Let’s be honest, being a referee in mixed martial arts is a pretty thankless job. Like the CIA, their failures are known and their successes are not.
No one remembers flawless refereeing precisely because a good official blends into the scenery unless he is forced to act.
In contrast, when one of our referees puts on the kind of performance that makes Joe Cortez look competent, it remains at the forefront of our minds until we vent our frustration at their ineptitude.
In honour of those calls that left you scratching your head in bemusement, I present the five worst refereeing performances in the history of modern-day UFC.
Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section.
This list simply could not claim legitimacy without an entry for Steve Mazzagatti.
There are many bad calls to choose from when it comes to Dana White's favourite referee, but his criminally late stoppage of the bout between Yves Edwards and Josh Thomson is amongst his most blatant transgressions.
You may recognise the end of this fight from the UFC’s famous Baba O’Riley highlight package at the start of each event.
Edwards secured standing back control and, rather than attempt a throw, leapt into the air and delivered a head kick that knocked Thomson silly.
Mazzagatti remained unconvinced of what appeared obvious to the rest of us. To be fair, he simply wanted to make sure that Thomson was dead, and so allowed Edwards to deliver a succession of piston-like left hands to the defenceless AKA veteran.
It was a truly horrific image, but one that is not entirely unexpected when you hear Steve Mazzagatti’s name announced at the start of a fight.
This fight will likely be fresh in the memory for most of you.
Unfortunately, this particular call tarnished an evening that would have been memorable for all the right reasons, with Chris Weidman announcing himself as a potent force in the middleweight division.
It all started with a beautifully timed elbow that sent Munoz crashing to the mat, clearly in no condition to continue. However, we could have forgiven Rosenthal for allowing Mark Munoz a few extra seconds to recover.
The problem is that Josh didn’t feel that a few seconds was enough time for him to assess Munoz’s condition. Either that or he has unshakable faith in the former national champion wrestler’s ability to battle back from adversity.
Indeed, had Munoz somehow survived the Weidman onslaught that followed the elbow, he would have demonstrated the kind of bouncebackability—yes, it’s a word—not seen since Lazarus.
Weidman continued to hammer Munoz as he lay prone on the mat, until finally Rosenthal stepped in with all the urgency of a sedated tortoise.
Yves Lavigne has made a few howlers in his career. One of his most notorious missteps came at UFC 115, during a bout between Matt Wiman and Mac Danzig.
Wiman secured a guillotine choke early in the fight, but Danzig appeared to be successfully defending the hold.
Despite Danzig clearly indicating that he was indeed conscious, Lavigne somehow came to the conclusion that he had departed to the land of Nod and immediately called a halt to the contest.
Just as shocked as the rest of us, Danzig got to his feet and protested the call, further demonstrating that he most certainly was not unconscious.
Undeterred, the veteran official allowed the call to stand and the loss remains on Danzig’s record to this day.
One wonders whether drug testing for officials would be appropriate, given some of the mind-boggling calls we have witnessed over the years.
In particular, Larry Landless should never be allowed to officiate a fight without first peeing into a cup and having blood drawn.
His first mistake in this infamous contest was calling a halt to the action while Baroni was on the attack and Tanner was clearly hurt.
Landless felt that this was an ideal time to call the doctor in to check a cut—a decision that would only have made sense had it been followed by some unusual betting patterns.
After the restart, Tanner managed to mount “The New York Badass” and rain down some punches.
Rather than using his discretion to determine whether Baroni could defend himself, Landless felt this was the perfect time to initiate a dialogue with a fighter who was battling just to survive.
He asked Baroni if he was OK, to which Phil responded in the affirmative.
Unfortunately, Landless took this to be a verbal submission and stopped the fight immediately, in a jaw-dropping moment of slapstick officiating.
We can only assume that Larry Landless was trolling us hard. Why all else would you ask a fighter a question and then end the fight when he responds?
When a referee makes a bad decision, occasionally the situation is sufficiently ambiguous that we can sort of make sense of the call.
On this occasion? No such luck. Put simply, this was atrocious refereeing by Lavigne. Moreover, it wasn’t just a single isolated incident.
His first mistake was stepping in early when Pete Sell was on the floor, clearly hurt but still defending himself.
As Yves jumped in to stop the fight, he must have realised that he had erred. Rather than stand by a poor decision, he waved the fight on as Matt Brown was preparing to celebrate his win.
For the next 60 seconds or so, Brown proceeded to batter Sell like a loan shark taking retribution on an uncooperative client.
Lavigne, meanwhile, simply looked on like he was observing an experiment to see how much punishment someone can take before their soul departs their body.
It would have been funny had it not been borderline criminal.