TUF 19 Rewind Episode 6: The garbage men of MMA
MAY 22, 2014 2:14p ET
Chances are if you've heard a referee's name mentioned in any MMA circles it's usually not for a good reason. Referees along with judges have some of the hardest jobs in MMA because they are typically the most thankless occupations that go without any kind of appreciation or acknowledgment unless something goes wrong.
In a way, referees and judges are the garbage men of MMA. Follow my logic -- you produce garbage from your house or apartment every day of the week. When trash gets piled up too high or the bags get full, you put them in containers and set it out at the end of your driveway for the obligatory garbage man to pick it up. It's a fairly easy relationship to maintain. You put the garbage out, they pick it up, and all of your trash is gone. But when do you notice anything about your garbage man?
It's when your garbage doesn't get picked up or the trash gets dropped in your yard and then you go irate. Chances are up to that point in your relationship with the nameless garbage man, you couldn't have picked him or her out of a lineup of two people, but now that something got messed up or wasn't to your liking, you're ready to draw blood and that guy's face is etched in your memory forever.
Such is the life of the officials in MMA. Take for instance the occupation of being a referee.
In practice, the referee's job description is pretty simple -- officiate the action in the cage, protect the fighters from illegal blows or holds, and make sure the fight is stopped when one of the participants is hurt or finished. Now, the fact is the referee's job is much more difficult than what I just described, but the point is we don't really think much about the third man in the Octagon unless something goes horribly wrong.
In the world of referees, Steve Mazzagatti is the garbage man that backs into your driveway while mowing down your mailbox, gets his tires in the grass and doesn't pick up the trash so much as runs it over a few times before jumping out of the truck, tossing loose pieces into the compactor while apologizing profusely. It's not so much that he's doing a bad job just because he can. It's more that he's not sure how to drive, can't quite operate the machinery and then as the situation gets dire, he freaks out and isn't sure what to do next so he overcompensates.
Thus was Mazzagatti's role on Wednesday night's edition of The Ultimate Fighter when he just couldn't seem to get anything right during the fight with Roger Zapata and Ian Stephens.
Early in the fight, Zapata was twice warned for grabbing the fence while defending takedowns from Stephens. A third warning came later in the fight for the same infraction. Zapata was also warned repeatedly for throwing elbows at a 12 to 6 angle, which is illegal in MMA (essentially means bringing your elbow straight up and straight down on an opponent's head). The warnings for the elbows came at least three or four times before Mazzagatti finally decided to deduct a point for the illegal move in the third and final round.
Now, as far as the point deduction goes, I'm completely on board with that ideology in MMA and I think more referees should do it. A warning means nothing if there's no consequence. In this case, however, the repeated warnings from Mazzagatti never came with the one additional phrase he needed to really carry the weight to get his message across to Zapata-- "one more time and I'm taking a point away".
Go watch a fight where Herb Dean is refereeing when someone pulls an illegal move like grabbing the fence or hitting an opponent in the back of the head. There's usually a warning or two and then he follows up with the prerequisite "one more time and I'm taking a point away".
We can argue all day whether Zapata's elbows were actually illegal or not. I personally don't believe many, if any of them, would be considered 12 to 6 strikes thus not illegal but Mazzagatti should have been stronger in his stance about the move in the first round as opposed to waiting until the third to automatically take a point away. Same thing with the fence grabs. I was on board to see a point taken away there as well, but it was more of the same with 'don't do that' but no actual threat of a deduction if the infractions continued.
So if Mazzgatti is the garbage man who is sweating getting his job right but just can't seem to get the trash in the truck, the judges involved in last night's bout were the guys who don't even bother showing up for work that day. At least Mazzagatti tried to do the right thing. The judges in charge of scoring the fight apparently downloaded the newest version of Candy Crush that day and had other things to do besides watch what was happening in the Octagon.
From the response I've seen on Twitter, there haven't been too many fans or journalists on board with a third round even taking place after the first 10 minutes were completed. Stephens controlled the action for most of the fight with his takedowns and ground control. Granted, he didn't do much else besides control Zapata, but if that's the only thing that happens in a fight, it's how you have to score it.
Be that as it may, the third round ends with one judge giving Stephens a 10-8 round (due to the point deduction) and the other two give it a 9-9 round, thus making this a majority draw. The fact that the commission then decided to go around and just circle who they thought won the fight as a tie breaker of sorts just dissipates the entire idea behind judging in the sport. A draw is a draw. That's it. Of course it's disappointing that it happens in an Ultimate Fighter bout where one person has to move on and the other person doesn't, but it's not right to just make up rules on the fly because that's what you believe suits the situation.
It's shocking that there isn't a safeguard in place if this situation did come up. It's also shocking that through 27 seasons of the show, this hasn't happened before.
The worst part is Ian Stephens' time on The Ultimate Fighter, for all intents and purposes, is done because the judges decided to go from the 10-9 must system to the PRIDE scoring system (where the entire fight is judged and not round by round) at the drop of a dime because there was no other way a winner would have been decided. There's a time and a place to debate the scoring system in MMA needing to be overhauled (because it needs to be overhauled) but at the end of a fight that should have been declared a draw is not the time to do it.
Following the fights, UFC president Dana White appeared on FOX Sports Live where he revealed that the Nevada State Athletic Commission is now being more attentive after the fights to review tape, see mistakes made, and work with referees to ensure situations like this don't happen again. Ultimately, I don't believe this entire scenario should unfold squarely on the shoulders of Steve Mazzagatti, but at least something is being done and that's a good thing.
Now we move on in the competition with Team Penn's Anton Berzin taking on former Ohio State wrestler from Team Edgar, Patrick Walsh. From the look of things, the fallout from the Zapata/Stephens decision is one that will linger for at least a few more days and it's definitely a fissure that could break apart any of the friendly house chemistry that's been experienced up to this point on the show.