Love them or hate them, referees are absolutely crucial in the sport of MMA. When fighters step into the octagon, their life is basically in the hands of the referee. They have control over almost everything: point deductions, stoppages, time-outs, and stand-ups. Furthermore, the referee is God: his or her decision can not be questioned, and their instructions must be followed completely. However, with great power comes great responsibility (sorry).
If the referee stops the fight too early, the athlete could be stripped of years of preparation and commitment. If the fight is stopped too late, that same athlete could have career-ending injuries that would trouble him for the rest of their life. The fans are also an important factor here: make one small mistake, and your social media accounts will be invaded by angry fans demanding that you quit your job. UFC President Dana White doesn’t help either, with this constant criticism of referees and his loud and vulgar language, fans can quickly jump of the referee hating boat.
Refereeing in MMA is an extremely important job and all of these officials have received years of training and preparation before stepping into the big leagues. We tend to always focus on the negative and take these referees’ good decisions for granted and most of the time, the referee always calls the right thing. However, we are all human, and so are the referees. We all make mistakes, and so do they. Some mistakes though, can lead to much more serious consequences than others. Here is a list of the top 15 worse referee mistakes in MMA history.
15. Matt Lindland vs. Murilo Bustamante
Bustamante secures a beautiful arm bar and flips Lindland over, extending the arm completely. As Lindland’s arm is about to snap, he taps, and referee John McCarthy stops the fight. But wait, there’s more! Lindland claims that he did not tap, McCarthy takes his word for it, and the fight goes on. A few minutes later, Bustamante catches Lindland in a guillotine choke, and makes sure that he actually taps before letting go. This could have been very dangerous, as Lindland could have taken further punishment or it could have cost Bustamente the fight. The fact that it worked out fine leaves this at just no.15.
14. Anthony Johnson vs. Kevin Burns I
This is first of MANY mistakes made by Steve Mazzagatti in this list. Burns’ game plan was quite simple for this fight: poke Anthony Johnson in the eyes, blind him, and take advantage of that. Mazzagatti warned him about the eye pokes many times, but never actually deducted a point, or disqualified the fighter. When Johnson was nearly blind, he received yet another eye poke that made him unable to fight. The winner? Kevin Burns via TKO (eye poke). Again, karma took care of this decision, when Johnson nearly killed Burns in their rematch several months later.
13. Matt Brown vs. Pete Sell
As a referee, when you make a decision, there is no going back. You can’t just call something and then decide you were wrong. In this fight, Pete Sell got absolutely dominated in the first few seconds of the first round. As soon as Sell fell to the mat, Yves Lavigne stopped the fight, but then thought over his decision, and decided to let it go on. Bad decision: as soon as Sell got back up, Matt Brown stormed him with knees, making him lose his mouthpiece. Basically, Lavigne stopped the fight, changed his mind, and let Pete Sell take an unnecessary beating for a few more seconds.
12. Jon Jones vs. Matt Hamill
Okay hear me out here. This was Jon Jones’ only loss, and came from disqualification. Fair enough, Jones made a mistake with his 12-6 elbows. He did so repeatedly and, when Steve Mazzagatti asked Hamill if he could continue, Hamill said no, and Jones was disqualified. So far so good. However the reason Hamill could not continue is because of a shoulder injury that came from a legal technique used by Jones earlier in the fight. Therefore, technically, Jones was disqualified for a legal technique rather than for his 12-6 elbows.
11. Josh Burkman vs. Jon Fitch
Let’s keep going with Steve Mazzagatti. Your job as a referee is to stop the fight when a fighter is no longer able to continue, so that the fighters don’t have to worry about that. Burkman caught Jon Fitch in a guillotine choke, with Mazzagatti closely watching out the action. A few seconds later, Burkman let go of the choke, and Jon Fitch mysteriously laid on the mat, unconscious. After a few seconds of confusion, Mazzagatti finally waved off the fight. If Burkman would not have stopped his own fight, Fitch could have had some serious problems.
10. Frank Mir vs. Shane Carwin
It’s one thing to have heart, and another thing to take a useless beating for nearly 30 seconds. In this fight, Frank Mir got dropped by some uppercuts from the clinch, and the fight should have been stopped right there. Instead, Dan Miragliotta let Shane stay on top of Frank Mir for another 25-30 seconds, pounding his head in while Mir was clearly out. Finally, he decided to step in and put an end to the ruthless beating. Talk about a late stoppage.
9. Mac Danzig vs Matt Wiman I
This one is a little bit like no.15. Wiman was looking for a guillotine choke for a few minutes, but never actually locked it up completely. Probably feeling excited and smelling a submission nearby, Wiman screamed “he’s out!” to Yves Lavigne. Lavigne thought to himself “well, if the fighter says it, it must be true”, and stopped the fight. Thing is, Danzig did not tap and when the fight was stopped, he was fully conscious. Moral of the story: check on the fighter before stopping a choke. Still, when the two fighters had a rematch, Wiman won the fight by decision.
8. Mark Munoz vs. Roan Carneiro
This is the opposite of the last entry. Mark Munoz got caught early in a rear naked choke, and clearly had no answer for it. The thing with this stoppage is that referee Jerin Valel was standing right in front of Munoz, watching him slowly go to sleep. Valel was just staring at Mark Munoz’s unconscious face, waiting for him to tap or to escape, while Carneiro was telling him to stop the fight. Carneiro’s face was filled with guilt and confusion when he realized that Munoz was out, but did not want to let go of the submission until the referee stepped in to stop it.
7. Mark Munoz vs. Chris Weidman
Mark Munoz seems to often be the victim when it comes to late stoppages and bad decisions. In this highlight reel knockout, Weidman knocked out Munoz with an elbow strike. After that hit, Munoz collapsed to the mat like a sack of potatoes, and the fight should have been stopped right there. However, Josh Rosenthal let Weidman pound Mark Munoz’s completely unconscious body for a few more seconds before finally deciding to step in. This is still one of the worse and most dangerous late stoppages in MMA history.
6. Aaron Riley vs. Shane Nelson
Another quick refereeing concept: when someone gets knocked down or caught in a submission, stay right in front of the action to be able to stop the fight when one of the fighters is no longer able to continue. Nelson knocked down Riley, who quickly recovered and was trying to defend himself from his guard. However, referee Nick Fike quickly ran in and stopped the fight prematurely. When Riley got knocked down, Fike was on the other side of the octagon, and was clearly not able to see the action very well. He literally ran from one side of the octagon to the other in order to stop the fight.
5. Marcus Silveira vs. Kazushi Sakuraba
Silveira had Sakuraba trapped up against the fence, landing some nice shots. However, Sakuraba had his hands up the whole time and was trying to move his head to avoid some of the strikes. Sakuraba, the legendary Japanese wrestler, finally decided that this best option to escape from the fence is to shoot for a single leg takedown; good decision. However, as soon as Sakuraba dropped down for the takedown, John McCarthy thought that he got knocked out and stopped the fight. This fight was later ruled a no-contest due to the bad stoppage.
4. Jake Ellenberger vs. Martin Kampmann
Steve Mazzagatti. Again. In the first seconds of the first round, Ellenberger completely overpowered Kampmann and sent him crashing to the mat. He continued to ground and pound him for over 10 seconds (considered a late stoppage by some) until Kampmann was able to successfully recover. However, later in the fight, Kampmann knocked down Ellenberger with a knee from the clinch position. As soon as that knee landed, Mazzagatti was already running to stop the fight, and did not allow Ellenberger as much time to recover as he did for Kampmann.
3. Renan Barao vs. Urijah Faber
It’s rare to see a bad Herb Dean call, but this is clearly one of them. Faber was turtled up and was grabbing Barao’s leg, who kept hitting him in the head. However, Faber was looking for a single leg takedown from the turtle position and was still defending Barao’s strikes. At some point, Barao looked up to Herb Dean hopefully with a facial expression saying “please stop it Herb” and Herb did. After the fight was waved off, Faber continued to hold Barao’s leg, proving that he was not out and was actually just looking to recover to a better position.
2. Ronda Rousey vs Sara McMann
Another one by Herb Dean. In the first seconds on the fight, Rousey landed a beautiful knee to the liver of McMann that dropped her to her knees. However, McMann started looking for a takedown right away. And when an olympic wrestler is looking for a takedown, even if they had just got hit, you can’t just step in and stop the fight, as anything can happen.
In Herb’s defense, as soon as McMann fell to her knees, Rousey would have transitioned to an arm bar within seconds, and the end result would have been the same. Still, McMann was defending herself when the fight was called off and might have been able to bring Ronda to the ground.
1. Leandro Silva vs. Drew Dober
A lot of people actually believe that this fight was fixed. Silva caught Dober in a guillotine choke and Dober was in fact in deep trouble. However, he remained calm, focused on his defense, improved his position and was able to escape the choke. Problem is, referee Eduardo Herdy stopped the fight as soon as Dober managed to break Silva’s grip and free his head. That’s right, the fight was stopped AFTER Dober escaped the submission attempt. It’s a shame to see such a great fight wasted due to a mistake made by the referee. To make matters worse, this fight has remained a win for Silva, and has never been changed to a no-contest.
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