MMA Referee Steve Mazzagatti: “We Don't Work for Dana White”

Jordy McElroyCorrespondent IJuly 27, 2012

Steve Mazzagatti (Sherdog) and Dana White (Esther Lin/MMAFighting)
Steve Mazzagatti (Sherdog) and Dana White (Esther Lin/MMAFighting)

If Dana White had things his way, Steve Mazzagatti wouldn't be allowed anywhere near a UFC Octagon.

The UFC President has already gone on record in calling Mazzagatti the "worst ref in the history of any fight business."

Like most refs, Mazzagatti has had his share of bad calls, but he doesn't believe past mistakes should overshadow some of the good things he's done for the sport.

"I can't even count how many fights I've done which all has gone fine, but sometimes things are going to go bad," Mazzagatti said in a telephone interview with HeavyMMA.

"It's just like good fighters. Sometimes it goes bad and they get subbed or they get beat, and that's the way it goes. Unfortunately, we're in a high-profile position. We can't see it all."

What about excessively long clinch and grappling situations?

As a fan of MMA, it's hard to watch your favorite fighter trapped underneath an opponent without any action for elongated periods of time. The referee is charged with standing the fight up or separating fighters whenever they get into a stalemated position.

Unfortunately, some refs allow stalemates to go on much longer than others. This gives the fighter in the dominant position a chance to ride out time and coast to a decision.

At the post-fight press conference for UFC 149, White ripped into referee Yves Lavigne's performance in the heavyweight bout between Cheick Kongo and Shawn Jordan.

"[Yves Lavigne] is standing around letting two guys clinch for three freaking rounds and then let them clinch for the entire third round. At what point do you go, 'Ok, there's no fight going on here.' These people paid money. In the rules, it says that these guys are supposed to be fighting. There's actually points that can be taken away for timidity, but if you see two guys clinching, it makes me think that Yves Lavigne doesn't know what he's doing."

Mazzagatti, who didn't even work at UFC 149, remained the focal point of White's rant. He thinks the fact that Mazzagatti is still employed shows a lack of responsibility on the commission's part.

If something isn't done about the poor refereeing and judging, White is worried the sport could face some serious problems down the road.

"If this doesn't get fixed, it just absolutely crushes the sport. It's so bad.

[Steve] Mazzagatti still [expletive] works. That guy still has a job. That's crazy. Herb Dean should ref every fight there is. The guy would get exhausted and couldn't do it, and they'd never let that happen. Mazzagatti still works, enough said. The fact that the commissioner would let this guy referee fights still is just beyond my comprehension."

Mazzagatti believes the problem lies in the actual rules, not the referees. There is a massive gray area in the rules when it comes to standing fighters up and breaking up clinch grapples. If the rules were more straightforward, it would make refereeing that much easier.

"[Dana White] has criticized us, and we get a lot of criticism for not standing them up – at least I do," Mazzagatti continued in his interview with HeavyMMA.

"They say we let fighters lay on the ground too long and we're not doing anything. We don't make the rules. We enforce them. It's not our job to make sure the fight goes the way the promoter wants it to go. It's the fighter's job. It's their show."

Ultimately, the referee's job is to protect the fighters and make sure everything goes along according to the rules. The promotion and its fighters are responsible for everything else.

"I don't make the rules," said Mazzagatti. "If you want to make a 15-second standup rule, then come up with a 15-second standup rule, and I will stand them up in 15 seconds. I can only go with what's given to me. I don't judge fighters by who they are and what they're known for."

You gotta understand, I don't work for Dana, and we [referees] don't work for Dana. I feel I'm a public servant for the fans and the fighters. I want to make sure the fighters have a good, clean, fair fight that they trained for and expect."

White acknowledged that the fighters should be held responsible for their own performances, but he thinks some accountability should fall back on the refs and judges.

Whether they like it or not, their decisions have a direct impact on the UFC's events and the future of its fighters.