Monday, June 14, 2010

The Blame Game -- UFC 115, Yves Lavigne, and taking the heat off the refs

PHOTO PROPS: UFC.com

At a time when bad refereeing seems to have become all but uncommon in mixed martial arts, one more bad call should not come as a surprise. Unfortunately, for career ref Yves Lavigne, such a call would occur on his watch . . . again.

Lavigne's premature stoppage of a preliminary lightweight bout between Mac Danzig and Matt Wiman this past weekend at UFC 115 in Vancouver left many fans shaking their heads.

But Yves Lavigne is no stranger to controversy. He has experienced bad-call-itis in the past, having drawn scrutiny following questionable calls at UFC 96 and 98 last year.

So, what makes a bad call at UFC 115 such a big deal?

Lately, much attention has been directed toward proper judging and refereeing in mixed martial arts. UFC 115 was deemed the proving grounds for officiating with a roster of experienced "fighters-turned-judges." The goal: to attack bad calls by utilizing judges who possess both fighting and officiating experience.

So, in a sense, Lavigne's "bad-call" was simply bad timing -- he made a questionable decision at a moment when all eyes were on his critical aspect of the sport -- officiating (referees and judges).

But should Lavigne and his colleagues constantly take the low blow from fans and critics for their perceived mistakes?

Two things should be considered:

1.  Referees Protect Fighters
One important fact often escapes the minds of fans, fighters, and critics in the heat of the moment. We tend to forget that the referee's first and most crucial responsibility is to protect the lives of the fighters.

2.  Fighter's Responsibility
We also forget the fighters' role in what often occurs when bad calls are made. Let's take another recent bad-call controversy, Bellator 14, for example:

At Bellator 14 former Olympic wrestler-turned-pro mixed martial artist Ben Askren wrapped a visibly tight anaconda choke around the neck of Ryan Thomas. When verbally prompted by the ref, Thomas neglected to respond. Consequently, the referee stopped the match.

Questionable call?
Maybe.

But again, let's consider the referees first responsibility as stated above -- to protect the fighters.

Now, let's also consider the fighter's responsibility. Ryan Thomas should have responded, if he was able to. If, in any case, he was not able to respond, the referee was obligated to stop the fight in order to protect the fighter and such is the case in many 'bad call' endings.

The fighter must render a response when prompted by the ref. The fighter should not assume that the ref is fully aware of his or her state/level of consciousness.

Fighters sometimes experience 'flash' knockouts in which they may briefly, if only for a second, feel and/or appear to be knocked out. There is also a phenomenon that occurs during submission holds called 'fading' in which a fighter may begin to 'fade,' as he or she begins to loose oxygen or insufficient blood flow to the brain. Fading can occur sporadically, much like the flash knockout. This is most likely what Ryan Thomas experienced, some degree of fading while locked in the anaconda choke.

* * *

The circumstances may have been different for Yves Lavigne at UFC 115, however the same two principles remain constant here:

One, you cannot blame Lavigne for making a call that otherwise could have potentially threatened a fighter's life.

Two, the fighter, in this case Mac Danzig, must make a visible effort to prove their consciousness, awareness, and ability to defend or escape.

These are the dynamics of mixed martial arts as an organized sport, and they are realities that we as fans, fighters, and critics must live up to.

* * *

So, should we continue to criticize guys like Yves Lavigne -- guys who are obviously here to help us (in the cage)? Or, should we educate ourselves on the matter and take up responsibility in the effort to maintain the progress of our beloved sport?

I would hope for the latter.

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