SBG Ireland welterweight Gunnar Nelson’s appeal to have his first-round KO defeat to Santiago Ponzinibbio overturned has failed to move the UFC.
Nelson was drilled by the heavy-handed Argentine in the main event of UFC Fight Night 113 at the SSE Hydro Arena in Glasgow on July 16th, but not before he was poked in the eye on several occasions – a fact clearly illustrated in a video subsequently shared to social media by Nelson’s coach John Kavanagh.
Unfortunately, the video has since been removed from YouTube, but you can view a collage of screenshots from thr footage below.
“Doubt it was gameplan or intentional but try having depth perception after getting fingers shoved in eyes repeatedly,” wrote Kavanagh alongside the now dead link.
One of the fouls occurred just before Ponzinibbio landed the fight-ending salvo and it was this one that vexed Kavanagh most.
“To be clear the only gouge that matters is final one. If that’s not grounds for NC due to ‘fight ending foul’ then I don’t know what is?” the SBG Ireland founder wrote on Twitter a few days later.
To be clear the only gouge that matters is final one. If that's not grounds for NC due to 'fight ending foul' then I don't know what is? https://t.co/K9JnundKtr
— Coach Kavanagh (@John_Kavanagh) July 20, 2017
At the post-fight press conference, Nelson said that his vision had been badly impaired by the fouls.
“I don’t like to make excuses, but this is the truth, how I feel anyway, is I should have stopped the fight when I got poked,” Nelson said. “I should have stopped it then because I’m seeing two Ponzinibbios in front of me. And that was like that until I remember standing up and the fight was over(via MMAFighting).”
Ponzinibbio, however, claimed that he had reviewed footage of the fight and saw a clean win.
“If (the eye poke) happened, of course, it wasn’t intentional, but I watched the video again and didn’t see it,” he said. “I don’t know. But it was a knockout with the right hand that I landed on him. The right hand hurt him and I finished with a precise jab.”
On Tuesday, Nelson’s management team issued a statement via Facebook, in which they confirmed that the UFC saw things in the same way as “Gente Boa” and had ruled to uphold the result announced on the night.
“We are disappointed with the UFC’s recent ruling to uphold the result of the July 16, 2017 bout between our client, Gunnar Nelson and Santiago Ponzinibbio,” read the statement.
“While we understand the outcome of a fight is difficult to overturn, we maintain that the blatant eye pokes were a major factor in the stoppage and the final eye poke was certainly a fight ending foul because Gunnar had no opportunity to signal the referee. A more stringent application of the Unified Rules of MMA should have been applied here to rule this fight a no-contest. We stand behind Gunnar and Team Nelson, and we hope this unfortunate situation will lead to more careful application of the rules regarding eye pokes, as fairness and fighter safety must always be a priority.”
The loss was a serious setback for Nelson, who had rebounded from a December 2015 loss to the clingy Demian Maia with two scintillating submission wins over Albert Tumenov and Alan Jouban. Those wins helped him climb to eighth in the UFC welterweight rankings but he has fallen to eleventh since the Ponzinibbio defeat. The 30-year-old South American on the other hand has jumped from fourteenth all the way to ninth since the victory, which was his fifth straight.
During Saturday night’s UFC women’s bantamweight title fight, champion Amanda Nunes was warned on several occasions by referee John McCarthy to close her lead hand, which she was using to paw at the lead hand of challenger Valentina Shevchenko. An interested viewer, John Kavanagh tweeted the following in reponse;
“You’ll be warned about eye poking but there’ll be zero repercussions so got for it.”
You'll be warned about eye poking but there'll be zero repercussions so go for it.
— Coach Kavanagh (@John_Kavanagh) September 10, 2017
A number of changes to the Unified Rules of MMA were announced last year and they came into effect, in some regions, at the beginning of the year. One of these changes means that fighters are no longer allowed to extend their fingers towards an opponent’s face. Fighters doing so should be given a warning and may be penalized or even disqualified for persistent breaches. This rule was brought in to reduce the instances of eye-pokes, but so far it has not been strongly upheld and eye-pokes remain frequent.