Josh Gross
Monday May 18th, 2009

Billy Evangelista deserved to spend the weekend celebrating his 10th win in as many fights. But on Friday, the 28-year-old lightweight was deprived when one of the best referees in the business incorrectly called an illegal knee to Mike Aina's cranium.

Fighting in the featured bout of Strikeforce's first Challenger Series card, Evangelista was disqualified midway through the second round when a ringside physician ruled Aina's jaw was injured so severely he couldn't continue. Yes, the Hawaiian was down when Evangelista connected. And, yes, knees to the head of a grounded opponent are a no-no in the States. Yet, none of that should have mattered considering replays plainly showed Evangelista missed Aina's head and connected to his left triceps.

Rather than improving his record to 10-0 in front of his hometown fans in Fresno, Calif., Evangelista walked out of the cage with the first loss of his career. While referee Herb Dean and commission officials missed the sequence, Showtime's cameras did not, resurrecting a topic that tends to flare up after unfortunate moments like this: the validity of instant replay for mixed martial arts.

It's a worthwhile discussion. MMA is a high-paced sport, one of the most difficult in the world to officiate, offering multiple, sometimes confusing conclusions to a fight. It's safe to say everyone involved -- fighters, officials, promoters, fans, trainers and media -- wishes to see proper outcomes. Fans pay good money to attend events, and the last thing anyone should want is controversy to spoil the experience. Not only is it bad for business, it's terribly unfair to fighters who train weeks, sometimes months for competition.

Mixed martial artists deserve to know that doing something legal won't cost them a win, which is why it's easy to argue in favor of measures such as replay.

But is video playback really an answer?

Some in-ring officials embrace the concept. They argue in favor of pragmatism. Tools that might help them get it right deserve consideration, they claim. Others believe replay has no place in combat sports. Neither veteran officials nor video are infallible, said one championship-level referee and judge.

"I don't believe the commissions will allow it," he said, "and I don't think it's necessary." Controversial rulings "are the nature of the beast."

Not surprisingly, Evangelista's chief corner, American Kickboxing Academy's Bob Cook, said it would have been beneficial to check the tape. Yet, he conceded, across-the-board instant replay of MMA would be difficult to implement. Without the possibility Friday night, Cook went the old-fashioned route and filed a hand-written protest with the CSAC.

Scott Coker, who promoted the Showtime-televised card, said he's in favor of replay under very specific conditions. As in the case of Evangelista-Aina, the Strikeforce CEO believes when an outcome of a contest is in doubt, replay should be made available.

Yet for as much as some MMA promoters want their events to be held under the guise of self-contained leagues, they simply don't have the authority to make determinations on issues like replay. It's not as simple as Strikeforce or the UFC offering video feedback like the NFL. That onus falls to regulatory bodies around the U.S., and, thus far, discussion of replay hasn't gone anywhere.

Tempting as it may be, instant replay is not a practical solution. In the case of Friday's card, which was broadcast in high-definition, the capability exists to revisit action via multiple camera angles. And while more fight cards are broadcast today than ever before, there remains a significant percentage that lack the advantage of quality television production.

What about those? How might a regulatory body go about making rules for replay if an event doesn't have the delivery capability?

Painful and inefficient as it may sound, the best "replay" for MMA is the kind that historically works pretty well in combat sports: a rematch. Considering Aina (12-6-1) said he won't accept the result as a win. a do-over seems the only route to a proper resolution -- presuming, that is, appointed officials actually get the job done.

• I've yet to hear a decent justification why women are relegated to three-minute rounds instead of the customary five. So long as they have enough experience, female mixed martial artists deserve to compete just the same as their male counterparts. Try telling Sarah Kaufman, who pushed her record to 9-0 with a unanimous-decision win over Miesha Tate on Friday, any different.

• Bellator Fighting Championships continues to chug along. In Chicago, the promotion's welterweight finals were sealed when Lyman Good (9-0) stopped Jorge Ortiz (16-5), and Omar de la Cruz (5-1) ended the hopes of former UFC middleweight champion Dave Menne (43-16-2). Add Good to my picks of Joe Soto at featherweight, and Eddie Alvarez at 155 pounds.

• Heavyweight prospect Bobby Lashley (3-0) made Mike Cook (6-4) squirm like a third-grader with his face shoved in mud by forcing a quick end to their fight at MFC 21 near Edmonton, Alberta, with a guillotine choke in 24 seconds. Lashley appears to have a plan for the early portion of his career. Next month comes Bob Sapp, and for the first time Lashley will be the smaller fighter. I'm still not sure what to make of his potential, but at a minimum, he's a strong, powerful grappler, and he seems intent on giving his best effort.

Q&A: Ref Herb Dean tells his side

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