So there I am, surfing the MMA internet like Mark Zuckerberg with his sunscreen kabuki mask, when I come upon this story about Lauren Murphy having to do a damn title fight without her head coach in the corner.
Seems that Alex Cisne popped positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week and got shuffled into quarantine by the UFC, which also meant he couldn’t be there to whisper the magic words that would have kept Murphy from getting clobbered by Valentina Shevchenko in their title fight.
(OK I’m kidding about that part, but shouts out to MMA Fighting’s Mike Heck for making sure to include this line in his write-up of this interview: “Murphy is not making any excuses whatsoever and gives full credit to Shevchenko and her next-level skillset.” Know why that’s there? Because Heck knows people are going to jump in the comments and accuse Murphy of making excuses, which of course they do here anyway. And also because he knows that Murphy is definitely one of those fighters who will get mad at you publicly on social media if she thinks there’s even a chance you’re taking her comments out of context. So he adds this disclaimer to basically be like, ‘she knows she would have got her ass beat regardless so don’t be a dick about it.’ We see you, bro.)
Anyway, Murphy says she initially considered pulling out of the fight if she couldn’t have her head coach in there. But she knows how that would have gone and so do we. First Dana White yells to some reporters about how you’re scared to fight. Then the UFC gives your title shot to anyone else who’ll take it. Then you have to win eight fights in a row to ever have a prayer of getting back there. So yeah, you take that fight even if you have to grab a hobo from the nearest boxcar and make him serve as your corner.
However! A solution presents itself. What if her coach could watch a live feed of the fight in some COVID-safe clean room or whatever, then tell her other coaches what to say her in the corner? What if this could be accomplished via some form of electronic communication, perhaps with the coach speaking into one device that delivers his voice into the ear of another person? If such James Bond shit were even possible, would it be legal under the sacred rules of MMA?
See, that’s where shit gets tricky. Here’s how Murphy tells it:
“We had gotten cleared for Alex to be in an earpiece in Paris [Moran’s] ear — who was our fourth corner that was there to pretty much warm me up — so he could watch the fight on mute with the commission sitting there. They didn’t want any cheating or anything, but he would watch the fight with the commission watching him, he would talk into Paris’ earpiece, but he was on a full minute delay. So we would be in the corner and he would have something to say, but already the next round had started.”
Sounds fine, right? He’s on mute, so it’s not like he can steal some info from the broadcast about a Shevchenko injury or whatever. Can’t listen in on her corner’s advice and then counter it in his advice to Murphy. (Though, even then, what’s he going to tell her? That Shevy Shenks’ plan is to continue being faster and sharper and just all-around better in every facet of mixed martial arts?)
So it seems like we’re all good with athletic commission clearance. But then…
“Then we got to the arena and the UFC came back to the locker room as was like, ‘No, that’s not fine. You can’t do that, you can’t have your coach on a fucking ear piece while you guys are in the corner.’ Like, we’re at the arena. I was warming up, so Joe started freaking out like, ‘Hey man, we agreed to do this fight because you guys said her coach could electronically be in the corner. This is a big fight.’ He kind of talked them into it and that’s how Alex got to be in the room with the commission, then there was the 40-60 second delay, so there was one point in the corner where Joe would say something to me, look over at Paris and Paris was supposed to repeat what Alex had said, and Alex was on such a delay that he didn’t even know we were in the corner, so he didn’t have anything to relay to Paris, so Paris was like, ‘I got nothing.’”
So first of all, the UFC is going to overrule the athletic commission? On fight night? But then Murphy’s team makes a compelling case and the UFC gets “talked into it”? But then the delay on the broadcast is roughly the same amount of time as what you get between rounds, so the whole thing ends up being pointless anyway? LOfuckingL, dog.
What’s weird is that, I don’t even know if there are any official rules necessarily prohibiting this in principle. I know I’ve seen coaches with their cell phones out at cageside, usually to use the stopwatch function during and between rounds just so they have some fix on the time. For all we know they could be getting texts from their buddies on the coach watching the broadcast and hearing Dr. Joe Rogan diagnose the opponent’s blown ACL. Or, shit, they could just be sitting close enough to the broadcast table (especially when the fights are in the mostly empty UFC Apex) that they can hear it for themselves. So calling any of that “cheating” feels like a gray area.
Furtherfuckingmore, if you look at the detailed Nevada Athletic Commission rules it’s hard to find anything that explicitly bans shit like this. (Though there is a rule saying that cornermen “may not coach loudly or excessively from the corners during a period of unarmed combat.” Okay. That’s like half their job though.)
Personally? I think you ought to be able to have whoever you want in your ear talking to you. One of your coaches who couldn’t make it out for the fight? Sure. Steven Seagal? Him too. Get a a goddamn conference call going, everyone shouting at your coach about how he should tell you to get out there and roughneck Valentina Shevchenko. Will it help? Probably not, no. But is it cheating? Nah, playboy. It’s just intelligence-gathering.