World Series of Fighting put on its third professional mixed martial arts show this past Friday in Las Vegas, featuring a main event between welterweights Jon Fitch and Josh Burkman. The main card was broadcast on the NBC Sports network and turned out to be a solid effort for a promotion in its infancy, but unfortunately for WSOF, the only thing people are talking about in the aftermath of the show is beleaguered referee Steve Mazzagatti.
In case you missed it, the match-up between Fitch and Burkman is available on Youtube. The fight didn’t last long; Burkman stunned Fitch with a flurry of punches early in the first, then slapped on a tight guillotine choke and jumped into half guard. Fitch struggled briefly but then seemed to go limp; Burkman then released the choke and stood up to proclaim his victory, prompting Mazzagatti to stop the fight. And just like that, Fitch had been defeated for the third time in his last four outings.
The morning after the WSOF event, UFC President Dana White, who has long been Mazagatti’s staunchest critic, took to the Underground Forum to denounce the referee as a “f—ing idiot” who was not in control of the situation. White heaped even more abuse on Mazzagatti at the UFC 161 post-fight media scrum (begin at 13:14), lambasting him as “dangerous” and “an incompetent fool”.
Many MMA fans have followed White’s lead and dogpiled onto Mazzagatti, with numerous callings for him to be fired (or worse). But is all of this ire really justified? I can’t see that it is. After a careful review, I think the case against Mazzagatti has been overblown, most likely owing to White’s ongoing vendetta against him. Others may disagree, obviously, but I invite you to peruse the evidence for yourself.
For one, Fitch was never in any real danger. If you go back and watch the fight, only 8 seconds elapse between the time Burkman applies the choke and the time he lets it go. As Dr. Jonny Benjamin has pointed out in the past, that’s simply not enough time to cause any kind of serious or permanent injury. Fitch was only unconscious for a second or two at most before Burkman released the hold.
However, you could argue that Fitch’s non-injury is not the real issue; the problem is that Mazzagatti failed to put himself in position to make the call. Fair enough; Maz was clearly not in the best spot to keep an eye on Fitch’s condition, at least not right away. But did anyone really expect Fitch to go out that fast? Is he typically a guy who is easy to choke out? How long do people really think Mazzagatti would’ve waited before taking a closer look? The fact of the matter, as I see it, is that Burkman simply beat Mazzagatti to the punch. Had Burkman continued to hold the choke, it’s extremely unlikely that Mazzagatti would’ve waited longer than 2-3 seconds before stopping the fight.
I think we can all agree that Steve Mazzagatti has made his share of mistakes as an MMA referee, but at the end of the day, it seems a bit disingenuous to portray his non-call in the Fitch-Burkman fight as some kind of earth-shattering blunder. If there’s a takeaway to be had here, it might be that Dana White wields a little too much influence over the bulk of popular opinion in mixed martial arts circles.