Referees Under Fire Once Again in The Aftermatch of UFC’96

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It has happened once again, a referee’s judgment has been put into question, and the UFC’s Dana White isn’t too pleased with the outcome.

The controversial stoppage to the Aaron Riley vs. Shane Nelson bout can be seen in this week’s latest UFC 96 Dana White Video Blog. In the blog and from what I’ve read from the play-by-play’s, the referee stopped the fight after Riley was put down from a solid punch by Nelson, but was visibly on his back defending strikes from Nelson and was fully in control of all his actions. It looked like a standard exchange between a guy in guard and a guy looking to stay out of guard and pound his way to victory. The fight was suddenly stopped. 

In the Pete Sell vs. Matt Brown matchup, Sell was nearly knocked out from a Brown punch. Yves Lavigne rushed in to stop the fight, actually put his hands on Brown, pushed him away, then as Brown walked away in celebration, told Brown and Sell to restart. This was a very odd scene, and it produced a lot of “What the heck just happened?” moments from fans, including myself. Sell was visibly stunned, and Brown subsequently punished Sell to the point in which everyone watching was outraged by the continuance of the fight.

UFC 95 also had its share of controversy with many, including myself, believing Josh Koscheck wasn’t given a chance and the fight was stopped way too quickly. All of these debatable stoppages bring us back to the central issue, is there a need for some sort of organizational body to manage, train, and create a critera for referees?

I think the last few events certainly raise the issue. Yves Lavigne’s mistake in the Sell-Brown fight was likely caused by the fact that another referee quickly stopped a fight earlier in th evening. Lavigne likely didn’t want to make similar mistakes, but Lavigne would have been fully justified in stopping the fight when Sell first went down, although Sell did move to defend. It would have been perfectly fine for Lavigne to stop the fight when Sell was obviously barely able to stand against the fence. It shouldn’t have went for as long as it had, but the recent screwups in the Octagon as of late are probably one of the reasons why Lavigne waited to stop this bout.

The Riley-Nelson situation was that of an inexperienced referee in my mind. When the focus is on fighter safety and only fighter safety, veteran battlers like Aaron Riley who are familiar with being on the ropes of defeat, but are able to fully defend themselves, get the short end of the stick. The replay shown in White’s video blog is confusing to any fan.

What needs to happen in order for this to end? I’ve thrown the suggestion out that the UFC should try to get behind some type of organizational body that trains MMA referees, teaches specific criteria that referees need to follow, and is headed by one of the best referees in the business in John McCarthy. If the UFC backs the organization, it should filter throughout the commissions and through the regional promotions as well. It could have some sort of regional experience program, allowing referees to go through trials and tribulations in lower promotions and building their way up to higher level organizations through a track record of some kind. There should be some sort of review board much like what NFL and MLB officials have to go through.

Kid Nate believes John McCarthy should also be reinstated back into the UFC, and I believe this would be a brilliant idea for bigger marquee matchups. We haven’t had any huge bouts completely screwed by poor refereeing lately, but it’s bound to happen if this continues.

I’m more inclined to push McCarthy into a role to create the future of MMA referees with his common sense in the cage. I think that would be a much more effective way to bring new referees into the same mindset that McCarthy has had over the years. It should provide us with an ample amount of referees that won’t foul things up so horribly like that of what happened in Riley vs. Nelson.