In mixed martial arts, fighters generally receive at least one warning — if not more — before a point is deducted for an eye poke.
After being on the receiving end of such a foul against Leon Edwards in the UFC Fight Night 187 headliner, Belal Muhammad thinks more decisive action should be taken by officials in those instances. Prior to the eye poke that rendered Muhammad unable to continue 18 seconds into Round 2, Edwards was warned for a similar violation in the opening stanza. Additionally, Muhammad told ESPN that he asked veteran referee Herb Dean to keep on eye on Edwards’ fingers in the fight.
"We trained for this," Muhammad said. "We know he likes to keep distance and put his palm out. We literally told Herb Dean before the fight, 'We're going to be trying to get in on him and he puts his hands out, please watch his fingers.’
"Refs need to take a point right away, no warning. That will stop guys from doing that. You saw it with Petr Yan's illegal knee [at UFC 259], he got disqualified. You get penalized like that, that's going to stop guys from even thinking about that. That finger, you take a point right away, that's going to get everybody afraid.”
Although Edwards won the first round against Muhammad, there was still much to be decided in a potential five-round fight. After the bout, the English welterweight balked at the notion of an immediate rematch, pointing to his prior eight-fight winning streak as merit enough for a 170-pound title shot.
The promotion announced the reigning champion Kamaru Usman will face Jorge Masvidal in a rematch at UFC 261 on April 24, so Edwards would have to wait for that result at a minimum. And even then, the promotion is unlikely to grant him a title shot with no victories on his ledger since July 2019. That, Muhammad says, is why a rematch makes perfect sense.
"Dana White put it out there, 'If you beat Belal Muhammad, you get a title shot,'" Muhammad said. "The title shot is already booked right now, with Jorge Masvidal and Kamaru Usman. Why wouldn't you want to take this fight? If you think you're so much ahead of me, and you won the first round, and all the other rounds are going to go the same way, OK. Come and get this easy paycheck. Fight me, beat me and you'll get a title shot anyway.”