There were two fights at UFC 96 on Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio, that took to extremes two of the most debated issues in refereeing in mixed martial arts: stopping fights too early and stopping fights too late.
The night’s opening bout — between Shane Nelson and Aaron Riley — was widely believed to have been stopped well before it should have. Riley was knocked down, but was already back into the fight before the referee stepped in.
In the case of Pete Sell and Matt Brown, the referee stepped in to stop the fight, appeared to have a change of heart once the fighters were already separated and stopping action, then inexplicably restarted the fight. What followed was what made it a much harder situation to swallow. Sell was clearly in another dimension for most of the rest of the fight, being battered around the cage, with Brown practically begging Yves Lavigne to stop the fight before he finally called a halt to the brutality.
“You’ve heard me so many times, especially in the last few weeks – wait until The Ultimate Fighter comes out – talking about reffing and judging; it’s one of the hardest things in this sport right now. It drives me crazy,” said UFC president Dana White at the UFC 96 post-fight press conference.
“Yves Lavigne is usually a very good referee. I hurt my arm tonight, beating on the Octagon screaming to stop that fight. I’ve never done that in eight years. I don’t even know what to say.”
There are definitely good referee’s in this sport, but White pointed out a difference between those at the top, and those that just aren’t quite getting it done.
“I think when they see a guy make a mistake, that it was a brutal mistake, like in the (Shane Nelson vs. Aaron Riley) fight, it messes with their head. And they think, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ I think these guys just need to be confident and go in and make decisions. Stop the fight. If that’s your decision, let them boo you. Who cares? You’re the boss,” he said, citing the lack of decision making among many officials.
He went on. “There’s nobody, I shouldn’t say nobody. There’s a couple of guys out there that are real good. There’s a whole bunch of guys that aren’t.
“Yves Lavigne usually does a good job. The fight tonight was horrible. I think Herb Dean is great. Mario Yamasaki is good.”