This space has often been used to critique mixed martial arts (MMA) refereeing and officiating; therefore, it's only fair that the men in black at UFC Fight Night 26 last night (Sat., Aug. 17, 2013) get a hat tip for a job well-done.
After watching 10 televised fights on FOX Sports 1 from TD Bank Garden in Boston, Mass., there were three take-aways that yours truly was very happy to receive.
Letting Travis Browne work his way out of the barrage Alistair Overeem uncorked was a nice piece of refereeing by Mario Yamasaki. I always like to imagine freezing the action at some point during a hurt fighter's struggle to survive and contemplate what the odds would be on him successfully doing so.
Against a pouncing Overeem, you'd probably get some long ones that Browne would make it.
It's a situation where a lot of referees could make a snap decision based on Overeem's throwing a lot of punches -- by my count he unleashed about 30, primarily hammerfists -- or take a cool assessment based on the fact that Browne was still intelligently defending himself despite being under constant fire. The decision proved correct, as Browne eventually regained solid footing and took out the tired Overeem, who'd clearly shot his bolt (watch highlights here).
A stoppage while Browne was covered up on the cage might have been the source of some complaints, but not too many because Overeem's reputation as a killer finisher would serve as a strong counter-argument. I often wonder how much a fighter's reputation factors into whether referees decide to rescue him or an opponent. Officially it's not supposed to, but we're all human.
Nice work by Yamasaki in a bout which reshuffled a couple of big names in the Heavyweight division.
#2: Yves Lavigne not taking the slightest amount of shit from Michael Johnson
You have to appreciate a referee who goes to whatever lengths necessary to establish his boundaries. Lavigne did that while working Johnson's one-sided decision drubbing of Joe Lauzon. While separating the fighters off a break, Johnson gave Lavigne's forearm a twist-and-shove, to which Lavigne immediately nipped in the bud, telling him not to do that or he'd lose a point. After the round was over, he followed Johnson to his stool and give him another earful.
It's a small point, but a critical one.
Referees have enough to deal with, including asshole journalists like myself and fans playing Monday morning quarterback, than to have to absorb professional slights like this.
It was a good thing to see, and frankly, if anyone touches a ref in an aggressive way like that, I'd be fine with it being an automatic point deduction, with a second offense at any time in his career subsequent to that being a lengthy suspension. Otherwise, we're headed on a one-way road of enablers as a society, producing more lowlifes like Mike Kyle (at 2:45 of this video) and the sport doesn't need that.
#3: Brad Pickett getting finished cleanly
At the top of the "Prelims" undercard, Michael McDonald registered a fantastic second-round submission over tough Brad Pickett, sinking in a nicely setup triangle for the closer. But after the first round, where Pickett was pretty much bashed silly, it was a wonder he even made it that far.
Kevin MacDonald did an excellent job of keeping an eye on the battered Pickett, who was staggered several times, letting him fight out of dire situations. This was another kind of key contender bout where a quick stoppage could've definitely been the choice of a panicked referee, putting a cloud over the result. Instead, Pickett's right to be finished was clearly respected, and that's exactly what transpired.
All in all, it was a solid night of refereeing from the crew in Boston. And in a sport where so much rides on this, the product is at its best when the third man is on point.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst