UFC president Dana White has always had a love-hate relationship with referee Steve Mazzagatti. Actually that’s not true—it’s always been hate.
Time and time again, we’ve heard White pan the veteran referee on his skills, or lack thereof, when it comes to holding down the action in the cage.
While a lot of White's criticism toward Mazzagatti stems from the controversial disqualification of Jon Jones for the use of illegal elbows—giving the current light heavyweight champ the only blemish on his record—the most recent criticism of the referee was for his disregard for fighter safety, particularly in regards to Jon Fitch.
Fitch, recently departed from the UFC, was beaten soundly in 41 seconds at the hands of Josh Burkman via guillotine choke, late on Friday evening at WSOF 3.
Lost in the commotion of the raucous crowd and the fight-ending call from the commentary team of Todd Harris and Bas Rutten was the improper referee procedure executed by Mazzagatti.
White immediately lashed out on Twitter:
So did MFC president Mark Pavelich:
He also started a trend on Twitter: #Mazzagattineedstogo
Mazzagatti did not stop the action until Burkman himself released the fight-ending guillotine choke, rolled the unconscious Fitch onto his back and stood up over him. This was an egregious error in judgment of the highest degree.
It is the referee's responsibility to recognize the severity of the submission attempt, put himself into position to get the best visual of the action unfolding, check the fighters' body language and, if needed, give verbal warnings to see if the fighter is OK and is still defending the choke—which in this fight was a deeply applied guillotine choke.
If there is no response, the referee is then required to be proactive, physically check a fighter and, if necessary, call a stop to the fight and either tell the fighter applying the submission to release the choke or break the hold himself.
Mazzagatti took none of the aforementioned steps. He didn’t put himself into proper position, follow necessary protocol or look after the safety of Fitch. Credit must be given to Burkman for having the class and professionalism to release the choke and not do further damage to Fitch. However, no fighter should ever have to stop a fight before a referee does; Burkman did Mazzagatti’s job for him.
No referee should ever make this kind of mistake, especially a seasoned official with the experience level of Mazzagatti. He needs to be held accountable, and some type of disciplinary measure needs to take place before something serious occurs. What if Burkman never let go?
White and Pavelich are scared to have him referee on their fight cards, and for good reason. After seeing what happened at WSOF 3, you cannot argue with them.
Does Mazzagatti need to go? Let Bleacher Report know in the comments below.
Michael Stets is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report
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