The Nevada State Athletic Commission met today to select a referee for the main event of UFC 116, a heavyweight title fight between Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin. Under consideration for the bout were Josh Rosenthal, Herb Dean, Mario Yamasaki, and Steve Mazzagatti, and Rosenthal was ultimate selected for the job after a unanimous vote by the commission. Judges for the title fight were also selected at the meeting, with Adelaide Bird, Glenn Trowbridge and Tony Weeks getting the nod. It was Mazzagatti who garnered the most attention at the meeting though.
In attendance were Lesnar's agent, David Olsen, and UFC attorney Michael Mersch who both argued that Mazzagatti should have been removed from consideration for the assignment. Sherdog's Loretta Hunt explains:
Olsen said he and his client believed there was "at least a perception of bias among the public" following Mazzagatti’s officiating of a bout between Lesnar and Frank Mir at UFC 81 in February 2008.
During that bout, Mazzagatti halted Lesnar mid-attack to issue him a point deduction for punching a grounded Mir in the back of the head. The bout was subsequently re-started in the standing position and Mir went on to win with a first-round submission.
Citing Mazzagatti’s "controversial decision," along with public comments the referee had made in the press afterward pointing to an "actual bias" and the criticism the referee received regarding his officiating that night, Olsen requested that the referee be removed from consideration from the July 3 title bout.
MMA Junkie had the quote from Mersch:
"We believe that some of the other options the commission has may be a better fit because they would provide a higher-caliber performance in terms of the high-profileness of this particular event," Mersch said. "Mr. Mazzagatti, as I think everyone is aware, has been publicly criticized by [UFC president Dana] White several times based on his concern for the health and safety of the fighters. Mr Mazzagatti might not be performing up to the level we would expect and we've come to appreciate."
This is not the first time that Lesnar's camp has made such a request regarding Mazzagatti, as they did so unsuccessfully prior to Lesnar's rematch with Frank Mir at UFC 100 (although Herb Dean ended up being appointed for that fight). Both Lesnar and UFC president Dana White have also had less-than-kind things to say about Mazzagatti on numerous occasions since the first Lesnar-Mir fight. In the past, NSAC director Keith Kizer has defended Mazzagatti, as he did when speaking to URDirt prior to UFC 100:
"I don't know why Steve's got such a bad rep from Dana," Kizer said. "All I can think of is Steve, as a fireman, he has paramedic training. I think compared to the other referees, he probably knows better if a guy is hurt or not."
Although Kizer declined to comment during today's meeting, it was he who recommended Rosenthal to the commission before they selected him with the unanimous vote. Nonetheless, the request from Lesnar's camp and the UFC was yet again turned down by the commission as explained by chairwoman, Pat Lundvall:
"Those objections are not legitimate grounds by which to disqualify Mr. Mazzagatti from consideration," Lundvall said.