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Five MMA Corner Controversies

by Javier Ultreras

Spilled ice. Oxygen blasts. Cage-lingering. We’re taking a look at five corner controversies from MMA and K-1.

“Stoolgate”: Yoel Romero vs Tim Kennedy, UFC 178

Tim Kennedy Stoolgate Tweet

In the middle round of a highly entertaining and action-packed matchup, Tim Kennedy had Yoel Romero surfing on wobbly legs at the end of the second round. Had it not been for the bell, Romero may have been put away for good. But the bell did save the former Olympian, and seemed to only delay a probable finish for Kennedy heading into the 3rd. That’s how the exciting round ended, but the real “fun” was just beginning.

At the conclusion of the 60-second rest break, Kennedy was up and ready to resume the fight, but cameras (and Joe Rogan) were focused on the strange behavior coming from Romero’s corner. Romero was still sitting on his stool long after his corner should have removed it. His cornermen were lingering, referee John McCarthy was yelling and the time limit had passed. According to the post-event interviews, the UFC’s cutman had applied more than legal amounts of Vaseline to Romero’s cut. In an apparent language barrier issue, Romero was unintentionally allowed to sit (and rest) on the stool for about an additional 30 seconds.

That extra rest allowed Romero to get his wits about him and clear his head. He came back out for the third round and finished Kennedy with a flurry of punches in what was an important top-10 UFC middleweight matchup.

Compressed Oxygen: King Mo Lawal and K.J. Noons, Strikeforce – Houston

While some viewers missed the brief, but very apparent incidents during the broadcast, those who kept their eyes on the screen during downtime were left scratching their heads. Prior to each fight, King Mo and KJ Noons were recorded taking several hits from a canned product as introductions began in their respective bouts. Turns out the cans in question were a form of compressed oxygen from a company that specialized in portable oxygen cans.

What’s the big deal? Well, turns out it really was a big deal though it seems at the time not even Strikeforce or the Athletic State Commission knew what was going on — showcased by the lack of effort to step in when cornermen handed their fighter’s a “cardio boost in a bottle.”

Much like the use for pure oxygen in many cardio-heavy sports, the concept behind using compressed oxygen spray is to help prevent a fighter from getting tired. When one fighter has access to it, the playing field is unfair. In addition, compressed oxygen was absent from a list of approved supplies and substances that a fighter’s corner could bring to the bout. Bad job by the Texas Athletic Commission involved that night. But did it help? Noons won by knockout in the second round. King Mo got knocked out in the third. Both fighters ended up being cleared by the commission.

“Timeout, Timeout!”: Bob Sapp vs Kimo, K-1 World Grand Prix 2003

Bob SappThis was not an MMA bout, but the K-1 Kickboxing matchup between two MMA stars Bob Sapp and Kimo turned out to be one of the strangest fights ever. So let’s thank the corner of “The Beast,” Bob Sapp.

After Kimo stunned Sapp with strikes to the point of a scored knockdown, an absolutely exhausted and dazed Sapp stumbled over to his corner who were furiously racing to recover his senses during the break period in between rounds. The break period came and went, and Sapp continued to stand in his corner surrounded by his cornermen.

To add to the chaotic moment, a doctor calling for “timeout” was also present, and thus the series of events that led to “fixed” fight rumors began. After the doctor’s request for a completely unnecessary timeout (no cuts were visible, which is usually the case for a doctor break), and the fight resumed (after an additional minute of cornermen work had passed) Sapp met Kimo at the center of the ring and landed what would be the finishing series of punches to an exciting, but extremely poor display of athleticism and cornermen duties.

Even Dana White mentioned the horrific actions of Sapp’s cornermen when addressing the media after the Romero/Kennedy “Stoolgate” incident.

“At K-1 I actually bet a lot of money on Kimo in the Bob Sapp fight. Bob Sapp gets knocked out at the end of the first round. He’s out, he’s done. They carry him over to the corner where they work on him for about two and a half minutes. Two and a half minutes! Then he comes out and knocks out Kimo in the next round. I’ve experienced it and seen that sort of thing happen as a fan.”

“Grease Gate”: UFC 94 – St-Pierre vs. Penn 2

GSPHistory remembers the circumstances involved with the infamous greasing controversy more than the actual fight between the welterweight and lightweight champions. The huge title super-fight rematch between Georges St. Pierre and BJ Penn would come to be known as “Grease-Gate.”

In between rounds 1, 2 and 3, a cornerman from GSP’s side was seen illegally touching St. Pierre’s back. What made the action illegal was the fact that prior to the back rubs, the cornerman applied Vaseline to GSP’s face. While GSP’s camp and Dana White felt that the Vaseline had little influence on the outcome of the fight, the comments and dominant performance of GSP did nothing to dimimish the controversy.

Greasing was a huge problem in the early years of MMA, as any application to body parts can make a fighter more “slippery.” This “greasy” advantage increases a fighter’s ability to attack from an opponent’s guard since friction and grip are greatly compromised.

Penn and his camp filed for an investigation into GSP’s illegal use of Vaseline during the match, calling for fines and suspensions against the accused. In addition, a “no-contest” decision was requested to replace the result of the fight. Nothing came out of the accusations, and rules were changed by the UFC to help avoid future mid-fight greasing activity.

Joe Rogan vs. The Ice Spill: UFC 109 – Relentless

Just to be clear, this isn’t a controversy. It didn’t change an outcome, nor did it help one fighter more than another. It is, however, one of UFC’s most memorable cornermen moments.

It doesn’t take much for Joe Rogan to get excited about fighting. When two athletes come together to throw leather around, it’s guaranteed Rogan will get extremely hyped on-air. But accidentally throw ice all over the cage and Rogan practically loses his sanity. Apparently, Joe Rogan really hates ice spills.

Melvin Guillard and Ronys Torres were just about ready to return to action of their close three-round battle, when at the end of a break period, the unthinkable happened…an ice spill.

In what is regarded as the highlight of the preliminary portion of the night, Joe Rogan went off on a rant and began to ramble about the ice spill. Watching the corner of Torres frantically scrape and clean up the ice was amusing enough without the play-by-play of Rogan. The crowd also booed their efforts, thus adding even more hilarity to the situation. Check out the video: you can’t help but feel bad for the poor guys who had to deal with such a silly situation under high-pressure circumstances. Nevertheless, it is still a gem to watch for fight fans!

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