UFC on Versus 6: An evening of good fights is marred by bad refereeing

Photo via thefightnerd.com

When Anthony Johnson's shin connected like a Barry Bonds-swung baseball bat to Charlie Brenneman's skull, everybody assumed the best and the worst.

The best for "Rumble" who seemed to be back to his knockout ways after being blanketed by Josh Koscheck and then doing the same to Dan Hardy.

The worst for "The Spaniard" who, after becoming a Cinderella inside the Octagon when he beat Rick Story in a fight he took on one day's notice, seemed well on his way to waking up and saying, "What happened?" as the ringside medical staff took a look at him.

But it was neither. It was somewhere in the middle and altogether unsatisfying. It wasn't a result of either fighter but instead that of the third man inside the Octagon.

It was Mario Yamasaki's job to protect the fighters but his actions directly led to the the conclusion of the bout. The end didn't come when Brenneman could no longer defend himself. It didn't come when Johnson was tapping to a submission.

It came when Yamasaki jumped the gun and ended the fight entirely too early.

And that kind of behavior from referees needs to stop.

This is nothing new to mixed martial arts (MMA). Botched referee calls are as old as the sport. The very first UFC saw Royce Gracie catch Ken Shamrock in a choke which forced the American to tap. The referee simply stood there while the confusion began to mount up. The Brazilian released the hold only to reapply it when he thought the fight hadn't been stopped.

A blown call from John McCarthy at the company's inaugural event in Japan led to a frustrated Kazushi Sakuraba holding a sit-down protest in the middle of the Octagon.

Frank Trigg nearly became the UFC Welterweight Champion when an inadvertent knee strike to the groin caught Matt Hughes and had the Hall of Famer reeling. It went unnoticed by the referee, Mario Yamasaki, and Trigg nearly finished off his rival right then and there.

The list is as long as Stefan Struve's arms and some have simply become accustomed to these kinds of calls and have resigned themselves to the fact that yes, we will likely see one instance of bad refereeing each event. And that's exactly what is most frustrating. We shouldn't throw our hands up and accept this fate. We should want and demand more. The fans -- and especially the fighters -- deserve a higher standard to be held.

There is almost no uniformity in refereeing. One referee will admonish a fighter a handful of times for an infraction but never take a point. Another will take a point for another infraction without so much as a warning. There is a level of discretion when it comes to officiating a fight, one that doesn't exist in sports like football or baseball, but there can still be standards across the board.

If a fighter is grabbing his opponent's shorts, issue a warning. If it continues, threaten to take a point. If the fighter still insists on bending the rules, they'll be penalized. There, now you have uniformity amongst referees at least for that example. Not to say that exact model should be used but something concrete and on the books, so to speak, should be established.

McCarthy has taken steps to help achieve this with his C.O.M.M.A.N.D. training program but it's only until a sport-wide course becomes the norm will we actually see consistency between referees. They should also be expected to attend annual seminars as a refresher. The same is expected of all the major sports in America so why not MMA?

Of course, no amount of training, classes, or seminars would have prevented Yamasaki's honorable but misguided instincts last night. He saw the kick connect viciously and instead of looking at Brenneman and the condition he was in, he immediately stopped the fight without realizing "The Spaniard" was fully conscious and aware.

Would Johnson have finished his opponent off soon after had the fight not been stopped? Likely. But the sport -- along with its fighters and fans -- doesn't operate in what ifs and hypotheticals. It's in everyone's best interest to allow fights to end as conclusively as possible.

Being a referee is a thankless job because it should be. We should barely even notice them inside the cage.

And their actions certainly shouldn't be headlines the day after a fight.

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