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I was ‘screaming at my TV’ - John McCarthy reacts to referee from Zaleski vs. Saint-Denis fight

McCarthy watched Zaleski dos Santos vs. Saint-Denis in horror after witnessing some of the worst refereeing in UFC history. 

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The preliminary card fight between Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos and Benoit Saint-Denis at UFC 267 this past Saturday was marred by controversy, and it is because of the horrendous refereeing of one Vyacheslav Kiselev.

Kiselev made a series of questionable decisions during the welterweight contest that endangered Saint-Denis and confused Zaleski dos Santos. The second round saw Zaleski dos Santos hurt and batter Saint-Denis, who endured a ton of damage that should have been more than enough to warrant a stoppage from the referee. Alas, no stoppage was made, and the promotional newcomer managed to survive the brutal onslaught to get to the third round. Saint-Denis did well here, but dealt with yet another odd decision from Kiselev. Saint-Denis was poked in the eye and told Kiselev he could not see, a declaration that would normally see the cageside physician at the event requested to examine the fighter. That did not happen, and Kiselev restarted the fight.

Moments after the eye poke, Saint-Denis was hit with an accidental groin strike by Zaleski dos Santos and the action was paused again. Before the fight resumed, Kiselev walked over to Zaleski dos Santos and deducted one point from him. The fight ended with Zaleski dos Santos earning a unanimous decision over Saint-Denis, but the poor showing from Kiselev was all that was talked about.

John McCarthy was one of many prominent voices in mixed martial arts to express his disdain for Kiselev and his work inside of the Octagon that night. The former referee and one of the writers of unified rules of mixed martial arts knew what he was watching was abhorrent and explained why on a recent episode of Unlocking the Cage with Jimmy Smith on Sirius XM.

“I was going nuts. I was standing up in front of my TV, screaming at my TV,” said McCarthy. “Look, if he had just let the fight go on, it’s wrong but it’s understandable and it’s understandable based upon there’s pressure there, he’s trying to let the fight play out and he’s looking at it thinking he’s doing a good job of letting this guy continue on, even though he doesn’t realize he’s ruining this guy’s career. The loss is not going to ruin his career, the beatdown and the damage will. So that was one element.

“Then, [there was] the eye poke,” continued McCarthy. “The way he handled it was so horrendous and so wrong for the fighter, and the fighter that had been beat down. So you’re looking and you go, ‘Come on, you’ve got to be kidding me.’ Then you take a look at the knee, the knee did not hit the groin. Maybe the shin did, and okay that’s fine, but to take a point for it? No, the knee was placed properly and so you just looked at everything he was doing, he was lost, he was in over his head. Everyone thinks it’s easy. It’s not. It takes time to figure out how to get these things and do them right and be good at them so you just flow with how you’re doing it and at that moment, he wasn’t ready for that type of fight.”

McCarthy also addressed the responsibility of the corner to protect its fighter when the referee fails to do so. Saint-Denis’ coach Daniel Worin told BoxeMag that he did not think about stopping the fight because Saint-Denis has “been able to pull himself together in phases” in previous outings. He also defended his position by revealing that Saint-Denis told him was “right not to throw in the towel” in the second round.

McCarthy said that way of thinking is just as dangerous as an incompetent referee because the coach is no longer doing an essential part of their job.

“It’s the hardest call to make based upon your love for the guy that’s in the cage,” said McCarthy. “You’re supposed to love that guy, you’re supposed to know more about him than anybody and you know when they are not doing what they need to do to win this fight. You know when they’re not going to win the fight. The biggest thing is, people are afraid to do it because they’re afraid of the fighter saying, ‘You didn’t believe in me’ or they’re afraid of losing their job. But when a guy says, ‘I didn’t even think about that’, well he also should’ve thought about something better than, ‘You’re getting hit too much.’ Really? If you didn’t think his fighter didn’t know that at the time, come on, man.

“That’s why I love the Trevor Wittman’s and the John Hackleman’s, they take care of their fighters. They will throw in the towel. They will stop the fight because they know their fighter and they know, ‘Hey, if this is it, they’ve given everything they can give, they can’t give anymore, it’s time to get them out.’”

Saint-Denis has shared that he is fine after the fight and will move to the lightweight division for his next appearance.