The referee’s primary job in a fight is to protect the competitors. On Sunday (AEDT) in a bout televised nationally in the US, Mario Yamasaki failed miserably at that task.
He allowed a bout between Valentina Shevchenko and Priscila Cachoeira to last far too long, and risked a serious injury to an overmatched and helpless fighter.
Shevchenko had a 217-1 edge in strikes, but that wasn’t enough for Yamasaki to stop the bout Saturday on a UFC Fight Night card in Belem, Brazil.
It wasn’t until Shevchenko gave up on pounding Cachoeira with fists and elbows and sunk in a rear naked choke that forced a tap at 4:25 of the second that the fight ended.
It was uncomfortable to watch as Yamasaki stood right near the fighters and watched as Shevchenko battered Cachoeira in one of the most one-sided fights ever seen in the UFC.
Shevchenko blistered Cachoeira on the feet in the bout’s opening seconds, using her world-class striking to put Cachoeira, making her UFC debut, on her back.
Shevchenko got on top in a dominant position and rained fists and elbows on Cachoeira. She opened a large cut that was literally pouring blood on the mat and landed so many shots in the first that a huge welt developed around Cachoeira’s left eye.
Fighters, MMA journalists and even pro wrestlers took to Twitter to express their outrage at Yamasaki’s inaction.
UFC lightweight Gilbert Burns had harsh words for Yamasaki’s work.
So, too, did former UFC fighter and current broadcaster Kenny Florian, particularly when he saw a tweet pointing out the 217-1 disparity in strikes.
WWE wrestler Big E wondered like the rest of us what it was that Yamasaki was waiting for as Cachoeira absorbed a beating without ever intelligently defending herself.
The retired UFC fighter Patrick Cote expressed similar feelings.
And a raft of fight experts couldn't help but express their disgust, with one describing Yamasaki's officiating as "criminal".
UFC President Dana White even took to social media to slam Yamasaki's performance.
“Priscilla Cachoeira, you showed so much heart and toughness in that fight. I’m honored to have you fight in the UFC,” White said.
"Unfortunately the ref is there to protect you and Mario DID NOT do that. This isn’t his first disgusting performance in the octagon. Another unfortunate thing is that I can’t do anything about it, only the Brazilian commission can and I am hoping after this scary, incompetent showing, he hopefully will never set foot in that Octagon again. Strikes landed was 230-3.”
Safety must always come first. Referees are hesitant to stop a fight too quickly, because they want to give the fighters every chance.
But the referee must also be aware of who is fighting and the situation.
It's not the first time Yamasaki has been slammed for his controversial performances.
Shevchenko is one of the best fighters in the world and was dominant at bantamweight. She well could have won her fight with Amanda Nunes in September for the 135-pound title.
But with the creation of the flyweight division, Shevchenko went down.
Cachoeira was in her UFC debut and was a massive underdog. She showed great heart but next-to-nothing else.
The first round opened and Shevchenko battered her with punches and a kick to the body. She then took Cachoeira down and brutally beat her on the ground the rest of the way, as Yamasaki stood idly by.
It went to the ground early in the second and despite Shevchenko pinning Cachoeira’s arms and hitting her repeatedly, some hard and some not so hard, with fists and elbows.
Nothing, though, was enough to make the referee jump in to end the mismatch and save the overmatched Cachoeira.
The problem is there is really no recourse. Referee assignments are made by the commission in charge in the jurisdiction where the fight is held and is out of the promoter’s control.
State athletic commissions that have used Yamasaki in the past should pass on him at least for a while, because the failure to protect a beaten and defenseless fighter is the most egregious error a referee can make.
It was hard to watch Shevchenko beat on a helpless opponent, though she was just doing her job. She has to fight until the referee stops it.
But it will be harder to see Yamasaki in the cage working a fight anytime soon. He forfeited that right on Saturday with one of the worst performances by a referee in recent memory.