TUF S19E6: The referee, the judges, Dana White and a whole lot of craziness

It is amazing that one fight on TUF could contain essentially all of the problems with judging and refereeing in MMA today. It is like this fight is the poster child for all the issues most people have with the judging and officiating side of the sport. Dana White seemed like he was in a perpetual state of incredulousness and you could not blame him.

The fight illustrated the very vague nature of the scoring criteria that allows for too much interpretation and misinterpretation of the action, or in the case of this fight the inaction of the contest. It also had some very poor and ineffectual refereeing by Steve Mazzagatti.

According to Dana on UFC Tonight, this fight and the actions of the referee and the judges is leading to some changes from the new commission.It would be very refreshing if they allow the 12-6 elbow and bring more definition to the scoring criteria.If there is some kind of training and accountability for the referees and judges that would be a tremendous advantage.

There are times when referees put fighters in danger with their actions or inactions. In this case it was less about the danger and more about how much Mazzagatti influenced the outcome of this fight. To make some sense of all of this we start with the fight first.

The first round was one where many people thought Ian Stephens won based on his control in the round. As Dana pointed out, Stephens did nothing significant in the round outside of one big slam. It was a nice slam but he landed only a handful of strikes and nothing that was close to doing any damage. He tried for a couple of submissions but nothing that was even close.

Meanwhile, Roger Zapata landed several significant elbows in the round. There may have been one elbow that was borderline but with the others Mazzagatti was confused. Roger was landing with the inside of his elbow which makes it impossible to be a 12-6 elbow. They may have been a 2-6, or even a 1-6, but they were legal elbows. If they were so illegal then Mazzagatti should not have allowed him continue to do them and should have taken a point away.

This is a big problem in MMA today. Referees warn and warn and warn before they will take a point away. Whether Mazzagatti was right about the elbows or not he thought they were illegal so he should have warned him once and then taken a point away on the next one. It was the same with grabbing the fence. He warned Roger twice in the round but did nothing about it. By not truly enforcing the rules the referees reward cheating. Roger was not cheating in this case, but he was never punished for grabbing the fence, something he did throughout this fight.

Again, many people thought Ian won this round due to octagon control – one of the three parts of MMA scoring. As Mike Goldberg reminds us before every UFC event, the scoring is based on effective striking, grappling and octagon control. Control is last because by itself it means little. This is not wrestling – it is MMA – and damage means more.

Also, people tend to forget the effective part of the criteria and there was very little effective about Ian’s control in this round. If you are controlling someone that means you are stopping them from doing what they want and forcing them to submit to your will. I am pretty sure Ian did not want Roger to elbow him repeatedly in the face. It has been proven over and over in the octagon that the face is not the best way to block strikes and win the fight.

Ian was holding on to Roger and did have some control but he did not stop him from striking him in the round. All he really did was force Roger to get creative and strike from different positions. Now, it would help if the scoring criteria were broken down more and made it easier for the judges and less subjective.

Also, while we are on it, the judges should have monitors in front of them. It is insanely stupid to expect them to judge fights as well as the fans and commentators if they are not given the same access to the fight. The commentators get one so they can see the action better, but not the judges. That is a poorly put together system; it is like they intentionally came up with the worst possible setup for the judges and their viewing of the fight.

In the second round it was similar to the first one only Roger didn’t land nearly as many elbows. Ian did a little more damage but not much more. He was still mostly content to go for submissions even though he was never really close to getting them. He spent most of the round on Roger’s back which was enough for him to take the round.

Now in the closing seconds of the round Roger landed a couple of elbows and if he did land a 12-6 below in the fight it was here and Mazzagatti said nothing to him in the moment or when the round ended.

Most people thought Ian had won the fight. That is often how fights like this are scored. When it was announced that they were going to a third round Dana was happy with the judges. He hates when fighters fight like Ian did, especially in the first round. They attain a superior position and do nothing with it. It is also one of the quickest ways to turn one of the most exciting sports into a boring-ass one.

There was nothing boring about this fight in the third round and its aftermath. From here Mazzagatti would send Dana out of the room during the fight with his actions, only to have him race back in after the decision was announced to stop a riot from happening.

How exactly did this fight reach this level of insanity?  Very simply: it was Mazzagatti’d.

The round started out slightly different as it seemed like Ian realized that he too was allowed to punch. He also seemed exhausted and bounced back against the cage to get his first takedown of the round. This led to Roger landing three more elbows and Mazzagatti said nothing.

Ian finished the takedown and had Roger against the cage it an almost seated position. They grappled and scrambled until Roger got back to his feet with Ian still clinging to him. Ian dropped down going again for the takedown. That led to 12 to 13 hammer fists from Roger. Ian was able to adjust and started to finish the takedown when Roger grabbed the fence again, and like an ineffectual parent Mazzagatti told him not to do it. And moments later when he grabbed it again Mazzagatti stayed consistent and told him not to.

This left Roger on top as he had used the fence to stem the takedown. They did finally end up with him again seated against the cage and Ian holding on tightly. Roger responded with three more elbows and Mazzagatti told him to watch the angle. He did not say stop them or one more and that is a point. He was not even telling him clearly that they were illegal but rather implying that they might be close. He just said watch the angle.

Then Roger lands a little elbow and Mazzagatti jumped in and took a point away. They show the replay and you can see that it is clearly a legal elbow. He landed the inside of the elbow and it was not even close to being illegal. It happened right in front of B.J. Penn and his coaches and they got crazy. Mark Coleman looked like the Red Hulk; he was screaming in frustration.

Dana is disgusted and has to leave. Ian, who was exhausted, had regained a little energy after the rest and actually landed a couple of strikes before getting the takedown. Again he does very little with it and Roger continues to land strikes. Ian does land a few of his own but again during this time Roger was striking with him until the closing seconds of the fight and Roger had done a lot more damage in the earlier part of the round.

Now the third round on TUF is a sudden victory round. The winner of the round wins the fight so everybody thinks that there is no way Roger can win the fight after he has the point taken away. So it was expected that the reading of the judges score was going to be a formality. Instead that is where the real fun began.

First though we get Dana’s recap. Basically he hated the way that Ian just wanted to lay on Roger and was happy that the judges gave Roger a round. He was then disgusted by Mazzagatti in the third round and we see what happened when he left after the point deduction. Basically Dana hates how Mazzagatti referees many fights.

Finally the decision and Mazzagatti first announces that Ian Zapata had won the fight and raised Roger’s hand. Then corrects himself and announces Roger Zapata as the winner and the place erupts with multiple levels and types of confusion. Dana hears the chaos and comes out to find out WTF happened. He sends everybody off to their team rooms while he goes over to the judges.

Roger, B.J. and his team are happily shocked about the decision. Ian seemed too tired to really care to much and Frankie was disgusted. B.J. told Roger to leave the building before they figured out their mistake. As he said, and Dana echoed it, there is no way that Ian could lose the fight once they took the point away, but they were wrong. Nothing is too crazy when it comes to MMA judging.

Dana points out that Roger got screwed by the ref in first place. The elbow was legal and Ian should not been allowed to rest. He was exhausted and the rest got him back into the fight. Then it is Ian who got robbed by the judges.

Frankie’s best quote was, “I feel like they just made it up on the fly.” It really did have that feel to it. B.J.’s bests were; “Freaking Zapata. He was really supposed to win. Somehow he won.” “It should always be judged like that, look at his face and look at mine.” Which is kind of what happened in a bizarre weird way and was true. When you looked at them awaiting the decision Ian was bloody and exhausted while Roger looked like he had just finished up a nice workout.

When they come together for the fight pick Dana explains how the judges came to their decision. That was right after B.J. got in a little dig as he said to Frankie, “Ooo, I have to wipe off all of that champagne.” As he wiped his smiling face with his hands.

Again, Dana used the moment to teach a lesson and that was to not let it go to the judges. If you do they will do crazy shit like this. One judge gave the last round to Ian making it 10-8 for him. The other two scored it for Roger making in two 9-9 scores and a MD. There has to be a winner as it is a tournament and someone has to go to the next round. So they have the judges circle who they though won the fight and they all circled Roger’s name. Dana’s best quote, “But that makes no fucking sense! It makes no sense! So. Here we are.”

He then explains in one of the confessionals that he thinks that Roger won the fight. He cannot stand how Ian fought the fight by just laying there. However, he points out if two judges score it even and one judge scores it 10-8 the fighter who got the 10-8 should have been awarded the win.

So to sum up. Mazzagatti was wrong throughout the fight and Dana hates watching him referee fights. The judges got it right but they got there the wrong way. Roger is moving on and Dana thinks it is a bad idea to leave your fate as a fighter in the judges hands.

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