John McCarthy on Steve Mazzagatti Refereeing: Jon Fitch's Safety Not in Jeopardy

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If there’s one thing mixed martial arts fans, fighters and pundits can agree on, it’s the fact that the refereeing and judging in the sport needs a lot of work. 

The latest talking point on the subject of refereeing has been the June 14 World Series of Fighting bout between Jon Fitch and Josh Burkman. The bout was refereed by one of the MMA communities “favorite” referees, Steve Mazzagatti.

In case you have not seen the fight, here’s what happened: Burkman dropped Fitch with a right hook and followed Fitch to the mat. Once on the ground, Burkman saw an opportunity for a guillotine choke. Burkman clamped on the choke, dropped to his back and cranked the hold. During this time, Mazzagatti was out of position, on the wrong side of the choke. Burkman, feeling Fitch go limp, rolled Fitch over, released the hold and got to his feet. At that point, Mazzagatti came in and waved off the fight.

Here’s how UFC president Dana White described what happened:

I mean, he literally did nothing. Literally when (Fitch) goes limp, he goes limp, he's out and then (Burkman) rolls him f—king over, lets his head f—king flop to the thing and then stands up over him. He's literally like this, standing up over him before Mazzagatti even f—king gets in the picture.

The Nevada State Athletic Commission is going to keep this f—king guy around until he seriously hurt somebody. That guy is dangerous. He's dangerous. It's disgusting.  At what point do you realize that this guy is an incompetent fool and he's going to hurt somebody. 

If you watch the action, it’s hard to argue with what White said. However, there is at least one man who feels that White is wrong with his assessment of the situation. That man is one of the most respected referees in the history of mixed martial arts: John McCarthy.

McCarthy appeared on a recent edition of “Inside MMA” and offered the following: “If you watch the tape, Burkman puts him out, he’s out for one second at most when he is releasing that choke and Burkman is being a sportsman.” 

McCarthy continued saying that since Burkman released the choke so quickly after Fitch had gone out, “The safety of the fighter really wasn’t in jeopardy.” 

Does McCarthy make a valid point?  Maybe, but that point is only supported by the fact that Burkman released the hold. What if Burkman would have waited for Mazzagatti to step in? What if Burkman had not been a “sportsman” and kept the hold fully applied until the out-of-position Mazzagatti finally realized that Fitch was out cold and that the blood flow to his brain was compromised?

The fact is the only reason Fitch’s safety was not in jeopardy was due to Burkman letting the hold go. McCarthy is one of the greatest refs in the business, but in this case, I have to disagree with him, Mazzagatti did put Fitch in danger.

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