Stop me if you've heard this one: Dana White doesn't think Steve Mazzagatti should be allowed to act as referee during major mixed martial arts bouts, and he's sharing that opinion with anyone who will listen.
It's been this way for years, dating back to UFC 81, when Mazzagatti made what White believed was an erroneous decision to stand the debuting Brock Lesnar just as he was raining down hammerfists to the head of Frank Mir. As it turned out, one or two of those hammerfists landed on the back of Mir's head, which is a no-no. Mazzagatti didn't bother with issuing Lesnar a warning in the heat of the moment; instead, he broke up the action and stood the fighters up. Shortly thereafter, Mir would catch Lesnar in a kneebar, derailing the former WWE champion's hype train for the time being.
That may have been the first time that White ever spoke out with criticism of Mazzagatti, but it wasn't the last. Seemingly every few months, Mazzagatti will make an egregious mistake and send White ranting over the edge. It happened again last weekend when White was asked to offer his thoughts on the incredible way that Josh Burkman submitted Jon Fitch in the main event of World Series of Fighting 3.
"I mean, he literally did nothing. Fitch is out cold. And I saw some people talking s*** on the Internet today, like, well B.J. Penn held the choke for five more seconds (against Jens Pulver) and somebody else, I can't remember who it was. Those were rear naked chokes.
"Anyone who has ever done Jiu Jitsu, that thing (the guillotine) does f***ing damage," said White. "It hurts, and a guy is unconscious. You're squeezing his neck as hard as you can. You're a f***ing idiot that a rear naked choke is the same as that front choke. When he (Fitch) goes out, then he (Burkman) rolls him f***ing over, let's his head flop to the thing. He's standing over him before Mazzagatti gets in there.
"The Nevada State Athletic Commission will keep this guy around until he seriously hurts somebody," said White. "That guy is dangerous."
Unsurprisingly, Nevada State athletic commissioner Keith Kizer was supportive of Mazzagatti:
"The guy went out and Josh immediately released the hold," said Kizer. "What's weird is he flipped Fitch over, away from the ref. When Josh had the hold, he (Mazzagatti) was one step away. He had a perfect view. Josh flipped him away from the ref, then stood up. I would praise the referee if he did a good job. But here, there's nothing to talk about the ref. It wasn't a good job or a bad job. He had no job. I think most people thought Jon was going to get out. Bas and I both thought he was letting go of the hold and transitioning to another hold."
Mazzagatti was in position to make the call. When I originally wrote this story, I included a screenshot that seemingly showed that Mazzagatti was nowhere close to Fitch and Burkman. But Kizer notified me via email that Mazagatti actually was standing directly beside them. You just can't see him in the screenshot because he's wearing black and blends in with the cage.
But that doesn't change the fact that Mazzagatti was simply late to the party when it came to making the call.
It's not as though this is an isolated incident. White complains about Mazzagatti not because he doesn't personally like the guy; I've never met a single person who does not enjoy talking to Mazzagatti away from the cage. He's incredibly nice and respectful, and White has said as much over the years.
But that doesn't excuse the fact that Mazzagatti is simply terrible at his job. He's awful. When I can name three or four different Mazzagatti incidents off the top of my head—Kevin Burns vs. Anthony Johnson, Jamie Varner being gifted a timeout to put his mouthpiece back in while taking a beating from Rob McCullough and allowing Jason MacDonald to continue mauling Joe Doerksen after the bell—well, that's not a good sign.
The perfect referee is one who is so good that his job, he's not even noticed by the fans or promotions. That mantra applies to all sports; if you're a referee and the fans know your name, there's a pretty good chance you are awful at your job. Mazzagatti isn't just known by MMA fans around the world; he's reviled.
But Kizer isn't hearing any of it. Just like every other incident in the past, he's protecting his referee. That's admirable to a point, I suppose, but it's also downright irresponsible. Instead of taking an honest look at the job Mazzagatti is doing inside the cage, Kizer instead points the finger back at White:
You've heard what he's said about former fighters, former employees, even fighters in his organization. Even Jon Jones. He likes to put people down, whether rightly or wrongly. It's an ego thing. We all have egos. I think it's wrong when people lie and you can make your own conclusions on Dana.
Kizer isn't crazy. We all know that White has a reputation for inflating the truth or, in some cases, downright lying about it all together.
But White is telling the truth on Mazzagatti. And he'll keep doing so every time Mazzagatti makes a mistake that endangers a fighter that he's in the cage with. And Kizer will continue to ignore the evidence and support Mazzagatti.
It's always worked out this way, and I suspect it always will, at least until someone is severely injured due to a late Mazzagatti stoppage.
I hope it doesn't come down to that, but with Kizer continuing to show blithe disregard for any complaints coming from outside his office near downtown Las Vegas, I can't help but think that Mazzagatti will eventually make the kind of mistake that can permanently alter the image of mixed martial arts in North America.