On Saturday, the UFC held a fight card in Macau, which would in no way be notable if not for the fact that UFC figurehead Dana White, not liking the way judge Howard Hughes scored the first two bouts, actually made him stop judging during the event. Hughes didn't work any more fights for the rest of the evening.


A promoter kicking a judge from ringside because he doesn't like his scoring is very high on the list of things that just can't happen in a combat sport, not too far below fixing a fight. It actually couldn't happen in the United States, because judging, like refereeing, is controlled by independent state athletic commissions for the very obvious reason that you can under no circumstances allow even the appearance of promotional control over outcomes. This is necessary to preserve the basic integrity of competition. It's an important part of what makes something a sport and not just organized violence.

The reason why White was even able to get rid of Hughes has to do with a curious quirk of regulatory practice. Few foreign countries have bodies corresponding to American commissions, so the UFC usually oversees itself when promoting abroad. It hires judges; it hires referees; it administers drug tests. In Las Vegas, White has every bit as much authority over a judge as some random dude in an Affliction shirt does; in Macau, he wasn't just promoting the show, but was, in practice, regulating it.

At absolute best, this is incredibly sketchy and an obvious conflict of interest, but as Yahoo's Kevin Iole explained in a good column, it's generally considered an abstract problem rather than a concrete one because shows held abroad are usually overseen by Marc Ratner, who runs the UFC's regulatory affairs shop. Ratner formerly ran the Nevada commission and understands that for this situation to work, the UFC needs to be not only honest in its self-regulation, but performatively so. White booting a judge because he didn't agree with his scoring—while Ratner wasn't there, it should be noted—is the precise opposite of that.


All of this led to a deeply strange statement being posted on the UFC's website today. It's worth reading in full, but the best parts are the ones where the company claims that White didn't even have the authority to do what he actually did and where they promise that nothing like this will ever happen again:

After the second fight of the night, UFC President Dana White requested that Howard Hughes, one of the event's five assigned judges, be removed from working any further bouts. Pursuant to UFC's protocol, neither White nor any other UFC executive possesses such authority. Nevertheless, protocol was breached and Hughes did not work further bouts on Saturday night.


The UFC remains committed to maintaining the strictest regulatory environment for competition and vows that no similar breach of protocol will happen again.


I have no idea what the actual solution is here. It's unreasonable to expect places that only see the occasional UFC-level event to staff fully functioning regulatory bodies, but it's also clear, despite this statement, that a theoretical problem has become an actual one, and that the UFC can't really be trusted to oversee itself. (The people charged with making sure that White adheres to protocol, after all, work for White.) Maybe things will just go on as they are, with the UFC less promoting a sport than something sports-like, and few people really caring enough to parse the difference? Seems likely.