The officiating became a big story at UFC 96. Rightly so with what appeared to be an early stoppage and a very late stoppage. Would Dana White have been better served taking a more level-headed approach with the referee issues that arose during the event? New York is examining the safety of the sport as it decides whether to sanction mixed martial arts. Why would Empire State politicians think the sport is safe if its biggest name promoter is saying there are only three qualified referees in the entire country?
White told the media throng after UFC 96 that the state of officiating is sad (video- 4:00 mark):
"There's a couple of guys that are real good but there are a whole bunch that aren't."
White only named Yves Lavigne, Herb Dean and Mario Yamasaki as competent refs. He mistakenly mentioned Steve Mazzagatti and then corrected himself. You have to wonder what Marc Ratner, former athletic commish in Nevada, currently a UFC VP was thinking when he heard White say there are very few qualified referees for MMA. How does he answer that question if it's posed by Bob Reilly, the N.Y. State Assemblyman? Reilly is fighting hard to keep MMA on the sidelines and is looking for all the ammo he can throw at his co-horts. Afterall, these are the guys who are charge of the fighters' safety in the cage.
Cage Potato spoke with fellow N.Y. Assemblyman Jonathan Bing, who said the N.Y. state legislative session is finished in June and right now the vote stands at roughly 50-50 on legalizing MMA. Bing, who is pro-MMA, also says 2010 may be the earliest we see an MMA event in New York.
While we're on the issue of qualified refs in the UFC and MMA. Can we please stop saying the UFC needs to re-hire Big John McCarthy? BJM (pictured w/Randy Couture) was forced at the end of 2007 to leave officiating once he decided to pursue a career in broadcasting. He's now returned and is eligible to reapply in the 36 states where MMA is legal. The UFC has no veto power over whether McCarthy officiates its fights and can't "re-hire" him. Each state has a stable of approved officials and can appoint anyone it wants to work the cards.
The same goes for Mazzagatti. It's been suggested that "The Stache" isn't working UFC fights anymore. That's inaccurate, he's slated to officiate at UFC 98 and 100 in Nevada. Watch out Brock Lesnar! Just kidding, it's very unusual for any ref to work a rematch as is the case with Frank Mir and Lesnar, so he won't be working that fight. White can trash "The Stache" all he wants, Mazzagatti is still part of the Nevada crew. McCarthy isn't and right now there isn't an opening for a job in the Silver State. That said, it would be wise for states to get McCarthy in the fold. It would also help if BJM works on rebuilding the image that he is objective.