By Josh Stein on Dec 06, 2009
A lot of controversy always surrounds officials when they make decisions about whether or not a fighter should be disqualified, and sometimes I feel its important to jump to the defense of a referee. Last night was not one of those times.
Steve Mazzagatti’s call during the Lesnar fight was one everyone seems to agree was moronic, but his jumpy tendencies in last night’s fight between Jon Jones and Matt Hamill was one of the worst pieces of officiating in the history of mixed martial arts, and perhaps one of the worst calls in the history of professional sports.
Whether NSAC chooses to overturn the call, and I think they absolutely should, is up to them, but I figured (just for the people who aren’t entirely clear on exactly what went wrong, or on some of the details of officiating) I’d lay out exactly why Mazzagatti should never be allowed to referee a high profile event like that again.
Apart from the fact that he may very well have been late in stepping in to protect Hamill (Jones had been delivering unanswered blows for a while at the time of the illegal elbows), and upon reviewing the video, that was probably the best call, as Hamill had not been intelligently defending himself for some time, Mazzagatti should have made a point of stopping the fight to check the health of the injured fighter, not simply to issue a point deduction.
Perhaps what irritates me most about Mazzagatti’s interventions are the generally trigger-happy, twitchy nature with which he approaches things that really have to be calculated, like standups or point deductions. He stood Jones up and issued a point deduction for the illegal elbow before consulting with an official to see what the extent of the damage delivered by the elbow was.
If he had stopped the fight, let Hamill see the ringside physician to see what the extent of the damage was, and then make a decision about whether to issue a warning, a point deduction, or stop the fight, he would have found out that the injury debilitating Hamill, that caused him to concede the match, had nothing to do with the illegal elbow. If the illegal strike is not a factor in ending the fight, and indeed it wasn’t, a DQ is totally uncalled for.
Mazzagatti was too eager to issue his point deduction, and once he made the point deduction, upgrading that deduction to a disqualification is very difficult to justify, for the same reason a referee cannot simply issue a warning and then, for the same strike, issue a point deduction. It causes too much confusion among the fighters and the fans, and leaves everybody sitting around wondering what the hell just happened. This, though, is a minor error compared to not having Hamill consult with a doctor before making the decision. As far as procedure for referee’s go, knowing full well that the first priority is the health and well being of the fighter, getting a cage-side physician in there to take a look at Hamill’s nose and to consult on whether and why he could or could not continue should have been the first step for Mazzagatti, and he really should be kept out of major shows, like the UFC, until it’s clear that he can avoid making bad calls purely because he felt the need to make an immediate decision.
Additionally: After reading the statement made by the NSAC at the press conference last night, it seems clear that they are trying to reinterpret the way things happened.
NSAC claims that Mazzagatti stopped the fight after noticing the cut on Hamill’s nose. This is true, but the reason he stopped the fight was not because of a cut on Hamill’s nose (and, if it was, he should have had a doctor come into the ring to confirm the nature of the cut). Mazzagatti stopped the fight because he asked Hamill if Hamill would be able to continue, and Hamill confirmed that he would not. Hamill made that statement, as is clear from the post fight interview, on the basis of his injured shoulder.
So, Keith Kizer’s statement that “you have the illegal elbows that cut [Hamill] up and that’s why the fight was stopped” is either an inadvertent misunderstanding of exactly what was happening in the cage (which I’ve watched and rewatched about five times now, just to make sure) or a bald faced lie to protect an incompetent referee. Hanlon’s Razor leads me to assume the former.
Of course, Kizer also said that “if you look at the [end of the fight], there was a lot of nice blocking by Mr. Hamill,” which leads me to believe that Kizer may have contracted whatever disease has long infected the eyes of Cecil Peoples. From about 2:15-1:50 left in the first Jones delivered completely unanswered punishment, with Hamill simply keeping his hands in front of his face, presenting no bucking or even an attempt to grab the arms. As the fight wears on, Hamill does attempt to grab the arms, which does qualify as an attempt to defend himself, but hardly competent, and the primary reason the pace of the beating slows and Hamill is able to mount the defense has everything to do with Bones slowing down, and almost nothing to do with Hamill changing a portion of his game. “Nice blocking” is a dramatic, borderline idiotic, overstatement.
Upon reviewing the tape yet again, it’s clear that Mazzagatti attempted to issue a verbal warning to Jones about the elbows (which is proper approach), but hesitated to finish the sentence and instead stepped in to separate the two fighters. Mazzagatti must have been under the impression that Jones heard his warning about the elbows (which he never really finished).
He actually had to finish the warning, explaining to Jones what he was talking about as he stepped in, which should have been an indicator for Mr. Twitchy that he was jumping in too early. But he quickly issued an improper point deduction, then stopped the point an issued an improper disqualification.
The fact is, he was retroactively upgrading the penalty, which is something Keith Kizer decried (though stating that Mazzagatti didn’t do it) before briefly alluding to the NFL’s policy regarding instant replay.
Filed Under: MMA
About the Author: Joshua Stein is a writer and editor for MMA Opinion. He has worked as a photographer and journalist and has a number of print journalism credits. He also works as a moderator for MMAForum.com and a grappling columnist (covering judo, collegiate wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and submission grappling) for profighting-fans.com.