(Not Steve Mazzagatti.)
Referee Steve Mazzagatti has taken a lot of shit in some of the MMA forums about his decision to take a point away from Brock Lesnar – and ultimately his dominant position – during the penis-tattooed fighter’s bout with Frank Mir at UFC 81. Even though Lesnar came back to force Mir on his back again, some of his fans think the infraction aided in Mir getting the victory. Clearly Lesnar struck Mir in the back of the head, so the point deduction was valid if Lesnar had already been warned. However, many fans did not know Lesnar had been warned and thought Mazzagatti had turned into some rogue ref making the rules up as he goes.
Well, the firefighter/engineer/part-time referee is defending everything he did last Saturday in an interview with MMA Junkie, and though he maybe couldn’t hear himself, he claims Lesnar was indeed warned.
On if there is pressure in doing the big fights:
Absolutely. When Big John left, he had been doing all the big fights, and I usually got a co-main event and the undercard fights. We’d divvy them up. When you’re reffing those big fights, the ones that headline the events that people came to see, (the fans) are going to watch every little thing and analyze everything, just like the SuperBowl. A high-profile fight is going to have a lot more scrutiny and be more analyzed. That’s for sure.
Mazzagatti also explains a ref’s approach to handling a fight, how they judge the fighters, and what considerations they may make from one fight to another.
I don’t really analyze the fighters. I have a job. I look for fouls. That’s pretty much it. That’s my primary duty, whether it’s a huge bout or a weekend-warrior card. The only thing that might change is the level of fighters and how much punishment they can take. The guys who are early in their careers and weekend warriors aren’t training as professionals and aren’t used to taking the punishment and the punches to the face. You have A class, and B class, and C class. The UFC is A class. The C-class guys might work eight hours a day, do a little training, and then take a fight. They’re not used to it all, so you have to be aware of that, and I’m not going to let them take the punishment an A-class guy might. Otherwise, I look at all fighters equally. I don’t look at strikers or grapplers or anyone differently.
On the details of the controversial infraction:
These fighters are extremely skilled fighters, and a grappler like Frank, that’s what they’re trained to do: when you have a guy in half guard on top of you, you don’t want to give the guy room to punch. So that was Mir’s defense. You suck up close to (your opponent’s) chest, tuck yourself up under them, and that covers you from getting hit. At first, Brock started to do the right thing by winding up with the hook from behind and pushing Mir’s head away from his stomach. Then you can blast him in the face… but to have to worry about getting struck in the back in the head in a situation like that isn’t something Frank should have had to worry about. But that was a target that presented itself to Brock.
Mazzagatti does explain that he does not think Lesnar intentionally went after Mir’s head. The ref believes Lesnar was excited about his opportunity and the back of Mir’s head presented itself for the bludgeoning. Regardless, the main complaint is many fans didn’t realize Lesnar had been warned. He clears that right up:
I jump in and say, “Don’t hit at the back of the head.” A few more seconds go by, Mir tucks up under there again, and Brock comes down with the second couple hits to the back of the head. That’s when I jumped in and had to do my job. That’s what I saw.
Even though Mazzagatti knew he warned Lesnar and knew it was the right call to make, he said he still went home and watched the tape. He admits he can’t even hear himself give the warning due to the roar of the crowd. And he couldn’t even hear himself fire the verbal starting pistol to begin the match.
One has to wonder if Lesnar heard him:
I don’t know. I can’t say that he heard it. I yelled it loud enough for them to hear. It was awfully loud. I yelled it, though. I’ve got kids, so I know how to yell. [laughs] I used to be in a rock band, so I’ve got some lungs.
Steve Mazzagatti and the Mazzagatti Five’s CD drops next month. The musical referee goes on to explain the dangers of striking the back of the head/neck area of an opponent – just like mom always said. He also discusses the difference in an accidental strike and how those are handled.
And some have wondered if Lesnar was on the verge of getting a TKO victory when he was pounding the shit out of Mir:
No, not all. To me, Frank was doing everything right. He was doing what he needed to. He was doing what he needed to for that position. If you watch a thousand Jiu-Jitsu guys in that position, a thousand guys would do what Frank did in that position. He could have kept the position if it weren’t for the strikes to the back of the head. He knew what he was doing.
Mazzagatti – who has been with the NSAC for 14 years – says the refs pow-wow with Keith Kizer after every event. I hear that Keith Kizer really knows how to throw a party. Mazzagatti is being tight-lipped about that one.