Dominick Cruz was critical towards referee Keith Peterson after UFC 249. The former UFC bantamweight champion claimed Peterson smelled like cigarettes and alcohol and feels the official was likely impaired on some level during the actual fight.
Nearly 48 hours since the fight, Cruz’s stance remains unchanged. Speaking to ESPN’s Ariel Helwani on Monday, he bared more details to back up his claim about Peterson.
“Before I went out to that fight, I specifically remember looking at this referee Keith Peterson,” Cruz recalled. “And he’s like mumbling, touching the floor, like, putting his fist down and putting his fingers about where not to knee and where to knee. And he won’t look me in the eyes.
“And I’m going underneath trying to make sure he looks me in the eyes, and I’m like, ‘Hey man. I can’t understand what you’re saying to me. What are you talking about? Be clear because you are in control of this fight and I want to know what’s going on. I need you to make this work. I need you to understand that.’
“Shook his hand, and said, ‘I need you to let me go out. This is a title fight,” he continued. “I need you to not be stopping this early and I’m asking you, like, yo, man. Let me fight my fight. Let me go out out there. If this is gonna be stopped, don’t stop it for some rabbit punches or something.’ And I looked him in the eyes, because I said, ‘I need you for this.’ Shook his hand, and I remember (him responding), ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’
Cruz went on to add more claims of how he felt Peterson did poorly at his job that night.
“We were in the last 20 seconds of the match. So he says, ‘it’s not my job to know the clock.’ Yes it is,” he said. “It is your job to know the clock. You have one job: it’s to keep us safe and know the time. Why did me and Henry know there’s 20 seconds left in the round? If we know that as top-tier athletes, you should know that as a top-tier ref.
“With 20 seconds left in the round, that is the time when fighters sprint. You’ve got to throw Hail Marys at that time. It’s the ‘go for it’ time in a football game. Same thing in fights, and at the end of a five-minute sprint, you need to sprint. Who wants it more? Henry did his job, he went out there and threw a Hail Mary kick. I fired an uppercut, and instead of the hook coming, which I was gonna slip, I move into his knee, and he catches me. He did his job, he sprinted at the end of the bell.
“But I wasn’t out. And you could see it on tape,” Cruz asserted. “And I’m dodging punches so I could get back up to my feet on the fence and on my way up, which is the criteria of the referee to protect yourself and get to your feet. He stops me.”
“The Dominator” now says championship fighters should get the chance to pick whom they wish to officiate the matches, which he says is a practice done in boxing.
“If you look at boxing, the highest level of boxing matches especially for titles, they get a choice of the referee and the judging sometimes,” Cruz sad. “They negotiate. I don’t see why this should be different (in MMA), because the second I saw that this referee couldn’t look me in the eyes, I said ‘I wish I had Herb Dean, right here, right now.’
“That’s the referee I want. And you see how he officiated that title match after, and I agree with everything he did. I think he officiated amazingly.”
As for Peterson’s activities outside of his job, Cruz says other fighters have a similar experience.
“I have accounts of fighters who have legitimately... I mean Jeremy Stephens just told me like, he had to carry that dude back up to his room before, he was so hammered,” he said. “So this is real stuff that we’re talking about.
“Fights are going, and these guys are getting hammered the night before, they’re not clear and they’re coming in hungover. You’re a weak link in my three-year preparation for this, and I don’t appreciate that.
“I was prepared to die in that fight. I’ve been training for this for three years. And to get stopped like that was disappointing for me because I had more fight in me, a hundred percent.”
Cruz later on acknowledged what he felt were his flaws during the fight, such as the lack of aggression in the first round. Nonetheless, he is now on a two-fight skid with the first TKO loss on his record.