The one person in the MMA world not criticizing Yves Lavigne for his refereeing decisions in UFC 96’s Matt Brown/Pete Sell bout is Pete Sell. And that makes sense. Just like Josh Koscheck asked all refs everywhere to let him get beaten into unconsciousness before stopping his fights, Sell also wants the opportunity to try and get back in the fight, even when it’s a really bad idea:
"I want always to be given the chance to fight back, not matter what," Sell said Tuesday. "I thought he did good with that. … I want any referee that judges the fight to always give me the benefit of the doubt that I’m always willing to fight."
But willingness to fight isn’t so much the issue. It’s whether he’s capable of fighting intelligently, or whether he’s so dazed that he’s taking needless punishment. The referee is there to make that decision because we don’t trust individual fighters – guys like Sell, whose tremendous heart could get him seriously hurt in such a situation – to make that decision for him.
Lavigne failed in that task, and he knows it:
"I did let Mr. Sell take maybe — not maybe — I let him take a beating for absolutely nothing," he told The Canadian Press. "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."
We’ve said it before, but Lavigne really is one of the better refs in MMA on a regular basis. He just had a bad night, which may or may not have been affected by referee Rick Fike’s horribly early stoppage of the evening’s first bout between Aaron Riley and Shane Nelson. The arena filled with boos after that one, and it’s possible that Lavigne had visions of a Fike-like fan lynching as he was about to step in and wave the fight off. At least he realizes his mistake now.
As for Sell, he got checked out and is doing fine. The way the fight unfolded and the criticism of Lavigne that has followed should make us think back to the questionable Koscheck/Thiago stoppage, just so we can remember why it might be a bad idea for referees to wait until a guy is completely unconscious before stopping the fight. Sell was still capable of getting to his feet and looking reasonably aware, but it didn’t mean he was in any condition to keep fighting.