At Bellator 78 this past weekend, Lyman Good and Andrey Koreshkov both advanced to the finals of the Welterweight tournament, setting up a nice finale with a pair of impressive TKO wins. Unfortunately, those wins were not without controversy.
In the main event, Good took on Michail Tsarev. At one point during a striking exchange in round 2, Tsarev stepped back, complaining of an eye poke. Referee Greg Franklin started to step in to pause the action, but Good moved in first, pouncing on Tsarev with punches. With Good now connecting on the blinded Tsarev, Franklin stepped back, allowing the fight to continue. Tsarev was unable to defend the blows, and the fight was stopped moments later.
Much worse was the stoppage in the Koreshkov vs. Marius Zaromskis semi-final. In that fight, Koreshkov landed a nice punch that staggered Zaromskis, sending him crashing into the cage. Koreshkov jumped on his injured opponent, bringing down a series of hard punches for the TKO. As Koreshkov unloaded on the prone and clearly defenseless Zaromskis, referee Jerry Poe was in perfect position, but opted not to stop the fight until Zaromskis had taken 11 unanswered, unprotected punches - far past the point where he was intelligently defending himself. Watching live, announcer Jimmy Smith was screaming for Poe to stop the fight for some time before the referee finally stepped in.
Here are both incidents, courtesy of Zombie Prophet:
Good vs. Tsarev:
Zaromskis vs. Koreshkov:
Both are bad calls, though they vary in their degree. Franklin's indecision led to Tsarev being stopped unfairly. At best, you could argue that he simply overlooed the eye poke. But it's also fair to say that Tsarev may have seen Franklin stepping in and dropped his defenses. Either way, Franklin's indecision led to an unfair advantage for Good. Did this change the ultimate result? It seems unlikely, as Good looked to be on his way to the win, but we'll never know.
Much worse was Poe's inaction. His failure to stop the fight led to Zaromskis absorbing numerous unprotected shots to the head - shots that were completely unnecessary. As an official, one of Poe's primary responsibilities is to maintain the safety of the fighters - here, his lack of action actually took away from fighter safety.
I contacted the Ohio Athletic Commission regarding these issues. Executive Director Bernie Profato declined to comment, stating simply that the Zaromskis vs. Koreshkov stoppage will indeed be reviewed. And I applaud them for that move. If referees can not be trusted to do their jobs and protect the fighters, then it is up to the athletic commissions to take action.
The trouble is, we as MMA fans have seen these types of incidents time and time again. Numerous fights have gone far past the point where they should have been stopped, yet nothing seems to ever come of it. What will it take before a commission truly steps in and says a referee's actions are unacceptable?
The Ohio Athletic Commission has that chance right now. They are doing the right thing by putting this incident under review, but I urge them to take it further and make the results of that review public. If they side with Poe, explain to the public why he was in the right. If they don't, stand up and say that Ohio takes fighter safety seriously and will not tolerate incidents like this.
Is it over-dramatic to say that the lives of fighters depend on it? Probably. But the fact that I even have to think about it shows the need for a change.