed that in the wake of this, a number of GSP’s past opponents are voicing similar complaints on the internet, and some fighters are voicing complaints about other Greg Jackson fighters – have you received any other similar complaints in your office?

KK: No, I’ve never received anything before or after this fight from anyone else. This is news to me. I don’t know where all these comments are coming out of, or if they’re really coming from the fighters or not, but I’ve never been informed of any complaints against Mr. Jackson or any of his fighters before. Definitely nothing against Mr. St. Pierre, he’s been a very model licensee, as has Mr. Penn and we appreciate both of their involvements in the sport.


FT: I’ve heard the standard timeframe to file a complaint is something like 10 days after a fight – is that correct?

KK: I don’t know if it’s really that, as long as we deal with it within a reasonable time. Obviously we [the Commission] were at the fight, we saw what occurred, but obviously there is more to look at. In addition to that, I did get a copy of the camera shots in between rounds covering the Georges St. Pierre corner, so I’ve taken a look at that. That will also be looked at by the Commissioners as well. At the very least, it highlights the need for the cornerman to make sure they’re not putting something on the body of their athlete that could affect the fight – that’s the big concern here. I think everybody would agree with that.


FT: If the Commission makes a finding that GSP was greased, on the extreme end of the potential scale for punishment, would the fight be changed to a no-contest?

KK: Well, there are very limited grounds to overturn a decision. I don’t know of anyone saying that this would fall, even worst-case scenario, within those grounds. I know the BJ Penn camp has certainly not asked for that, but if they did, we’d review that.


FT: In a situation like this, what are some common punishments that the cornermen or the fighter could face?

KK: I don’t know. I’ve never dealt with this situation before. I can tell you, generally speaking, a licensee – if the Commission thought it was a serious enough offense, the Commission could hand down a disciplinary penalty which could include anything from a warning to a fine to a suspension, but whether or not this falls within that – there’s been no decision yet whether it falls within that level of disciplinary action.

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I know there are many out there who are very quickly tiring of the media attention this issue is getting, and anyone reading MMA sites would be foolish to not acknowledge that this issue has saturated the MMA media. However, I think the larger concern here is the long-term effect this allegation and the subsequent investigation will have on both the Jackson camp and MMA as a whole.

2008 was, for the most part, a great year for Jackson. A number of his fighters flourished and picked up some UFC titles along the way. However, with the allegations from this fight, and all of the subsequent allegations that came from numerous other fighters (albeit ones unsupported by any evidence other than comments from the fighters themselves), Jackson’s success as well as the success of his fighters has already been called into question. Perhaps not on a level that would do any real damage other than in perhaps the GSP situation, but I know people out there are questioning his strategies for winning.

Think about the worst-case scenario for Jackson – he’s suspended. For whatever length of time that would be, his fighters would be without their head coach and strategist. In the numerous roundtables FightTicker has had involving one of Jackson’s fighters, an issue that is always raised is Jackson’s gameplan, and the effect it would have on his fighter’s opponent. Jackson is one of the most recognizable coaches in the fight game today and his sudden absence would not go unnoticed. Additionally, were Jackson to be suspended, I have no doubt that for the first few fights some of his guys had, Mike Goldberg and/or Joe Rogan would be sure to note Jackson’s absence in his fighter’s corner, and then those people who may have picked up MMA along the way, or who weren’t too familiar with the situation would then likely go looking for more details on it, and any internet search is destined to turn up hundreds if not thousands of articles on the situation. With that, the issue will continue to linger and that is where the problem for MMA as a whole comes in.

I don’t think this will rise to the level of scandals in other sports, like Pete Rose’s betting issues, the steroid issues baseball has faced, Michael Vick’s involvement in dog-fighting and the Patriots with “Spy-Gate”. At least, I hope this won’t rise to that level. Even with the onslaught of articles and more mainstream media coverage, I don’t think it will. However, in spite of that, what MMA fans have to realize is that our sport is still in the infant stages compared to those sports. MMA does not yet have the mainstream recognition and acceptance that those sports do – just look at the fact that MMA is not yet legally sanctioned in all states but I don’t think any state outlaws football, baseball or basketball.

MMA has fought hard to get past the “human cockfighting” days and the last thing MMA fighters need right now is to go from that to being called “cheaters.” I’m not the governing body that will decide whether GSP and/or his cornermen cheated, and even if a determination is made that somebody was in the wrong, I don’t think any true MMA fan would blame the sport – they would correctly blame the individual. However, it’s not the MMA fans that I’m worried about. It’s all of the MMA detractors like Bob Reilly, the Assemblyman in New York, that’s come to the forefront of MMA news because of his ignorance in opposition to the legislation of the sport in New York.

Even on a smaller scale, it could cause problems for those involved in the MMA industry and perhaps put the fighters in danger. Cornermen and fighters will likely be exposed to a higher level of scrutiny now, and their actions watched more closely. If GSP or his people are at all sanctioned due to their actions, other fighters could see that as a way to cast doubt on a later opponent just by saying after a loss, “The other guy was greased.”

Additionally, at an extreme, what if the use of Vaseline was even more restricted or banned altogether. For the record, I don’t see that happening, but think of the possibilities. Vaseline is used for a reason; it makes the skin slippery and less likely to tear when hit. I think anyone who has seen both a boxing match and an MMA match knows that MMA fighters use significantly less Vaseline, but what is the amount was even more limited? We’d likely see more cuts, which would lead to longer medical suspensions or perhaps early fight stoppages. What if Vaseline was eliminated altogether? We’d see a frantic search for a new substance that would likely have at least as many cons. And what would the promotions do in the meantime? Just not put on fights? Not likely.

Again, I understand a lot of that is possible but not probable, but I use it to illustrate the lengths to which a governing body could go to deal with the problem, and the negative effects it would have on all of us.

Regardless of Penn’s motives for requesting the investigation, I think he’s doing the right thing for all of the fighters and the sport as a whole. Swift action by NSAC will show that they are serious in their commitment to the sport, and it should help silence some of MMA’s critics who feel the sport is still widely unregulated, even though we all know that’s not true.

In spite of the fact that I, too, am getting tired of seeing a lack of real news being reported on during this time, I do think this is an important issue of which all MMA fans should at least take notice and on which all MMA fans should be informed.

-PreView

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