Everyone has their favorite fighter. Or even a favorite fighter in each division. But almost as important as choosing a favorite fighter, is choosing a favorite referee. Their are so many different ones, each with their own pre-fight gesture when they are announced. Referees still go as the unsung hero more often than not. They are quickly ridiculed before they are praised. Fans never cheer the referee for a timely, but instead boo them for a premature stoppage or a standup that seems unnecessary.
Referees are under almost as much pressure as the fighters, however. They are in control of two human beings lives and they have to make sure they stop the fight in time as to not let either men sustain serious and maybe even permanent damage. They have to know exactly when a fighter is unable to continue, a hold is deep enough to provoke injury, or even to stop a fight to check a cut.
Each referee is trusted by the state’s athletic commission to protect top athletes. Their job relies on their overall skill to compose themselves while paying attention to the action. Through all this, I believe that referees receive to harsh of criticism when all they’re doing is protecting one fighter.
At UFC Live on Versus, a preliminary bout between TJ Grant and Shane Roller ended in a controversial finish when Grant locked in an armbar on Roller. Fernando Yamasaki, the brother of UFC referee Mario Yamasaki, stepped in and ended the fight even though there was no visible tap. Fernando was booed after the fight and also during the next fight he called after nearly every decision he made. Yamasaki claims he heard a pop and heard Roller simultaneously groan in pain. Grant of course validates this statement.
During the replay, Roller is in visible pain and his arm is twisted at an unnatural angle. This would prompt any referee to attempt to break up the fight. Similar boo’s hit the ears of Herb Dean when he stopped the heavyweight title fight between Frank Mir and Tim Sylvia after Sylvia’s arm was obviously broken.
Lastly, and actually most surprising, fans booed the 15-second stoppage of another heavyweight title bout between Andrei Arlovski and Paul Buentello. Andrei opened up quick and caught Buentello coming in, knocking him unconscious immediately. Andrei didn’t know Buentello was out until he was pulled off by arguably one of the best referees in MMA, Big John McCarthy.
The arena was so quiet at first that you could clearly hear Arlovski screaming in jubilation. Quiet, that is, until fans started to boo and chant bulls***. This is while Buentello attempts to standup only to need help as he wobbles around the octagon. Fans started to quiet down as the replay showed a murderous shot shut Buentello’s eyes.
Even these days, referees are still criticized for just trying to do what’s right. UFC president Dana White has stated that he’d always want to see a fighter get hit too few punches rather than too many punches. UFC executives are smart enough to know if a referee made a questionable stoppage call and often don’t punish the fighter at all.
UFC referee’s have one of the toughest jobs in sports. One that requires focus, and insight. Many referee’s either have MMA credentials or even professional fights. These of course help carry over to officiating as they may have, at one time, been caught in a similar situation as a fighter.
Now, I’m not saying a referee has never made a bad call. We can all agree they do. Instead of yelling at your TV, just sit back and take the call just like the fighters have to. The referee isn’t there to determine a biased outcome based on their favorite fighter but instead, shepherd it towards a fair and injury-free end. So these invisible heroes of the octagon deserve respect for helping these top flight athletes enter the cage again and again.