Being a referee is a damn hard job, but a referee isn’t getting punched in the face when he’s working. The fighters in the cage depend on the wherewithal and expertise of referees to make sure they catch fouls – whether intentional or not – then report them to the corners and any nearby officials. This wasn’t the case in Matt Mitrione’s fight against Travis Browne, in which he received multiple eye-pokes from the Hawaiian heavyweight before losing via TKO in the third round. The fouls were either not seen (in MMA, not seeing something means it didn’t happen in the ref’s eyes for some reason), not properly reported, or the pokes were considered accidental.
Some may say that the fight would’ve ended up with the same ending regardless of the eye pokes, but these people aren’t fighting Browne after getting poked in the eye multiple times. It’s unfair and un-sporting to state that hypothetical case.
As such, Mitrione has filed a detailed grievance to the Massachusetts Athletic Commission due to the various mistakes the referee made while handling the eye pokes in his TKO loss to Browne. It’s worth a read.
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Most interesting is the specific discussion over the referee’s mistakes, and the foul, which in this case looks to be the poke at around 4:30 of the second round.
The Referee committed an error by failing to assess the foul, by failing to assert whether the foul was accidental or intentional as required under the Unified Rules and by failing to notify the corners. There is a fine line between accidental and intentional. Intentional conduct can be instinctive or a function of tactics employed, and need not be obviously malicious to be intentional. At the time Mitrione was fouled by Browne’s first illegal blow, Browne was attempting to defend himself from a combination of fair blows by Mitrione. Mitrione was about to strike Browne with an undefended right hook to the head following a straight left lead. As a result of Browne’s position in reaction to Mitrione’s fair combination of strikes, Browne was able to defend being struck by Mitrione’s legal attack only by employing the illegal blow. Accordingly, the foul should have been judged intentional and Browne should have been disqualified.
Unfortunately, a precedent has been set over the dozens if not hundreds of eye pokes that have taken place in a UFC cage – very rarely are points taken. In this case, I re-watched the fight a few times, and have to agree with Mitrione’s assessment that Browne essentially defended a legal attack with an illegal one. What makes it more egregious is that the fight continued on as Mitrione reacted to the eye poke, then Browne fired back as Mitrione was reeling. Nothing was said by referee Gary Forman. As the fight continued, Mitrione had his eye closed on and off, and still, the ref said nothing. Should Mitrione had stopped the fight himself? He says no. As he explained to Ariel Helwani:
“I’m a life-long competitor. And I know that I’m losing the potential of getting the other half of my paycheck if I say I can’t go anymore. So, I’m going to do anything I possibly can to continue fighting, even if it’s not in my best option, because I need just one chance to get him.
“In the middle of that fight, after the first eye poke, I was fighting with one eye closed just so I could see one Travis. That’s not a safe way to fight at the highest level in the world against people that are [skilled in] takedowns, kicks, punches, everything in the world. So I feel like, once that was seen and I had my eye closed for however long it was closed, like a minute or something like that…that should have been a sign to the doctors and for the referee to be like, ‘hold on, dude’s closing his eye because he can’t focus, we need to call this a no contest. We need to save him from himself, and step in and do something about this.’ Because I’m not going to do that, because I’m too grindy and gritty and I want my paycheck. But it’s not a safe way for the sport to evolve.
“I’m not going to blow the whistle on myself, and removed that chance of getting the other half of my money.”
Mitrione also spoke to MMA Fighting about his case, and the chances that anything will get done (unfortunately, nothing will likely come of this):
“My case is extremely strong, extremely valid,” Mitrione said. “And I know a lot of times people have cases when they appeal something and it’s a very valid position and nothing ever happens, it doesn’t get overturned. Well, that’s bullsh*t. A lot of that problem, I think, is because the commission takes a lot of pride in who they hire and they don’t feel like they can be accountable for those mistakes.
“People f*ck up. It happens. I don’t think the commission should take it on the chin like they apparently do and it shouldn’t be a shot at their ego.”
Of course, Browne was penitent throughout their bout, and even explained himself after the fight, but an accidental eye-poke is still accidental and needs to be caught then acknowledged by the ref.
“Again, it’s one of those things where in the cage, I was apologizing up and down to Matt because that’s not my game. I’m not a dirty fighter, and even in the fight, I’m like, ‘Matt, I’m really sorry. I promise you I’m not trying to do that (on purpose).’”
After a confusing and strange month with Kimbo/Dada stealing headlines for Bellator, then Michael Bisping getting rocked and allowed to continue on at UFC Fight Night 84, MMA just hasn’t had the air of an organized sport lately.
(Via MMA Fighting)