Split Decision: Was the punishment of Jason High too harsh?

Jason High was cut by the UFC and suspensed one year by the New Mexico Athletic Commission after shoving referee Kevin Mulhall. 

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Jason High was cut by the UFC and suspended by the New Mexico Athletic Commission for one year. UFC president Dana White said High was to receive a lifetime ban from his organization.

At UFC Fight Night in Albuquerque on June 7, High shoved referee Kevin Mulhall following a TKO loss to Rafael dos Anjos. High was angry that Mulhall stopped the fight — he thought he should have been allowed to continue.

Was the discipline fair? Or did the UFC and NMAC go too far? FOX Sports UFC writers Damon Martin and Marc Raimondi debate that here. Tell us your views in the comments below.

OPENING STATEMENT

Marc Raimondi: Jason High violated a serious code when he put his hands on referee Kevin Mulhall following a TKO loss to Rafael dos Anjos at UFC Fight Night Albuquerque. High gave Mulhall a shove with both hands and sent the official stumbling back. By law, that kind of physicality can be ruled an assault and the UFC and New Mexico State Athletic Commission should have come down hard on High. There should be a zero-tolerance policy for the kind of behavior that could put a referee in danger and both organizations were right to act swiftly and harshly.

Damon Martin: Jason High was absolutely in the wrong for putting his hands on an official following his fight against Rafael dos Anjos. High deserved being punished for the altercation as fighters can never ever put their hands on a referee, but that said what he did should not cause the guy a lifetime ban from the promotion much less a year off from the sport. Guys taking illegal drugs that could cause their opponents serious, bodily harm rarely get more than nine months on a first offense. High should be punished but the sentence has to fit the crime. 

Jason High looks forlorn after his loss to Rafael dos Anjos.

DEBATE

Martin: Jason High did a bad thing, there’s no doubt about that. But should it be a punishable offense that could literally cost this guy his entire career? No way. Thankfully there aren’t a lot of these kinds of incidents in the history of the UFC, but the only one comparable came in 2003 when Phil Baroni literally struck referee Larry Landless after his fight was stopped against Evan Tanner. He got a four-month suspension and rematched Tanner seven months later. Now in reality, Baroni got off light for actually striking an official, but still it’s a comparable offense.

Jason High did a bad thing, there’s no doubt about that. But should it be a punishable offense that could literally cost this guy his entire career? No way.

-Damon Martin

Take a look at other sports where these kinds of incidents happen. In 2013 in the Super Bowl, Baltimore Ravens player Cary Williams shoved an official and not only did he not get ejected during the game but he never even received a fine and these are guys making millions of dollars every season. In 1988, Pete Rose got a 30-day suspension for shoving an official in baseball. 

High knew what he did was wrong and he apologized immediately afterward. A six-month suspension seems about right considering he would miss at least one maybe even two fights during that time line and for a fighter that’s half a year’s salary. But to suspend him for a year and give him a lifetime ban from the promotion for this incident? Not only is it harsh, it’s out of bounds. One last point, while the UFC has instituted a new "code of conduct" policy, there are no set rules for the fighters when it comes to punishment for any particular offense. Sometimes it’s a fine, sometimes it’s an arbitrary suspension, and other times it’s nothing.  As bad as what High did in the heat of the moment, do you think if his name was Jon Jones the punishment would have been the same? 

Raimondi: Referees have one of the hardest jobs in MMA. They are there to protect the fighters and enforce the rules. It’s just the two fighters in the Octagon and them — that’s it. They are the authority once the cage door closes and have to make split-second judgments on infractions and finishes, all with potential serious injury looming every second. It’s nearly impossible for them to get everything right, yet we always jump on officials as fans and media when they make the wrong decision.

That is bad enough. Now imagine a referee walking into the cage with the fear a fighter might assault him if he makes a choice said fighter doesn’t agree with. Even that thought being in the back of an official’s mind is a complete disaster. It undermines the whole process and could lead to a host of mistakes during the fight. Commissions need to keep the fighters safe and the referees safe, too. So if a fighter puts his hands on a ref — even if it was "just" a push by High — there has to be a zero-tolerance policy.

Now imagine a referee walking into the cage with the fear a fighter might assault him if he makes a choice said fighter doesn’t agree with. Even that thought being in the back of an official’s mind is a complete disaster.

-Marc Raimondi

The year-long suspension by the New Mexico State Athletic Commission was fair in a vacuum. Should drug offenders get longer or at least comparable suspensions? Of course. But just because they may only get nine months doesn’t mean we should reduce the discipline for someone who attacks a referee. UFC president Dana White said he didn’t watch the video of High shoving Mulhall and he should have. But the UFC cutting High was a major statement that the organization will not allow such behavior and that is a good thing.

CLOSING ARGUMENT

Raimondi: The UFC and New Mexico Athletic Commission were right to act swiftly and harshly after High shoved Mulhall. Assaulting a referee — and that is what this was — is inexcusable and must be dealt with in a fashion that will deter others from thinking something like this would be OK. How can a referee make quick, fair decisions if he has in the back of his head that a fighter might hit him or push him if the fighter doesn’t like his choice? That’s a scary thought and the UFC and NMAC made an important declaration that such actions would not be tolerated.

Martin: Jason High made a mistake. A big mistake, but a mistake nonetheless and he surely regrets the decision. He apologized the night of the incident long before any punishment was handed down and he knew he did wrong. High should be punished, but to give the guy a lifetime ban from the UFC and a year suspension in this sport is excessive no doubt about it. This was a rare, isolated incident. If it was commonplace and the hammer needed to be dropped, it would be more understandable but in the history of the UFC this is altercation No. 2 with a referee where a fighter was punished.  Let’s not overreact the same way the UFC and the New Mexico Athletic Commission did with this incident.