GLORY welterweight Murthel Groenhart was attacked in the ring by two members of the audience at GLORY 42 last Saturday, inside AccorHotels Arena in Paris, France.
Groenhart, 30, knocked out Harut Grigorian in the second round of the co-main event. But it was the fashion in which he scored the victory that seemed to draw the ire of the two assailants who ran into the ring to attack him. After Groenhart connected with a flying knee in the first minute of the second round, Grigorian inexplicably turned and started walking in the other direction. Before referee Paul Nicholls could intervene, Groenhart uncorked a vicious right hook, sending Grigorian crashing to the canvas.
As Nicholls attended to the fallen Grigorian, Groenhart stood up on the second rope in the corner of the ring in celebration. Just a few seconds later, the two assailants attacked him. One of them landed a punch, but coaches from both corners were able to pull the attackers away from Groenhart and prevent the incident from escalating to a greater degree. GLORY is currently pursuing legal charges against the two assailants. Liverkick.com’s Dave Walsh reported that one of the two assailants is a mixed martial artist named Hracho Darpinyan.
Groenhart and Grigorian embraced in the ring after the dust settled in a sign of sportsmanship, but Groenhart’s KO punch, which he threw while Grigorian’s back was completely turned, wasn’t exactly a showcase of honor or respect for a fellow opponent. GLORY CEO Jon J. Franklin told MMA Plus after GLORY 42 he thought the punch was “somewhat unsportsmanlike.”
Yes, it was a legal punch. Yes, it was in the heat of battle. And yes, fighters are told to protect themselves at all times. But what if referee Nicholls had been able to step in between the two fighters? Would he have stopped the bout since Grigorian turned his back in what could be considered a physical surrender and was not intelligently defending himself?
“If he was in a better spot for what would’ve been considered having been more effective to step between the fighters when Grigorian turned his back, then he would’ve been in a terrible spot considering what was happening a second before,” ISKA President Cory Schafer explained to MMA Plus. “He was at a 90 degree angle relative to the fighters, at an appropriate distance for fighters who are not clinching and not in any kind of hold. Generally speaking, the referee wants to stay as far away from the fighters as possible, but maintain that 90 degree angle.
“That’s why you will see referees often will be touching the ropes because they want to get a sense for how much room they have because you have to give the fighters room to fight. There is an appropriate distance when fighters are clinching when you may have to take action. But, one second before Grigorian turned his back, they were standing in the middle of the ring at kicking distance. Because Groenhart launched a flying knee, the guy got hit, he turned his back, and as soon as he turned his back the referee began his movement to the fighters. I think he (Nichols) said something, but Groenhart in a second, second and a half, was able to land that punch before the referee was able to intercede.”
So say Nicholls had been able to get in between Groenhart and Grigorian before Groenhart landed the right hook that ended the bout at GLORY 42, what would be the correct procedure then?
“Here is what the rules say and here is what likely he was doing and probably would’ve done if he was closer,” said Schafer. “Whenever you see that happen (a fighter turning their back to an opponent) you immediately move to the fighters and you say, ‘fight’ or you say ‘turnaround.’ That’s what he appeared to be doing. If you can get to the fighters and the guy has still not turned back around, you have the right to do one of two things: either stop the fight, or to assume that it is a self-inflicted injury. So for instance, if a guy turns his knee or turns his ankle, or throws a big left hook and separates his shoulder. If a guy turns his back momentarily because of that, you can consider it like a knockdown and begin counting.”
There are no standing eight counts under the GLORY rules. So if you ever see a referee administer a count to a fighter that hasn’t been knocked down, Schafer says, that means it has been considered a knockdown.
“There are no standing eight counts,” he said. “But sometimes it’s misinterpreted because there is a rule that if a guy has a self-inflicted injury and he momentarily fails to intelligently defend himself, the referee can consider it a knockdown. Just like when the guy doesn’t go down because of the ropes. It’s not a standing eight count, it’s a knockdown.”
Schafter described how he saw the end of the GLORY 42 co-headline fight unfold and reiterated what the likely outcome would’ve have been had Nicholls been able to get in between Groenhart and Grigorian before the knockout punch was thrown.
“As soon as he saw the guy turned around, I saw the referee begin his movement in that direction and he appeared to say something whether it was ‘fight’ or ‘turn,'” he said. “If he says ‘fight’, which is to tell the guy that he is responsible to engage. But, of course, he didn’t have time to get in between the fighters because he was in the correct position prior to it occurring, so he didn’t have time to get in between the fighters. In which case he would’ve either stopped the fight or counted it as a knockdown.”
If a referee were to step in between the fighters in a situation like the fight between Groenhart and Grigorian, Schafer clarified exactly why a countdown needs to be administered if the fight is not waved off altogether.
“You can’t step in between the fighters in a situation like that and give a guy a second chance without a penalty of some kind,” Schafer said. “That’s why the rule was written that way. So generally speaking, in a professional fight if the referee has to step between the fighters they can stop the fight. There are certain circumstances where the guy hasn’t gone down where he can consider it a knockdown.”
“If a referee says ‘fight’ and ‘turnaround’ and the guy turns around and he continues fighting, the referee is not going to do anything. But as he (the referee) continues his movement and the guy has not turned around, he’s most likely going to just stop the fight. It’s over. The guy has submitted. He’s not intelligently defending himself.”
Many experts, who defended Groenhart’s punch, made the point that Grigorian could’ve been pretending to be hurt (which was not the case as he was clearly rocked from the knee he was hit with before turning and walking away) and then thrown a punch or kick at Groenhart had he backed off.
Schafer said he has actually seen that before.
“I’ve seen guys do that, turn their back, the other fighter then looks at the referee and the other guy comes back and hits him with a spinning hook kick,” he said. “I’ve seen guys do that as a ploy.”
Just to be completely clear on the subject and how Nicholls handled the bout, Schafer summed it up one last time.
“Here is my official position: The punch was legal and the referee executed his duties responsibly,” he said. “That’s it. Expanding it, either Griogrian was badly hurt by the flying knee and lost complete awareness of the situation, leading him to turn his back. Or his intention was to submit, in which case he should’ve taken a knee or addressed the referee directly while maintaining his defense. The fighter is responsible for intelligently defending himself at all times. The referee was in the correct position when the flying knee occurred; As soon as Grigorian turned his back the referee moved in to see and Groenhart launched the punch in one or two seconds.”
Schafer would not comment on whether or not he thought Groenhart’s punch was unsportsmanlike or not. However, he did say he was rather pleased with how his staff and others handled the in-ring attack on Groenhart at GLORY 42.
“I’m pleased with everybody, the regulatory staff, as well as the trainers and production staff that participated in controlling what was, obviously, a terrible situation. You are either part of the problem or part of the solution. A lot of people stepped up to try to be part of the solution and they have my respect and appreciation.”
And as for the assailants who attacked Groenhart at GLORY 42, he, like many others, wants to see both of them pay for their crimes.
“They need to be charged with assault and battery. They need to be put in jail. This puts such an ugly scar on the event and on our sport, and not just kickboxing, but boxing and MMA. It reflects on everything and feeds ammunition to our enemies.”