Being a referee in any sport is a tiresome, exhausting, thankless job. The only time a referee gets any notice is when he/she makes a mistake, which is going to happen. Refs are not robots, and human error is always going to be a part of any sport, especially MMA. MMA officials have to make snap judgments without the benefit of instant replay, multiple angles, slow motion, or any of the goodies we have in the comfort of our own home to enhance the quality of fights. They also have to factor in the safety of fighters, which often puts them in a lose-lose situation. Stop the fight to quick, and fans are angry they were robbed of a definitive finish; stop the fight too late, and you have Weidman/Munoz.
All of the factors I listed above were in defense of officials, but some mistakes simply should not be made, and are clearly the result of over anxious referees. This was certainly the case at Legacy Fighting Championships 12 that took place July 13, 2012. In the main event, former UFC/Strikeforce/Bellator welterweight Jay Hieron took on Imperial Athletics' Romario Da Silva. Hieron was getting the better of Da Silva, but it was still a competitive bout when an officiating mistake marred the end of the fight.
Hieron secured a deep Brabo choke around 2 minutes into the second round, and began telling the referee, Kevin Hancock, that Da Silva was "out." Instead of checking the fighter to verify said condition, Hancock stopped the bout on the word of Hieron. As soon as the choke was released, Da Silva popped up, infuriated at the result. Video evidence showed that when the ref was stepping in, Da Silva put a thumb up in the air to signify that he was indeed conscious. This was ignored by Hancock in lieu of Hieron's words. After the jump, I will go deeper into this issue.
If this was an isolated incident, it would still be bad, but it happens far too often. At Bellator 35 on March 5, 2011, the same Jay Hieron took on Anthony Lapsley in the quarterfinals of Bellator's welterweight tournament. He secured a rear naked choke on Lapsley, and referee Josh Rosenthal stopped the fight at the 3:39 mark of the first round. Lapsley popped up immediately, and said to Rosenthal "He told you I was going to sleep, and I got rung up. That's weak." Roenthal defended the stoppage post fight, but it was clear the way Lapsley came flying off the mat that he was 100% conscious.
Josh Koscheck has drawn the ire of many fans with his efforts to take advantage of the system, and its officials. In back to back fights in late 2009 and early 2010, he faked being hit with an illegal knee by Anthony Johnson at UFC 106, and Mario Yamasaki stepped in and allowed Koscheck a reprieve for the "illegal" strike. In Koscheck's very next bout, he fought Paul Daley at UFC 113, and it was deja vu all over again. Daley threw a knee at Koscheck's head while he was grounded, followed by Koscheck going to the ground, writhing in pain. Subsequent review showed that the knee missed completely, but Kos still received the benefit of a break to recover. Referee Dan Miragliotta deducted a point from Daley, although he later rescinded that point. He did not, however, deduct a point from Koscheck for his actions. After the fight, Daley infamously sucker punched Kos in the back of the head, leading to his dismissal from the UFC.
In all of these controversial situations, the common link is an official making a ruling not based upon what happened, but what a fighter said happened. Whether it is an aspect of fighters trying to "game" the system or honest mistakes in the heat of the moment is irrelevant. A referee, in any sport, must be able to tune out all chatter from the participants. Whether it is a claim of unconsciousness, or an illegal strike, the referees need to do one thing and one thing only. Call what they see. If the ref didn't see it, it didn't happen. If fighters can call their own fouls, or stop their own bouts, then they will, and as fans of the sport, we all lose when that happens.
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