Being a referee is one of the toughest jobs in mixed martial arts (MMA). When it's done correctly, hardly anyone notices, and over a long enough timeline, even the best officials will make mistakes. It's inevitable.
What defined UFC 142: "Aldo vs. Mendes," however, was inconsistent refereeing, and as an event, it was marred by actions that wouldn't have been a surprise in a podunk location with inexperienced referees. We're used to seeing it whenever a big-time show happens in one of those out-of-the way locales, and you almost come to expect incompetency and murky application of standards and rules we otherwise expect with shows in Nevada and California.
However, because Saturday's calls involved two experienced refs in Mario Yamasaki and Dan Miragliotta, it makes you wonder how they happened in the first place.
The biggest gaffe of the night was Yamasaki's for failing to take charge during Erick Silva's finishing assault of Carlo Prater. In what initially seemed a ground-and-pound quick knockout for Silva, Yamasaki ultimately disqualified Silva for what he said were illegal blows to the back of the head during the barrage, as Prater was turtled up and in a purely defensive mode.
The replay showed an illegal blow or, perhaps, along with several legal ones, but breakdown in officiating occurred when Yamasaki didn't stop the action before Prater eventually went out for good, instead disqualifying Silva for blows that may or may not have been the finishing ones (we'll never know).A referee faces a tough call in this situation, but it's also within his power to stop the fight, and give a warning. There's also the flip side of intervening during a potential finishing sequence and catching heat there for interrupting the action, but if Silva can lose by disqualification for something like this, Prater shouldn't also be given a win simply because he seemed unable to continue.
Ultimately, it's an official's job to control the fight, especially when rule infractions occur, particularly blatant ones. During Matt Hughes' second bout with Frank Trigg, Trigg won the welterweight title after a brutal knee to the groin rendered Hughes breathless and helpless, tottering like a newborn foal. Trigg was issued a verbal warning, but ignored it -- precisely because he wasn't told to stop -- and proceeded to unload bombs on a helpless Hughes, whose survival and ensuing comeback to win by rear naked chokes in the round constituted one of the great title-fight comebacks in the history of the sport.
Yamasaki was the ref there, too, and it makes you wonder if someone might hip him to the fact that it's okay to stop the action if a foul has occured. Hughes' title didn't change hands that night, but Yamasaki's inability to control that action was overshadowed by the bout's ending. If Hughes had lost, Yamasaki wouldn't have gotten a pass for dropping the ball entirely.
In the main event, Yamasaki refereed the featherweight title bout between Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes. When Aldo was obviously about to be slammed to the mat, he blatantly grabbed the fence, once again getting a verbal warning from Yamasaki. The problem with fence grabbing is that almost everyone gets a freebie, with a verbal, prior to points being deducted.
The rules should be changed to allow the other fighter to start on the mat in mount, that way fighters are incentivized to not grab the fence. The fault here lies with the rules, not Yamasaki, who in my opinion would have been within his rights to deduct a point. It was academic in the end, with a still-upright Aldo delivering a fight-ending knee to knock out Mendes moments later.
The second issue with the refereeing was Dan Miragliotta's quick trigger in the Anthony Johnson vs. Vitor Belfort fight. Issuing quick stand ups twice when Johnson was on top in each instance, as well a super-quick separation while the two were apparently not working enough on the fence.
It makes you wonder what the criterion for "active" is in Miragliotta's book.
Johnson isn't going to get lot of sympathy from people for these, but he deserves the same protection and application of standards as every other fighter. What constitutes the need for a stand up is a virtual ink blot to be interpreted by every different referee.
These stand ups, simply put, were too hasty. And in front of a Brazilian crowd cheering for Belfort, they were a reminder of the old adage that the appearance of a conflict of interest is the same thing as an actual one. It looks bad for the sport when Johnson loses top position because the ref isn't happy, when 95 percent of every other takedown that lasts as long on the ground isn't stood up at that point.
MMA refereeing is an ever-evolving craft, and its practitioners continue to improve. Miragliotta and Yamasaki are among the elite and have had good showings. Saturday wasn't one of them for either man.
Jason Probst can be reached at www.twitter.com/jasonprobst