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CagePotato Roundtable #6: What Was the Worst Referee Blunder in MMA History?

(I know, Kim. These fights make us want to puke, too.)

Sometimes, that “third man in the cage” can be a fighter’s worst enemy. And so, we thank CP reader Ryan Barnhart for providing us with this week’s CagePotato Roundtable topic: “What was the worst referee blunder in MMA history?” Since we’ve already covered judging fiascos, it only seemed fair to dump some hate on the sport’s officiating as well. If you have a topic-suggestion for a future Roundtable column, please send it to, and let your voices be heard in the comments section…

Chris Colemon

I’ve already lost this Roundtable debate. The travesty captured in the video above isn’t a “blunder” at all — it’s a referee-sanctioned homicide. At first glance you spot the black slacks and tie and assume this official to be a professional of the highest order; only later do you realize that he’s a struggling mortician simply there to drum up more business for himself.

Rogerio da Silva and Eric Venutti met in the second round of the ‘Brazilian Vale Tudo Fighting 2‘ tournament. Not only does the lard-ass at the helm of the match allow his own indecisiveness to place a fighter in jeopardy, he insists that an unnecessary finishing blow be delivered to a fighter too rocked to realize that he’s still engaged in a fist fight, Mortal Kombat-style.

It’s easy to look at the date of this event — May 31, 1996 — and dismiss it as the sort of thing that happened in those early days of human cockfighting. But keep in mind that by this time the UFC had ten events under its black belt, and Brazil was no stranger to the fight biz either. Even under a looser rule set, previous fights in the same organization had ended via judges decision and TKO due to cuts, so civility was not entirely lost on these people. This lone act makes everything Cecil Peoples has done look completely acceptable. Almost.

Doug Richardson

The worst officiating blunder in MMA history has to be allowing Steve Mazzagatti to carry a reffing license. Yeah, I get that he’s a nice guy or whatever, but when you’re talking about the Hall of Shame, Mazzagatti and his moustache are inaugural members. His resume of failure is uglier than Tim Sylvia in drag, and that’s a picture that no one wants to paint for you.

I will, because no one should be doomed to repeat this kind of history:

At UFC 92, Mazzagatti played lookout while Cheick Kongo bounced Moustapha al Turk’s head off the canvas like he was trying to get to the prize hidden inside. (And seriously, if you’re a fighter in the cage with Cheick Kongo and Steve Mazzagatti, somebody hates you. It may be God, Joe Silva, Dana White, or possibly all three, but you were not meant to have a good day.) Kongo sliced al Turk open with elbows on the ground, and then got in some solid practice with hammerfists, hooks, and straight punches from guard before the Mazz, daydreaming about teaching Muay Thai to RoboCop, registered what was going on and stopped the bout. DFW has some choice words about Mazzagatti after the fight, suggesting that someone capture the inept ref, wrap him in chains and fire him into the heart of a black hole — for the good of MMA.

Brock Lesnar complained that Mazzagatti was unreasonably quick to stand up his fight with Frank Mir at UFC 91 when Brock was winning, and also for not being quick enough with the Mazzagatti dive when Brock was tapping to a kneebar.

But those guys are known for being free with their opinions. But then consider that Kenny Florian went on ESPN and said that Mazzagatti seemed to have problems judging when to end a fight. Ben Rothwell agreed, after Mazzagatti managed to be both too late and too early in stopping his fight with Cain Velasquez. Rothwell had been KO’d by Velasquez, but Cain followed up the KO with enough punches to the face that Rothwell rebooted and started moving again. Then when Rothwell is pinned against the cage and in the process of standing, Moustache Mazz calls the fight.

He’s stopped fights early (James Irvin vs Houston Alexander), he’s stopped fights late (Yves Edwards vs Josh Thomson), he’s stopped fights so late that the fighters themselves thought he was out of his goddamn mind (Cris Cyborg vs Shayna Baszler). He once tried to stop a fight with jazz hands, and Jason McDonald was forced to ruin whole sections of Joe Doerksen’s childhood memories until Mazz actually stopped the fight. Hell, he once asked Matt Hamill if he was ok to continue, then called the fight when Hamill didn’t respond quickly enough. Small problem there: Matt Hamill is deaf. And yet still, none of this is even Mazz’s best worst.

What absolutely takes the cake was the fight Mazzagatti reffed at UFC between Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and Kevin Burns. Burns, apparently trying to highlight his black belt in Tiger Claw Kung Fu, came at Johnson with multiple techniques targeting his eyes. Mazzagatti was on top of the action, noted the danger to Johnson’s peepers, and warned Burns to lay off the Three Stooges routine. Burns just barked at him and said “Whyioughta…” and went back to threaten the retinas. After four separate warnings from Mazzgatti, Burns finally landed his mythical Eyepoke of Doom, sending Johnson reeling in agony (and partial blindness).

So here’s your moment, Steve: you’ve observed Burns attacking with splayed fingers in the vicinity of Johnson’s eyes and given him FOUR. SEPARATE. WARNINGS. Johnson is complaining about another eyepoke and is unable to continue. His eye, while not actually hanging outside of his face with lightning bolts coming out of it, does appear to be red (Rumble would require surgery and miss six months of action). What’s the call? No contest? Disqualification? Go to a judges’ decision?

If I told you that Kevin Fucking Burns won via TKO at 3:45 of the third round, should you even be surprised?

Steve Mazzagatti, ladies and gentlemen.

Nathan “The12ozCurls” Smith

The referee is there to enforce the Unified Rules of MMA, but more importantly, the ref is there to protect the fighters. Not only did Yves Lavigne not do that while overseeing Matt “The Immortal” Brown vs. Pete “Drago” Sell at UFC 96, but Lavigne seemed hell-bent on getting Sell killed.

We all knew when this scrap was announced that the chances of it going the distance were about as likely as Roy Nelson coming back from the buffet line with a salad. All suspicions were realized within the first ten seconds of the bout when the self-described “technical brawler” Brown opened up with a pair of kicks and a superman punch that all landed. A big high kick clubbed Sell’s neck/head and a left-right combination deposited “Drago” to the canvas like a sack of potatoes at the 18 second mark. Yves Lavigne quickly stepped in and put his arms around Brown’s midsection to keep him from jumping on top of Sell and doing more damage. In the split-second that Lavigne stepped in between the fighters, Sell got back to his feet, although he was clearly hurt. This is when Yves Lavigne shit the proverbial bed and allowed the vicious beating to continue.

First, Lavigne stopped Brown from continuing his initial onslaught by grabbing him around the waist – fight is over. Second, Pete Sell was obviously on “Queer Street” and needed to be saved – fight should have been stopped. Brown was visibly pissed and did not want to dish out any more punishment but what was he supposed to do? The Immortal went so far as to twice give Lavigne the arms-outstretched “What the hell are you doing?” gesture, but Lavigne let it all play out in front of a packed arena and millions watching on television.

I remember when this went down and I can not explain the sheer pandemonium from my friends screaming like Apollo Creed’s wife just before Dolph Lundgren sent Apollo to his maker. I literally thought that we were going to see Sell beaten to death that night and if it had happened, I believe that Yves Lavigne should be in prison.

After the fight, Lavigne had this to offer:

I did let Mr. Sell take maybe — not maybe — I let him take a beating for absolutely nothing. So I didn’t do my job properly. So basically, I screwed up. I screwed up and I’m going to learn from it and try not to do it again…I’m going to make sure not to do it again.”

While Yves Lavigne tries to learn from his mistake, he is lucky that the Sell Family didn’t have to learn to live without Pete.

Seth Falvo

Before I can determine the worst referee blunder in MMA history, I need to first define “referee blunder.” Are we talking about a terrible stand-up that possibly changed the outcome of a fight? Are we talking about a dangerously late stoppage? Can I just write “CECIL PEOPLES SUX, LOL!”, cue my theme music and call it a day?

…I can’t? In that case, allow me to choose the fight I’m pretty sure Cecil Peoples watched in order to refine his officiating techniques: Gilbert Yvel vs. Carlos Barreto.

The fight begins predictably enough, with Barreto earning an immediate takedown and Yvel in trouble. Yet as the fighters get tangled in the ropes, the referee makes the decision not to reposition them, but rather stand the fight back up entirely. Shortly after the questionable stand up, we see Yvel knock out Barreto, and the fight gets waived off — for a few seconds at least.

Those of you who have been here a while may remember the ‘What the fuck is your problem?’ rule for determining whether or not a fight was stopped too soon. Barreto tries to employ it, even though he’s clearly struggling to make eye contact with the official. While a more responsible ref would have ignored Carlos Barreto and his cornermen, this official decides to go against everything he forgot to learn in training and restart the fight. Seconds later, we have Yvel defeating Barreto for the second time that night and terrible referees all over the planet took note: Flying knees DO finish fights.

Jared Jones

God Damn you, Dan Miragliotta. God damn you for making me defend James Thompson.

The fact is, I had never seen James Thompson’s chin hold up to anything, be it a jab or a passing breeze, until his fight with Kimbo Slice at EliteXC: Primetime. For reasons that I am going to attribute to black magic, Thompson showed up with a piece of granite for a chin that night, and was rewarded by having perhaps the most legitimate victory of his career (next to his win over Don Frye, of course) stolen from him by Miragliotta. But worse even than Miragliotta’s third-round standing TKO stoppage of the fight were the implications behind the stoppage itself. As we all know, EliteXC was living and dying by the Kimbo Slice brand name, and were willing to do anything to protect their investment. Though that mentality works in professional wrestling, putting all your eggs in one basket — especially one with shit cardio and zero ground game — is a recipe for disaster in MMA.

Knowing now how corrupt a promotion EliteXC was, it doesn’t seem too hard to imagine that everyone was in on the fix except James Thompson. Poor, hapless James Thompson. I hate to lob accusations at veteran official like Dan Mirogliotta, but let’s just say I would be more shocked to find out that he wasn’t paid off for this fight. Aside from the pathetic stoppage itself, there were several moments in the Thompson/Slice “fight” that one can only describe as “fishy.” Take the first round, for instance, when Thompson locked in a standing guillotine on Slice within the opening minutes. Kimbo appeared to tap out, but all of a sudden, the camera pulled away to a shot of the fight from damn near across the stadium. A simple production error? I think not. As if that wasn’t odd enough, the second round was capped off by Thompson landing over 100,000 elbows to Slice’s dome, all while Miragliotta was apparently ordering a cheesy pretzel from the nearest concession stand. Granted, the elbows were barely strong enough to crunch a Bugle, but Slice was clearly not defending himself, and that should have been all it took to end the fight then and there.

Entering the third round, everyone from Gary Shaw to Kimbo himself knew that something dramatic had to be done. This is where Jared Shaw came in. Using his Buffalo Wild Wings beeper, he relayed the following message to Miragliotta: KIMBO DIES, YOU DIE. Simple, yet effective. So Miragliotta patiently waited for Slice to land any significant offense whatsoever and pounced like a homeless man on a Sacajawea dollar. The fact that one of Kimbo’s punches managed to make Thompson’s ear explode was just icing on the cake. Miragliotta stepped in, Kimbo got the victory, and I sat speechless on the couch of my now ex-girlfriend trying to convince her that what we had just witnessed was actually a legitimate sport. The aforementioned “WTF is your problem?!” rule was not only warranted, by my only reaction for such an injustice. Thank God Thompson would never have to deal with that kind of blatant favoritism ever again.

Ben Goldstein

Since so many of my colleagues picked TKO-related reffing moments, I decided to look for something submission-related. But after some time spent with a stopwatch trying to figure out whether Kim Couture or Nik Fekete suffered more brain-damage, I came across this all-time classic, which took place at Turkey’s first MMA event last year, and was overseen by Turkey’s blindest moron.

If you’re a referee, I suppose you can be forgiven for not realizing that a fighter has lost consciousness before he had a chance to tap. (I mean, at some point you have to realize that hey, that guy isn’t moving around much, and there’s probably a reason for it, but whatever, we can’t all be Josh Rosenthal.) But how about when a fighter does tap, and you’re right there to see it? Get a load of this clown taking a knee right next to the action, looking for a sign — any sign really — that he should stop the fight. The guy on the bottom, furiously tapping? No, too subtle. Dude is waiting for a thunderbolt fom God Himself, or whatever the hell they worship in Turkey.

Eventually, the winning fighter just gets up, knowing that the fight has been over for about seven seconds. And what does the ref do? He taps the mat. Good job, buddy. You’re about as useless as a hat full of busted assholes.

Cagepotato Comments

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linzhanbc- April 15, 2012 at 3:36 am
xxxrayrayray- April 15, 2012 at 1:33 am

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xxxrayrayray- April 14, 2012 at 9:31 am thank you
linzhanba- April 14, 2012 at 8:30 am . .. .
enrikk- April 13, 2012 at 10:38 pm
I haven't finished reading yet, but that Matt Hamill one always bothered me. I really don't care that Jones got cheated out of a win (whatever), but the fact that the fight was called off because Matt wasn't responding to verbal commands while his eyes were covered with blood... come the fuck on.

Didn't anyone remind that idiot what "deaf" means? They should have been able to overturn that shit as soon as Maz tried to explain himself.
BadMonkeyMW- April 13, 2012 at 12:50 pm
I'm glad you got the Kimbo-James Thompson fight, such an obvious work.

The Cris Cyborg-Jan Finney fight always sticks in my mind. Kim Winslow's "refereeing" was unreal and it was painful to watch Finney just get mauled by the Cyborg she-beast.
Swick-a-tine- April 13, 2012 at 9:39 am
wow that last one is particularly disturbing. stupid refs
Fletch the V Stretch- April 13, 2012 at 8:39 am
As usual, Pete Sell is known for getting epically beaten down. Great article, gotta love the Roy Nelson/salad line.
The12ozCurls- April 13, 2012 at 8:55 am
Thanks brother - I originally had Anthony Johnson in the buffet line but I asked for it to get changed to Big Country because I took a dump on "Rumble" last week.
Fletch the V Stretch- April 13, 2012 at 9:52 am
Anytime. I finally commented on the Trigg article for your viewing pleasure. haha
Viva Hate- April 13, 2012 at 8:31 am
What about Gilbert Yvel vs. Atte Backman I mean what buffoon tries to reason with Yvel.
J. Spaceman- April 13, 2012 at 8:17 am
Hahahaha! Nice one Danga! You with a girlfriend! Hilarious!
KarmaAteMyCat- April 13, 2012 at 8:16 am
Aww I wish I had more time lately guys I'm literally traveling two hours to train and leaving my house at 12 to get back at 11pm. Awesome article great read. Keep it up.
Since I wont likely get the chance to contribute next week either I have a question.
Whats your favorite MMA Persona's and why?
The12ozCurls- April 13, 2012 at 10:05 am
Shonie "Mo'F-in" Carter -
Why? Because it is the correct answer.