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Midnight Mania! Legendary UFC referee suddenly under fire over decade-old call: ‘Played you like a fiddle’

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UFC 178 - Kennedy v Romero Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Welcome to Midnight Mania!

This column is no stranger to beef. In fact, fighters arguing with one another is either the headliner or part of the Insomnia column most evenings. However, it’s not every week we see a beef dry-aged nearly a decade before hitting the table.

It all comes back to Tim Kennedy, the former Strikerforce title challenger who made a brief run towards the UFC belt back in 2014. Riding a win streak over the likes of Michael Bisping and Roger Gracie, Kennedy faced off with Yoel Romero at UFC 178 in a bout with significant title implications.

Romero won the first round easily, but Kennedy stormed back and stunned Romero with a huge combination in the second. Between rounds, there was confusion in the cage, resulting in more than the allotted 60 seconds for Romero to recover. As soon as the fight did began, Third Round Romero appeared, brutalizing Kennedy for a knockout win.

Nine years later, Kennedy still isn’t over it. In fact, he’s “celebrating” the anniversary online.

“Robbery anniversary and the end of my fight career,” Kennedy wrote on Twitter. “Dear Nevada Athletic Commission. NAC 467.728 If a combatant fails or refuses to resume competing when the bell sounds ... the referee shall award a decision of TKO.”

The referee in question here is the famous pioneer “Big” John McCarthy, an influential and important figure in the sport. He took the time to write a respectful response to Kennedy, explaining his actions and why Romero ended up receiving extra time. According to McCarthy, a Nevade State Athletic Commission (NSAC) Inspector and missing cut man were both responsible for the delay. McCarthy acknowledges that the situation wasn’t fair to Kennedy, but he also says Romero didn’t do anything wrong.

“Tim you are an amazing person and I truly wish the very best life has to offer both you and your family,” McCarthy wrote. “Perhaps I could of done something differently during your fight. I wish I had the forethought to envision this exact situation before it ever occurred and that way I may have handled it differently.

“But you are not stating facts about what occurred. Yoel was told to stay seated by the NSAC Inspector. The truth is the Cutman hired and paid for by the UFC did not re-enter the cage when summoned to do so and that is what held up the start of the 3rd round. It is not Yoel’s fault that this occurred and the Cutman is not part of Yoel’s official corner. Language barriers did not help as well.

It’s egregious to penalize a person when they are not at fault and that is why there were no point deductions nor DQ. Was it completely fair to you? No I don’t believe it was, but there are times when there is no perfect solution in the moment. I hope the very best for you in all that you do.”

That’s a rather elaborate explanation from McCarthy, but Kennedy doesn’t appear to be too impressed. He believes McCarthy was fooled by Romero’s corner, who purposefully delayed to buy their athlete time and allow him to recover.

“I’m super happy I’m done fighting and this fight brought in the end. So thank you for that,” Kennedy responded. “You failed to manage control of what was happening in the cage. The entire Yoel team played you like a fiddle and got what they wanted … more time to recover.”

Romero’s team denied those allegations years ago.

At any rate, this beef feels far from settled, so maybe we’ll see a ten year update next September? My take: Romero and co. definitely played the clock and the referee, using every dirty tactic possible to buy time. However, Kennedy employed a similarly ... veteran ... tactic of holding Romero’s gloves to punch him in the face in the first place — and McCarthy never saw it!

Sounds like a level playing field.


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