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Steve Cofield

UFC 96 off to brutal start: Riley robbed by overzealous ref

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That's a lousy way to kick off a night of fights. Shane Nelson and Aaron Riley stood for 30 seconds feeling each other out with some light kicks and jabs when the Hawaiian put Riley down with an overhand right. Nelson landed another right with Riley on his knee, before he rolled into guard. That's when the referee Rick Fike stepped in to stop the fight at 0:44. It may have been the worst premature stoppage I've seen in 65 live cards.

The Columbus crowd went nuts with screams of, "give me my 350 bucks back!" Fike walked to the fence and looked to be discussing the stoppage as if there were option of restarting the fight. Too late. UFC color voice Joe Rogan didn't pull any punches saying from the get-go that it was an early stoppage.

"It wasn't my call, it wasn't in my hands, the ref stopped me," said Nelson. "If he wants, let's do it again."

Rogan followed by saying it was a huge mistake. Veteran Yves Lavigne could be seen cageside shaking his head. UFC matchmaker Joe Silva appeared to console Riley in the cage.

"It was definitely an early stoppage," said Riley. "I was completely there, I had all my faculties about me. I still do right now. That's not the way this was supposed to go."

These officials have a tough job. Last week, it was Texas ref Rafael Ramos getting ripped because he didn't jump in quickly to save Marcos Galvao from two brutal punches on the ground from Damacio Page at WEC 39. Galvao was taken from the cage on a stretcher after experiencing a seizure. Two weeks ago at UFC 95, referees were criticized for stopping three fights too early. That said, there is no debate here or feeling sorry for Fike, he looked like an amateur. This was pro fight No. 39 for Riley (27-11-1), he knows how to protect himself and had gotten himself into a good position.

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