Third Man in the Cage: Marc Fennell Shaping the Future of Refs at the MMA Expo
MMA is consuming an entire demographic and opening their eyes to this world class style of combat sports. The cutting edge of MMA leaves in its wake many questions as to how the sport can improve and further evolve.
An area of great focus for many has been the aspect of officiating. Whether it be questions surrounding decisions made by judges or by referees, at times the choices made are deemed questionable.
Limiting those questions through continued education and awareness is paramount to the evolution of MMA.
All that being said, it is refreshing to hear about the efforts of Marc Fennell. He has made his intentions to improve this sport clear. He has an extensive background officiating, and has dedication to evolve MMA through knowledge and education.
Fennell is hosting a referee and judges seminar to further educate officials. This is not to say that the officials do not do a great job as they are today, but only encouraging them to know that their work improving their craft is never done.
The seminar is taking place at the Mixed Martial Arts Expo in Philadelphia, PA on Jan. 9-10.
Fennell will administer instructional and hands-on training. His intentions are to further educate and inform those in a position to impact this sport through their decisions.
Fennell was kind enough to share some thoughts on his upcoming seminar. He had this to say about the event.
"My goal is that the people who attend the seminar will feel that they are better equipped to handle situations as a referee and judge. We as referees need to make split second decisions and live with the outcome. By attending these seminars, we can share experiences, build confidence, and network with other officials."
The job of the officials is difficult. Knowledge is of the essence. They must understand the inner workings of what they are seeing. There are so many details in a fast paced environment, some of which Fennell spoke about.
"During the fight, I understand and can anticipate what the fighters are attempting to accomplish. So when I begin to see a fighter setting up a particular move or action, I can begin to move into a position to view the best angle of the fighters."
"If I didn't have that background, I wouldn't be able to allow the fighters to perform and showcase their skills. It wouldn't be fair to the fighters, the promoters or the fans. That is what it is all about: the fighters."
Fennell has a reputation as being a "true fighter's referee" in the words of Dan Severn. His concern for the fighter's safety was apparent when talking about his preparation for a match.
"Fighter safety is the single most important responsibility for a referee. As I mentioned earlier: Be in the best position to view the fight and ensure the referee understands the movement or the action that is taking place."
"You want to give the fighter every opportunity to end the fight on their terms. But there is a fine line that comes with that. A referee needs to be able to "read" a fighter. A fighter will tell you non-verbally that they have had enough and want the fight stopped, and a referee hopefully won't miss that signal."
Officials are not robotic. They are capable of misjudgement at times. Fennell mentioned it is crucial that they remain confident in their decisions.
"We, as referees, are going to make mistakes. But don't make it affect additional fights for that particular event. If you, as a referee, feel that you stopped a fight early, don't make your next fight a late stoppage. Be consistent. Make the call and move on."
Being the third man in the cage is a demanding job. One doesn't just show up Saturday night and jump in and referee. For Fennell it is an extensive process in which he spares no details.
"There is so much work that goes into the preparation of a fight. I generally spend about 20 hours a week just preparing for the fight itself. I watch videos of the fighters as much as possible. I want to know as much about these fighters as their opponents. Plus, I train just like a fighter, except for the weight cutting, thankfully."
The work is never done. Even after the fight the officials have more to do. Their dedication to study of information both leading up to and after the event is the foundation of evolution for officials. Changes tomorrow will be based on their collective findings today.
Fennell states, "After the fights, we meet as officials and review the fights. We discuss what went correctly, what went wrong, and where do we need to improve. At the seminar in Philly, we discuss this and more in great detail."
The original MMA Expo is a great event for the sport. It brings together many aspects of MMA and displays them for the enthusiast. Fennell's seminar is a fine addition to an already important event.
MMA Expo president Gerald Chopik has this to say about Fennell's quest to educate, "MMA fans need to realize that officiating, in virtually any sport, is for the most part a thankless job. A good official goes unnoticed. But make a mistake or questionable judgment call and suddenly you are the main topic of the day."
"MMA fans are focused solely on action: the more the better. MMA refs, however, must balance on the knife edge between fast-paced action and fighter safety, often with just mere seconds to make crucial decisions. If you are a true fan of the sport, take in one of Marc Fennell’s seminars at Mixed Martial Arts Expo and I guarantee you will change your perspective on officiating forever."
In the sake of evolution, change must be embraced when the sport calls for it. Fennell had some further thoughts on ways to improve certain aspects.
"I consider the position of referee as an occupational position. Fighters can get hurt inside the cage if we as referees don't do our job. And our job is consistently changing."
"I'd like to see continuing education be mandatory to renew a license as a referee and judge. In order for a person to renew their license, they need to have a certain number of continuing education credits. This would ensure that when an officials gets assigned to a fight, that promoter or that fighter is going to have a well educated official."
It is inspirational to know that while the fan enjoys, that people like Fennell are behind the scenes, driven to improve the quality of the product. It is a thankless job indeed, but a crucial one.
It may not be foremost on people minds but rest assured, the progress of officiating within this sport is every bit as vital as any issue that can be named. It is reassuring to see Marc Fennell and the MMA Expo on the cutting edge of that blade.
Thank you Marc, your efforts should be applauded.
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