Being a referee isn't easy in any sport. Humans makes mistakes all the time and refs are an easy target to be ostracized for any errors they commit. But when the mistakes are either repeated or egregiously bad, the tidal wave of criticism is typically warranted. This was the case for Eduardo Herdy after his dreadful call to end the Drew Dober vs. Leandro Silva contest at UFC Rio after he mistakenly thought that Dober was unconscious from a guillotine choke while in half-guard.
Today we look back at some other highly notable refereeing faux pas from the world of MMA, with a focus primarily on the UFC but also other notable promotions. This list isn't a "top 18 of all-time" ranking or anything of that nature, but this does encompass everything from early stoppages to late stoppages to non-stoppages and just plain ol' madness.
Marcus Silveira vs. Kazushi Sakuraba (UFC: Ultimate Japan, Referee: John McCarthy). The legendary Sakuraba was going in for a single leg takedown on Silveira after being hit with a few punches (but otherwise blocking most of them), but McCarthy thought that Sakuraba had been KO'd and stopped the fight. This upset Sakuraba and the Japanese crowd, but in a turn of events, the bout result was switched to a no contest. Sakuraba won the rematch and the heavyweight tournament championship after semifinalist Tank Abbott couldn't advance to the final due to an injury. (Video)
Matt Lindland vs. Murilo Bustamante (UFC 37, Referee: John McCarthy). When Bustamante secured an armbar on Matt Lindland in their middleweight title fight, Bustamante released the arm after he claimed Lindland tapped. Lindland denied tapping (when he actually did) and McCarthy actually restarted the fight. Justice was served when Lindland tapped to a guillotine choke two rounds later. This went down in MMA history as the famous "double tap" fight.
Rob McCullough vs. Olaf Alfonso (WEC 19, Referee: Jon Schorle). If you see a fighter almost get flatlined by a right hand, but his mouthpiece is sent flying across the cage, what do you do first? Option A is to stop Alfonso from receiving any more punishment, seeing as he's clearly down and out. Option B is to retrieve the mouthpiece like it's a rousing game of fetch. Guess which option Schorle chose? The one where Razor Rob gets to punch Alfonso three more times due to remarkable incompetence. (GIF)
Nate Quarry vs. Pete Sell I (UFC Fight Night 1, Referee: Cecil Peoples). Pete Sell was knocked own early by Nate Quarry, who dove into his guard ready to go in for the finish ... because Sell wasn't exactly out cold. He'd put his hands on the mat to brace his fall and ready himself for the onslaught, but in comes Mr. Peoples flying in to uhhhhhh ... lay on top of Quarry. Sell is on the ground, Quarry is on top of him, and Peoples is on top of him telling the two men, "I'm stopping it!". They would rematch in 2007 with Sell getting absolutely crushed in a stunning comeback win for Quarry. (Video)
Anthony Johnson vs. Kevin Burns I (UFC Fight Night 14, Referee: Steve Mazzagatti). The one TKO in Anthony Johnson's loss column really should've been a DQ win. Kevin Burns was warned FOUR separate times by Steve Mazzagatti about eye pokes, but Mazzagatti didn't once think about actually deducting a point. Johnson went down in the 3rd round after eye poke #415 (which was followed by a grazing uppercut after Rumble's right eye was gouged once more), and Mazzagatti ruled it a TKO. Johnson unsuccessfully appealed the result, but he got his revenge a few months later by almost knocking Burns' entire head off with a head kick.
Matt Brown vs. Pete Sell (UFC 96, Referee: Yves Lavigne). Brown absolutely crushed Pete Sell within 20 seconds, and Yves Lavigne intervened and stop the fight. Sort of. For some inexplicable reason he changed his mind and let them continue, which just resulted in an addition 70 seconds or so worth of "Drago" getting beaten up. He lost his mouthpiece and was stumbling along the fence before he dropped to his back on his own. Brown punched him several more times before Lavigne stopped it and actually meant it. (GIF)
Aaron Riley vs. Shane Nelson (UFC 96, Referee: Rick Fike). Shane Nelson dropped Aaron Riley with a punch, but he was defending himself and clearly not in danger of being finished. But referee Rick Fike swooped in from the other side of the country for the "show's over!" stoppage. These two rematched and Riley won a decision. (GIF)
Jon Jones vs. Matt Hamill (TUF 10 Finale, Referee: Steve Mazzagatti). This will probably spark plenty of debate, but this is still a controversial stoppage. Theoretically, Steve Mazzagatti DQing Jones for 12-to-6 elbows on Hamill was the right move, but the process leading up to it was a mess. Initially, Jones was deducted a point for the illegal blows and then Mazzagatti asked Hamill if he could continue. Hamill wasn't able to continue, but not because of the strikes, but his shoulder was dislocated after getting thrown done by Jones just prior to the elbows (GIF). Technically, if Hamill couldn't continue because of the shoulder, then this shouldn't have been a disqualification. The shoulder injury was sustained from a legal move and took place before the illegal strikes. Instead, Mazzagatti ruled that Hamill was done in by the nose-busting elbows, hence the DQ outcome. (GIF)
Bobby Lashley vs. Chad Griggs (Strikeforce: Houston, Referee: Jon Schorle). Lashley lost this fight by TKO because he was basically exhausted, but Jon Schorle drastically changed the outcome of the bout with a ridiculous stand-up from full mount to have the cageside doctor examine a cut near his left eye. Not only did he halt the bout with Lashley in mount, but he restarted the fight in a standing position. A gassed Lashley shot a desperate takedown which was stuffed, Griggs punched the vulnerable eye and the bout was stopped after the 2nd round horn had sounded.
Kim Couture vs. Sheila Bird (AX Combat 1, Referee: Len Koivisto). You don't often see the leg scissor choke used in MMA, but this happened when Sheila Bird put Kim Couture to sleep. Len Koivisto was apparently only going to accept "Rigor Mortis" as his method of stopping the fight.
Frank Mir vs. Shane Carwin (UFC 111, Referee: Dan Miragliotta). As far as late stoppages go, Tan Dan's decision to let Shane Carwin batter Frank Mir for about 25 seconds with non-stop lunchpail-to-face action has to be one of the worst. (GIF)
Mac Danzig vs. Matt Wiman I (UFC 115, Referee: Yves Lavigne). Matt Wiman was working on a guillotine choke vs. Mac Danzig in 2010, twice told Lavigne "he's out!" and Yves moved in to stop the fight. Discussion over, right? Well Danzig never tapped and he was never unconscious, but Lavigne thought he went limp and called it off. Wiman won the 2011 rematch by unanimous decision. Lavigne later explained his actions and why he (prematurely) stopped the fight.
Charles Oliveira vs. Nik Lentz (UFC on Versus 4, Referee: Chip Snider). UFC on Versus 4's Fight of the Night ended with Charles Oliveira choking out Nik Lentz in the 2nd round of their lightweight bout. Juuuuuuuuuust one problem, though. Oliveira blatantly kneed Lentz in the face while Lentz had his right knee down and it was literally right in front of Mr. Snider. This sequence led to the rear-naked choke, but Snider did nothing. Pennsylvania's athletic commission later ruled it a no contest after it was originally called an Oliveira win. (GIF)
King Mo vs. Lorenz Larkin (Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Jardine, Referee: Kim Winslow). You didn't think I'd omit Kim Winslow from this list, did you? Because I could probably create a list of bad Kim Winslow moments that is so long that it'd make Encyclopedia Britannica look like a pamphlet. The Count from Sesame Street said "screw it" halfway through this series of punches before Winslow showed Larkin mercy. Lawal wasn't impressed with Kim Winslow's performance. (GIF)
Christophe Walravens vs. Bernado Mikixi (EFC Africa 28, Referee: Wiekus Swart). Walravens knocked Mikixi down with a right hand but then was somehow able to get away with a preposterous amount of illegal shots to the back of the head. The ref didn't think about stopping the fight until Mikixi was flat on his back and Walravens stopped hitting him. This was ruled (and remains) a TKO.
Mark Munoz vs. Chris Weidman (UFC on Fuel 4, Referee: Josh Rosenthal). You've seen this ending 1,000 times over. Mark Munoz is dropped with a standing elbow, Weidman goes in for the finish, and Josh Rosenthal took an eternity to end it. This is one of the rare times I've personally yelled "stop the fight" at my screen. (GIF)
Mark Munoz vs. Roan Carneiro (UFC 184, Referee: Jerin Valel). Carneiro had a tight rear-naked choke on Mark Munoz and quite clearly rendered him unconscious. Jerin Valel was standing right there and evidently "super duper out" was what caused him to finally step in. Just look at Carneiro's face as he's basically wondering what the referee is waiting for.
Pat Curran vs. Joe Warren (Bellator 60, Referee: Jeff Malott). No explanation necessary.