Tim Elliott | Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Tim Elliott cheated at UFC 272. This isn’t an accusation, this is a fact. One that has been corroborated by the fighter himself.

Here’s another fact: Tim Elliott won at UFC 272 and did so against a previously undefeated opponent in Tagir Ulanbekov, who was a 2-to-1 favorite on most betting sites. The fight came down to a close decision that went in Elliott’s favor, and it’s not a stretch at all to say that every corner Elliott cut played a part in his victory.

Elliott avoided a losing streak, has now won three of his past four fights, and most importantly, he went home with two checks that night instead of one. So did the ends justify the means — and if so, should more fighters follow Elliott’s example?

MMA Fighting’s Alexander K. Lee and Jed Meshew debate the merits of Elliott’s tactics, how rule-breaking is handled in MMA, and whether or not cheating should affect how you view your favorite fighters.

Agree? Disagree? We’d love for you to join in the discussion in the comments below.

No: Rules Rule

Lee: Full disclosure, on the night in question I may have been *ahem* less than critical of Mr. Elliott’s tactics.

Always. Cheat. #UFC272

— Alexander K Lee (@AlexanderKLee) March 6, 2022

And yes, Mr. Meshew and I have been known to regularly espouse the virtues of rule circumvention in our own dark corner of the MMA landscape, Missed Fists.

But we’ve got to draw a line somewhere, right? It’s not all on the fighters to do this either.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A stray finger finds its way into a fighter’s eye, or a knee flies up into a cup, or a glove just happens to be held while the other fighter continues to throw punches. Purely accidental, surely. The referee steps in to pause the action, giving the victimized fighter a much-needed reprieve while the offending fighter gets … a stern talking-to?

Usually, it’s a warning. Then a second warning. Like, “Quit it, I mean it this time!” Meanwhile, one fighter has to deal with blurred vision or jelly legs for the next 10 minutes. All the while, not a single point is taken away, and when the judges’ scorecards are read out, those warnings have zero impact on the math. This is the root of the argument for why fighters should be encouraged to cheat. Because there’s simply no good reason for them not to, especially when your back is against the wall and you’re running out of options.

So my plea here is for officials to buckle down on the rules and really start making these penalties mean something. If two fighters simultaneously throw kicks and one of them gets a low shot? By all means, just a warning. If one fighter has their fingers perpetually extended outward like Aquaman’s trident and he catches an eyeball? Take that point! I understand there’s a subjective element to officiating, it’s not an easy job, but there are guidelines that exist to help out. Use them!

As for the fighters themselves, there’s certainly nothing stopping them from going full Thunderdome on one another, but even then I’d advise caution. I don’t begrudge Elliott for his tactics; my concern is that if we reach the point where we just accept that everyone should be allowed to cheat because the referees aren’t enforcing the rules, then we risk turning this into an arms race where the focus shifts to skirting the edge of what is acceptable and, ironically, making it a zero sum game. Call that an exaggeration, but extreme weight cutting follows a similar principle and that is so deeply ingrained in MMA we might never get rid of it.

I get it, it’s fun to see the Tim Elliotts of the world overcome the odds through sheer grit and determination and resourcefulness. Let’s also just be honest about what we’re seeing when a fighter chooses to cheat, which is creating an imbalance in what was understood to be an even playing field. MMA already allows for the most free form of fighting publicly permissible on this planet, do we really need to illegally extend its boundaries further?

Referees, fighters, fans, media, we’ve long ago accepted MMA for what it is, and that’s fine. We don’t have to give up on being better.

Yes: Lie, Cheat, And Steal

Meshew: As the old adage goes, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying,” and there are A LOT of MMA fighters who need to start trying a little harder.

Seriously, I cannot believe we are having this conversation. The answer is extremely obvious: Cheat. Cheat your ass off. Cheat all the time, every time. Why wouldn’t you? Referees aren’t going to stop you. The percentage of times a referee has deducted a point against the number of violations that have occurred in UFC history has to be less than five percent, probably less than one. And for a fighter getting DQ’d? Practically zero percent. It simply doesn’t happen. So since it’s not penalized, fighters are inherently incentivized to cheat. Rules may rule, but if they aren’t enforced, are they really rules in the first place?

So again, why wouldn’t you cheat? Honor? This isn’t some humanitarian award we’re talking about here. This is prizefighting. And while honor might make you feel warm and fuzzy on the inside, it doesn’t pay the bills. It’s not as if most MMA fighters are doing so well financially that they can afford to punt on half their paychecks. MMA fighters have a short window to make money — they need to do everything in their power to maximize their profits during that time. Besides, when you “cheat” and win, it’s not cheating — it’s veteran savvy. Just ask Tim Elliott.

Nobody should ever blame a fighter for “cheating” in a fight. The fact that we functionally have an unwritten rule that says fighters are allowed to break the rules without consequence is an indictment on the officiating of MMA and no one else. There isn’t another sport in the world where someone does something specifically against the rules, the official recognizes it, and then just says, “whatever.” That’s categorically insane! Can you imagine what would happen if the NFL or NBA did that?

Personal Foul: Jalen Ramsey ripped Ja’Marr Chase’s helmet off, but we gave him a talking-to using our mean voice so we’re all good now.

There would be riots.

The fact of the matter is, until MMA referees are willing to do their jobs and penalize on the first infraction, then we are going to continue to see fighters cheat; thus, not doing so is only doing fighters a disservice to themselves. I’ve always found it poetic that when a fighter grabs the fence, often the referee hits the offending hand away while giving a warning that is never followed up on. It’s a perfect symbol for cheating in MMA: Blatant disregard for the rules met with a literal slap on the wrist. And since that seemingly isn’t going to change anytime soon, fighters should continue to “try” as hard and as often as they possibly can.

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