As the most criticized ref in the history of MMA, Steve Mazzagatti is pretty sick of the criticism. Little of his personal life is known to the community, but he actually loves this sport and the athletes involved. He is also a firefighter by day, and I believe he deserves more respect than he gets. People do not seem to understand how difficult the job of a referee is, or that stopping a fight can be a matter of seconds between people saying you stopped it too early, or stopped it too late. Mazzagatti sat down with Chuck Mindenhall of MMAFighting, and discussed everything from Dana White’s dislike of him as a referee to his own thoughts on his career. One thing was made clear: he only answers to Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Kieth Kizer.
He is willing to own up to many of his mistakes, including the oft-criticized call in the Kevin Burns and Anthony Johnson where the bout ended in favor of Burns due to repeated eye pokes. On that fight he stated “What the hell am I going to do? I had no idea the hand had been injured, although his fingers were causing a huge problem, and I’d warned him about his fingers. And then Anthony got poked in the eye, after I saw a combination, I saw an uppercut, and all of a sudden Anthony turns around flies on the ground and starts tapping. Well, he was in pain, and he was like, I’m done. He wasn’t necessarily tapping because he’s done, he was poked in the eye. Well, I had already stopped the fight. And I got to stick by that call. I’ve admitted that that loss…that was basically a bad call. That was definitely a bad call. Because of that though…we implemented in the state of Nevada and several other states now, instant replay.” Though everyone already knew that was a bad call, the confusion in the moment of that fight more than justifies a single mistake made by a ref.
One fight that Mazzagatti will defend however, was the very controversial win he granted to Matt Hammil after Jon Jones decimated him with elbows that nobody seemed to know were illegal until after the fight. His defense was as follows: “Jones starts unloading with elbows. I wasn’t concerned, Hamill was blocking those, he had a four-wall defense. We’ve seen it before, these guys will unload everything they got because they think they’ve got the other guy hurt, and the guy all of a sudden comes up and beats the crap out of the guy because he’s gassed or he hurt his hands trying to punch him out. Then all of a sudden those downward elbows came. I said, oh my god, there’s definitely a rule infringement right there – downward elbows straight through Hamill’s guard, which he’s not used to blocking 12-to-6 elbows. He got hit with three of them straight to the bridge of his nose, and when I went back and looked at the instant replay, in the first round his nose is cut open. So he’s supposed to go out and fight two more rounds with the bridge of his nose cut open, bleeding into both eyes in the first round and be able to compete? Unfortunately, what did I have to do? As bad as it sucked… I mean, it sucks… But I don’t regret that, no. Absolutely, that was the right thing to do. Of course, I had no idea Hamill hurt his shoulder. I don’t know these things. Only thing I know is that 12-to-6 elbows came flying down.”
So that clears that up I guess. It’s hard to say what any one of us would do in the same position with the same power. Though I would not necessarily want Mazzagatti refereeing my fights, at least we know his heart is in the right place and he truly does try his hardest.