If there’s anyone that Dana White gets pleasure out of verbally tearing down in the media more than Roy Nelson, it’s Steve Mazzagatti, the (formerly) porn-stached, cool as a cucumber veteran UFC official who has given us such avant-garde decisions as “Eye Poke Equals a TKO,” “Flying Head Kick? 40 More Punches to Convince Me” and “Tap 10 Times For Assistance.” The Baldfather has stated on numerous occasions that he doesn’t think Mazzagatti should even be watching MMA — which is all the more astounding when you consider all the crazy shit DW has said and done to try and sell a pay-per-view before — and even gone as far as to unofficially dub Mazzagatti “The Worst Referee in the History of Fighting.” In a world where this was allowed to happen, that’s a pretty bold claim.
As it turns out, Mazzagatti found himself at the center of controversy once again last weekend when he basically handed over his reffing duties to Josh Burkman during his WSOF 3 clash with Jon Fitch. After clipping Fitch early (like somebody here predicted he would), Burkman locked in a tight guillotine that put Fitch to sleep just over 40 seconds into their headlining bout. Burkman then proceeded to roll his unconscious opponent over and stand over him triumphantly before Mazzagatti decided to step in. It was perhaps the first walk-off submission in MMA History, and for some reason, you all are pissed about it.
Although White and Fitch have been involved in a war of words ever since the AKA product was released from the UFC, at the end of the day, it’s safe to assume that White wishes no ill will towards the former title contender. And being that Mazzagatti is higher up on White’s hit list than Fitch, the UFC Prez recently laid into the veteran ref for nearly 10 straight minutes at the UFC 161 post-fight media scrum. It was, quite honestly, the harshest takedown we have seen since Neal Page’s “Chatty Cathy” criticism of Del Griffith.
We’ve placed the full video of Dana’s rant above. After the jump, we’re going flush our last remaining scrap of credibility down the toilet in an attempt to do the unthinkable: defend Steve Mazzagatti. We know, we know.
Let’s start by taking another look at the fight itself…
(Fight starts at the 2:25 mark.)
4:39 left on the fight clock - Burkman drops Fitch with a right hand.
4:32 – Fitch latches onto a single, Burkman uses a guillotine to lift Fitch back to his feet.
4:29 - Both fighters tumble to the canvas, with Burkman still holding onto the guillotine from half guard.
4:26 - Fitch is still fighting the choke, as evident by the fact that he is attempting to grab Burkman’s elbow with his left hand.
4:25 -Fitch goes noticeably limp, with Mazzagatti standing on the wrong side of the action to notice.
4:23 - Burkman releases Fitch, rolls him over, and stands triumphantly over his victim like Duke fucking Nukem.
4:21 - “All right boys, break it up.”
Now, there are a couple of significant factors here that, while not absolving Mazzagatti of being an incompetent “toolbox,” at least help his case. The first thing that should be considered here is:
Context: As a longtime official at the highest level of the sport, it is Steve Mazzagatti’s job to understand that discrepancies exist between certain fighters and apply that knowledge when reffing each fight on an individual basis. In short, every ref out there knows (or should know) that Roy Nelson can take a punch, that towards the end of his career, Chuck Liddell couldn’t, and so forth.
Jon Fitch is a black belt in Guerrilla Jiu Jitsu who has not been submitted since his first ever professional contest, despite facing such submission specialists as Demian Maia, Erick Silva, and BJ Penn in recent contests. Although Mazzagatti only presided over one of Fitch’s UFC fights, he was surely in the arena for most of them, and probably took a lot of knowledge away from the ones he was able to stay awake during (BA-DUM-TSH!). To predict that Fitch would be submitted by not only an “inferior” grappler but in as quick a fashion as he was would be presumptuous to say the least. Again, this doesn’t absolve Mazzagatti and isn’t meant to, but is rather an attempt to understand where he might have been coming from. Which of course brings us to…
The Choke Itself: You don’t have to be a BJJ black belt to understand just how difficult it is to submit someone with a guillotine choke from half guard, let alone a grappler of Fitch’s pedigree. The fact that Burkman was able to do this, recognize that Fitch had gone limp, and roll him over in a mere 3 seconds is incredible to say the least. Even Bas Rutten didn’t think Burkman could pull off the choke from the position he was in, and didn’t realize that Burkman had pulled it off until he was standing over Fitch’s unconscious body. Seriously, not since Jacare vs. Camozzi have we seen a fighter go out so quickly, which could partially explain why Mazzagatti wasn’t quick to jump in.
Again, context should be taken into equation here, and given all the heat that Mazzagatti took for his early call during the Ronda Rousey vs. Sarah D’Alelio match at Challengers 18, perhaps he was assuming that he’d rather be a little late on the call than early. In this case, making the call at exactly the right moment would have required some split-second level reflexes that we rarely see from any UFC referee.
In our opinion, the real problem with Mazagatti’s non-stoppage was that it took him a whole three seconds to wave the fight off and start attending to Fitch after Burkman had already done so on his own. While Mazzagatti may have been out of position to see Fitch go limp, there is no excusing how nonchalantly he took action once he realized that Fitch was out. DW may have exaggerated just how long Burkman held onto the choke once Fitch had gone limp (a second at best), but he was undoubtedly right in his criticism of Mazzagatti’s reaction after the fact.
NSAC director Keith Kizer agreed with several of the above points when he attempted to defend Mazzagatti in an interview with MMAFighting. However, he also believed that The Baldfather’s latest rant could be attributed to his own ego more than anything else:
The guy went out and Josh immediately released the hold,” said Kizer. “What’s weird is he flipped Fitch over, away from the ref. When Josh had the hold, he (Mazzagatti) was one step away. He had a perfect view. Josh flipped him away from the ref, then stood up. I would praise the referee if he did a good job. But here, there’s nothing to talk about the ref. It wasn’t a good job or a bad job. He had no job. I think most people thought Jon was going to get out. Bas and I both thought he was letting go of the hold and transitioning to another hold.
Dana’s a good guy,” said Kizer. “Very few people care about other people as much as Dana. But you’ve heard what he’s said about former fighters, former employees, even fighters in his organization. Even Jon Jones. He likes to put people down, whether rightly or wrongly. It’s an ego thing. We all have egos. I think it’s wrong when people lie and you can make your own conclusions on Dana.
At the end of the day, we’re talking about a stoppage that could have come a second earlier at best. This wasn’t a Zaromskis vs. Koreshkov level travesty by any means, and thankfully, Burkman is the kind of fighter who can register when his foe is unconscious and show appropriate mercy in record time.
Mazzagatti has surely made some terrible calls in the past, but so has the untouchable Big John McCarthy, the unfazeable Her Dean, and
the uncatchable Josh Rosenthal. All we’re saying is, of all the calls Mazzagatti has botched, we should at least give him some leeway with this one.