Bellator commentator Sean “The Big Wheel” Wheelock has one rule for watching sports – judge not lest ye be judged.
The play-by-play man has proven versatile by voicing the BBC’s American soccer coverage and various MMA events. Getting his start in combat sports with Affliction M-1 events, he now talks over Bellator’s MMA tournaments. Along the way, Wheelock (Twitter: @SeanWheelock) has watched the fight game evolve extremely fast.
“You can look at the unified rules of MMA but there are a lot of gray areas there,” Wheelock said Wednesday on MMADiehards’ Darce Side Radio. “Judging or refereeing isn’t always black or white. There are so many vagaries on that. It’s a really tough job.”
It’s a problem Wheelock plans on solving with a MMA symposium he’s co-hosting this summer in Kansas City. Endorsed by the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC), the event will train and accredit potential combat referees and judges. The end goal, Wheelock said, is making sure everyone’s MMA rules are the same edition.
“If you’re a NFL commentator, you get together each year and they give you a rule book,” Wheelock said. “You’ll know all the rules and all the changes to the rules. We don’t have that in MMA. We’re getting together people who love this sport and making things run smoother.”
Wheelock said attendees pay $400 for two days of training Aug. 4-5. At seminar’s end, they’ll take a test that, if passed, accredits them as MMA judges and referees nationwide. In addition, he added, they’ll help the sport they love stay consistent as it reaches mainstream popularity.
“Even understanding the mechanics of MMA and how they work will help you enjoy it better,” Wheelock argued. “It will give you more insight and knowledge into this sport. I know it’s helped me as a commentator having worked as just a boxing referee so many times before. It’s not what you appreciate, but what you understand.”
It’s a worldview that’s kept Wheelock busy during Bellator’s unpredictable Season 6. Recently concluded, Wheelock said it offers many examples of how MMA’s rules are constantly mutating.
Chief among these is Bellator 60′s featherweight title fight last March between Pat Curran and Joe Warren in Hammond, Ind. In it, the referee let Curran give Warren a savage beating before the stoppage. In Wheelock’s mind, it’s a fight that should have finished much earlier.
“If a fighter turns his back on a barrage of strikes, he’s essentially saying, ‘I quit.’” Wheelock said. “When Jeff turned his back, even involuntarily, he was saying his body had given up on the fight. The referee failed to recognize that, and unfortunately, Jeff suffered another eight seconds or so of punishment.”
Another example, Wheelock continued, is welterweight champion Ben Askren’s unanimous decision victory over Douglas Lima at Bellator 64 in Windsor, Ontario Canada last April. Many fight fans criticized Askren’s performance, decrying it as boring lay-and-pray grappling. Wheelock, in contrast, argued that Askren’s undefeated record is flawless as he understands how judges score MMA wrestling.
“MMA is like a decathlon,” Wheelock said. “Very rarely do you see one guy who’s that great in one aspect. Askren outwrestled Lima, he dominated him and he held top control the whole time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone implement their wrestling in MMA as effectively as Ben Askren.”
At day’s end, Wheelock said, the most successful fighters are those on the same page as the referees and judges. Events like this summer’s symposium streamline the sport by helping everyone know what rules they’re fighting under.
“The name of the game in sports is winning,” Wheelock said. “In MMA, the person who better implements their strategy always gets the victory. This sport needs to continue to evolve. That’s something I find fascinating.”
Mark Hensch is an avid MMA fan who became interested in the sport through wrestling and karate. When not covering the hurt business, he serves as a digital editor for the Washington Times’ www.times247.com in Washington D.C.