MMA Referee Steve Mazzagatti: ‘I don’t work for Dana White’
By James Walker, Heavy.com
Few have been in UFC president Dana White’s crosshairs lately more than referee Steve Mazzagatti. After recent UFC events, White has criticized the judging and officiating in mixed martial arts, and Mazzagatti’s name often comes up.
White even ripped Mazzagatti last week after UFC 149 in Calgary -- and Mazzagatti didn’t officiate the event.
“Mazzagatti still works – nuff said,” White told reporters last week while explaining poor officiating. “The fact that a commission would actually let this guy referee fights still is just beyond my comprehension.”
It’s clear that Mazzagatti’s officiating makes White’s blood pressure rise. But few have heard from the other side. HeavyMMA.com caught up this week with Mazzagatti for an exclusive interview to get his take on officiating.
Mazzagatti defended his body of work and his refereeing colleagues. His overall message is fighters make fights, not the refs.
“[White] has criticized us and we get a lot of criticism for not standing them up – at least I do,” Mazzagatti said in a telephone interview. “They say we let fighters lay on the ground too long and we’re not doing anything. We don’t make the rules. We enforce them. It’s not our job to make sure the fight goes the way the promoter wants it to go. It’s the fighter’s job. It’s their show.
“They’ve got to be the entertainer. I don’t make the fight what everyone expects it to be. All we do is enforce the rules – period -- and make sure it’s a clean and fair fight.”
White spoke after UFC 149 about there being no accountability from the governing bodies for poor officiating. And there were a few bad instances of refereeing that stood out last week to further the UFC President's claim that MMA needs better officiating. For example, Matt Riddle landed a clean liver kick, hurting his opponent, that ref Josh Rosenthal thought was a groin shot and he paused the fight. The heavyweight bout between Cheick Kongo and Shawn Jordan also stayed excruciatingly long in the clinch while both fighters held each other up on the cage with no break in the action by the referee.
Mazzagatti said fighters, particularly those who practice wrestling and jui-jitsu, ask all the time how long they can work on the ground. The official also said as long as fighters are “trying to work their game,” he’s fine leaving it there, regardless of the reaction from the crowd or the UFC executives.
“I don’t make the rules. If you want to make a 15-second standup rule, then come up with a 15-second standup rule and I will stand them up in 15 seconds,” Mazzagatti said. “I can only go with what’s given to me. I don’t judge fighters by who they are and what they’re known for.”
Mazzagatti admits he is not perfect. One bad call in particular that still bothers Mazzagatti was against Anthony “Rumble” Johnson in 2008.
Johnson was painfully poked in the eye by Kevin Burns but Mazzagatti ruled it a TKO. The bad call put in motion instant replay in Nevada under special circumstances. Mazzagatti later apologized to Johnson.
“That’s the one that I really blew,” Mazzagatti said.
But he disagrees with White’s harsh assessment that he doesn’t deserve to have a job officiating MMA.
“I can’t even count how many fights I’ve done which all has gone fine, but sometimes things are going to go bad,” Mazzagatti explained. “It’s just like good fighters. Sometimes it goes bad and they get subbed or they get beat, and that’s the way it goes. Unfortunately, we’re in a high-profile position. We can’t see it all.”
Mazzagatti said he hasn’t talked to White about the rash of criticism. But he has had a few conversations with people around White. Overall, he's not too bothered and described White as “A good dude. I don’t have anything personal to say about him.” Their disagreement is strictly about what goes on inside the Octagon.
“You gotta understand, I don’t work for Dana and we [referees] don’t work for Dana,” Mazzagatti said. “I feel I’m a public servant for the fans and the fighters. I want to make sure the fighters have a good, clean, fair fight that they trained for and expect.”