Friday night (April 11, 2014) at the Cheyenne Ice & Events Center in Cheyenne, Wyo., Resurrection Fighting Alliance (RFA) held RFA 14: "Manzanares vs. Maranhao." The card was headlined by a bout between Matt Manzanares and Junior Maranhao for the RFA Flyweight title.
Bouts like this happen all the time on the regional level in mixed martial arts (MMA) with the champions often getting a call up to fight in the "big leagues" such as Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) or Bellator. As such, outside of play-by-play or providing results, these don't usually affect the greater landscape of the sport.
Unfortunately, when these events are given more coverage, it is usually because something terrible went wrong. Recently, a fighter died in South Africa following a technical knockout loss at EFC Africa 27 in February, one of the first times in the history of the sport that a fighter died because of injuries sustained during combat.
The bout between Maranhao and Manzanares was fairly uneventful for the first four rounds. Manzanares appeared to be the superior fighter, landing the more significant strikes throughout the bout and locking in a tight triangle choke to close the fourth round. Maranhao was able to survive and both fighters went back to their stools.
While Manzanares' corner immediately started to work with their fighter, Maranhao was sitting alone while his cornermen were yelling at the referee. It was during this time that he collapsed off his stool, landing directly on his face. This was a shock as just seconds ago, he had the ability to get off the mat and walk to his corner.
Now he was laying limp and unconscious for several seconds before his corner rushed to revive him and helped him back up to the stool. They literally had to shake him awake.
AXS Television's cameras were focused on Manzanares. It was only after commentators Michael Schiavello and Pat Miletich told the production team to replay Maranhao's collapse that the viewing audience was able to see what happened inside the cage.
Nearly 33 seconds later, the ringside physician finally entered the cage. Instead of inspecting the fighter, which is normal protocol in New Jersey and Nevada, the doctor instead asked Maranhao's corner if he was able to continue. Jorge "Macaco" Patino said that he was ... so the fight continued.
That was the wrong move, according to New Jersey State Athletic Control Board Counsel Nick Lembo:
As the Chair of the ABC's MMA Training and Officials Committee, I have already e-mailed articles, statements and video to the attention of the ABC President and several other Commissioners.
A loss of consciousness/stability as seen at RFA 14 should ALWAYS equate to the immediate termination of the contest.
The sport of MMA is not akin to Burmese Lefhwei in the sense that there are no timeouts or breaks in the contest subsequent to knockouts or loss of consciousness until such time that the contestant "recovers," chooses to continue, and action resumes.
Following the broadcast, I reached out to the Wyoming State Board of Mixed Martial Arts for comment regarding the actions of both the referee and doctor. I asked if someone would speak on record about the bout and why it was allowed to continue.
Below is their unedited response.
Dear Mr. Roth,
Thank you for reaching out to the Board. As to your question/comments regarding Mr. Maranhao, he was thoroughly examined by a licensed physician after he fell off his stool between the 4th and 5th round of the RFA event in Cheyenne on April 11. He was also examined by his corner men and the referee. All parties, including Mr. Maranhao, believed and stated unequivocally that Mr. Maranhao was medically safe to and capable of finishing the fight. In fact, he fought well in the last round and lost in a close split decision. He was examined by a licensed physician after the bout as well and again found to have no neurological or other medical issues of concern.
The Wyoming State Board of Mixed Martial Arts stands by our physicians and officials and has the utmost confidence in their ability to assess the medical status of Wyoming contestants. Safety is the Board's number one priority and all necessary precautions were taken at the April 11 RFA event to ensure that Mr. Maranhao was safe to continue fighting.
Again, thank you for your interest in Wyoming MMA.
Wyoming State Board of Mixed Martial Arts
Like others who received the same statement, I take issue with the complete and utter lack of accuracy in their stance. To say that the doctor inspect Maranhao isn't just inaccurate, it's an outright lie. The footage shot by AXS Television clearly shows that the doctor made no attempt to inspect the fighter.
In fact, all the doctor did was ask "Macaco" if Maranhao could continue. This was all shown during the broadcast.
Requests for additional comment to the Wyoming Commission went unanswered.
Guilherme Cruz of MMA Fighting spoke with Maranhao to get the Brazilian's account of the fight.
"No, they came to talk to me and do the exams after (the fight)," he said.
Maranhao left the phone for a second to ask his coaches if the doctor really entered the cage to check on him in between rounds.
"They came in between the rounds and asked if I was okay," Maranhao changed his story. "And right after the event, the commission and the doctors did all the exams as well.
"I saw that some people are trying to blame the commission, the promoters or even my coaches, so I'm really upset about it," he continued. "I want to make clear that nothing happened. It's a mistake (to blame them), and it can hurt us."
That Maranhao was unsure that the doctor entered the cage should be all that's needed to illustrate his cognitive state.
Thankfully, there were two men who were able to provide real time analysis of situation last night: Pat Miletich and Michael "the Voice" Schiavello. Miletich and Schiavello are the two-man commentary booth for AXS television broadcasts and were outraged by what they saw occur inside the cage.
John Nash of Bloody Elbow spoke with Miletich, a man that has done it all in the sport of MMA. During the broad cast, it was pretty clear that Miletich was uncomfortable with the doctor's decision to allow the bout to continue. His comments to Nash provide further detail as to what exactly the doctor failed to do in order to ensure fighter safety.
"We [Pat and Michael Schiavello] didn't like what we saw. I think you could hear that when it happened during the broadcast that we weren't comfortable with what was going on."
"I don't know what his corner or the referee were doing. I know the doctor came over and talked to someone in his corner and then left. I didn't see him flash his light in his eye or actually examine the fighter to make sure he was OK but then I didn't go to medical school myself so maybe you don't have to actually check the person to see if he's OK."
"There's repercussions for the fighters when they do something wrong. There's suspensions and fines when they get in trouble. But when the referees, the judges, the doctors, and others do anything wrong are there repercussions? Doesn't seem to be any does there?"
After reading Miletich's comments, I reached out to his colleague, Schiavello, to get his take on the action. Schiavello was the first to notice that Maranhao collapsed off his stool and requested for the AXS TV producers to show the footage in-between rounds.
I read the Wyoming Athletic Commission's statement to Schiavello, who immediately called them out for it being an outright lie. In fact, he believes they got lucky that nothing serious happened to Maranhao in the fifth and final round.
"Every time that he got hit by Manzanares, and he got hit more in that round than any previous round, he was getting hit a lot. Every time that Manzanares hit him in that final round, I was cringing, thinking to myself, 'oh god, if this guy gets knocked out, something bad could happen to him.'"
"If you listen to the commentary, when Maranhao falls off his stool, I ask 'where's the doctor?' The doctor didn't even come into the cage for quite some time. And when he did come into the cage, he didn't even look at Maranhao. He didn't do a pupil test, he didn't ask him any questions. All he did was ask 'Macaco' if he was okay. That was it. It was disgraceful."
The above statement directly contradicts what the Wyoming Commission addressed with their statement. Not only did the doctor not inspect the fighter's eyes with a flash light (a normal procedure), he made no attempt at all to test the fighter's cognitive powers.
Schiavello went on to provide further insight into what occurred off-camera during the broadcast. As he explains, he and Miletich had the perfect vantage point for what was going on inside the cage. Their position just outside Maranhao's corner allowed them narrate what was happening inside the cage.
"During the broadcast, we had our camera in the opposite corner. Maranhao's corner was right in front of our commentary position. So what you saw on TV was in the other corner. When we saw Maranhao slip off his stool, I immediately hit my talkback button and told the producers to get in Maranhao's corner."
"We had another camera that caught the action, so AXS TV replayed it just afterwards. It was a major concern. A guy slips off his stool and might be out? Doesn't matter if it's for one second or one minute, he still blacked out after being held in a triangle at the end of the fourth round."
In "the Voice's" mind, the party that should be held most accountable is the ringside physician, though there are parties that are just as responsible for what happened inside the cage on Friday night.
"How do you not have the doctor race in there and give him a good and thorough check-over before allowing it to go on? How do you even allow it to go on? It's ridiculous. It's utterly ridiculous. I was disgraced and disgusted by it and very fearful for Maranhao and so was Pat."
"Every punch that he took in that fifth round, I thought that something bad was about to happen. They needed to stop it and look at him properly. There's been a death recently in South Africa. You need to hold the referee accountable and the doctor accountable. You have to hold the commission responsible."
He went on to explain that a lot of what happened is just the culture of MMA. A fighter's job is to fight, and more often than not, a corner will overlook safety to let their guy fight.
"'Macaco' is a great coach who will let a fighter keep going, but at the very least, he needs to be held a little accountable. When the doctor came in and asked him if Maranhao was okay, Macaco as a season'd pro, should have said to the doctor 'that's your job to decide.'"
He added, "you can hold him partially responsible for it, but you can't place the blame on him. The blame goes on the doctor. It goes on the guy the commission employs. It goes on the guy who is there to ensure fighter safety. This doctor was incompetent. I was horrified."
"This shouldn't reflect on RFA. They used the commission for the state they are in and used the doctor that the commission assigned for the fights. That doctor should never be used again. It was just horrible. Absolutely horrible. I wouldn't see this happening in Nevada or New Jersey where stuff is done professionally."
"If I didn't hit that talk-back button to the producer, no one would have known. The only people who would have known would have been the 2000 people in the arena that night. But Pat and I felt that it was our responsibility. We're not afraid to call someone out on something that will injure the sport or a fighter."
While the live coverage and commentary from the AXS TV crew was phenomenal, the highlights of the night seemed to gloss over what turned into the most important aspect of the event. I reached out to AXS TV CEO Andrew Simon about those highlights and received a timely response regarding my questions about the highlights.
"I wanted to address our broadcast coverage of last night's RFA show. If you watched the LIVE broadcast (not highlights), you would have noticed that our cameras (while we were on a different live shot) caught Maranhao fall off his stool."
"We showed that to our audience and Pat Miletich and Michael Schiavello expressed outrage with the referee and the doctor and concern between rounds and throughout the final round...I don't think we glossed over it at all and in fact brought the serious situation to light."
"All I ask you to do is watch the round and let me know if you disagree. As you know, MMA events are subject to the referees and doctors of the state commissions. I think it would be a good idea to contact them for their perspective."
While AXS TV's show Inside MMA will be pre-empted for the next three weeks due to live broadcasts of Coachella, Stagecoach, and Jazzfest music festivals and therefore won't be able to address the fight, Simon believes that the footage of the bout would be better served in assisting the ABC in finding the best ways to ensure fighter safety.
Andrew Simon was also gracious enough to put me in contact with Sven Bean of RFA. He was on hand at the fights while his partner, Ed Soares, was in Abu Dhabi for the UFC bouts. I wanted to get the promotion's perspective on what could have been a devastating evening.
"As a promotion, we travel around state to state, and we work within the state's commission. The Wyoming commission is a new commission and they were very accommodating and excited about the event coming to their state."
"That being said, they're a young commission and they just don't don't have the experience. Wyoming is young and they'll get there but they're just a very young commission," he said. "In fact, we brought a referee up from Colorado. More specifically, what this comes down to is not on the commission itself. It comes down to the ring doctor."
"He's hired to do a job and his job is to ensure fighter safety. That ring doctor is hired by the state commission. I'm not sure if you know the ins and outs of when a promotion comes to a state that has a boxing commission, but we don't bring that staff with us. That's what we pay the commission to do. That's why we pay our fees to the commission."
"You pay the commission to do those things for you -- hire refs and doctors -- that you need to run an event. I'm not going to throw the Wyoming commission under the bus at all. They're just very new and just like everyone, they're going to have some growing pains."
Something that Schiavello said during our discussion had me wondering if "Macaco" was wrong in allowing his fighter go back out after collapsing off the stool. I reached out to UFC lightweight Isaac Vallie-Flagg to get the fighter's perspective on the night and see if he could off what goes on inside the mind of a fighter.
My question was very simple: from the perspective of a fighter, what were his thoughts?
"For me personally, I think that's where the ref and the corner should have stepped in for the safety of the fighter. They should have called the fight. I really think the doctor should have called it and I really think the corner should have called it."
"When something like that happens, you don't know what really happened to the guy. I think you're doing the fighter, the sport, and everything as far as health is concerned, an injustice with letting the fight continue."
"You know, I think the fighter often times will be too tough for his own good, but that's where it's the responsibility of a solid corner person to step in and take over. I would hope my cornermen would err on the side of safety. It sucks for that to happen, but I would hope that would be the case. It's not a cut. It's not something a guy can fight through. It wasn't like he slipped. He was completely unconscious."
"I hope that I'd make the judgement call to stop the fight. There are certain things you can work through. I know that I've fought when my hand was broken and I've fought through some pretty painful stuff. But when someone's brain is at stake? Hopefully the guy would understand why I stopped it."
To close the call, I asked him if he'd ever take a fight in Wyoming. His response was short and succinct.
"No, I wouldn't want to. I don't think that they have the fighter's safety in mind after seeing that."