When two fighters go up against each other inside of a cage, there are weeks, if not years of preparation involved. Mixed martial artists dedicate their lives to training, eating well, and honing their skills. Then, they are locked in a cage with another fighter trying their best to win.
The thing is that it is not just the two of them in the cage or Octagon. There is a referee in there who could ultimately decide when the fight is over. The refs are there to keep the fighters safe: to stop a fight when one fighter is knocked out, submitted, or has taken too much damage. But these refs are human, and mistakes get made regularly. So should a fighter be able to pick and choose which ref they want in there during their fight?
Recently, Dominick Cruz was very vocal about a certain referee, Keith Peterson, that he did not want officiating his upcoming fight with Casey Kenney. Cruz has held ill will towards Peterson since the last time he officiated his fight back at UFC 249. During the post-fight press conference, Cruz accused Peterson of “smelling like alcohol and cigarettes.” Cruz now has put in a request to not have Peterson in the cage during his fight at UFC 259.
“I’m gonna definitely request—and I can only hope and pray that the commission honors my request to not have him (Keith Peterson) in my corner— or refereeing my fight,” Cruz said to ESPN. “I can’t guarantee it, the commission does whatever they want and I respect them and their decisions, but I don’t believe he’s a competent ref with the way he treated my fight and the way he treated it before the fight happened.“
The Nevada State Athletic Commission will not reveal the assigned referees for each bout until the night of the fight but could very well take Cruz’s request into account. Feeling that strongly about a person who is there to keep you safe is a real concern.
There have been other fighters unhappy with referees in the past. Conor McGregor was in an altercation with referee Mark Goddard at a Bellator event. Goddard never officiated another McGregor fight to date. Jon Jones once had an issue with John McCarthy as well. The fighters should definitely feel safe with the third man in the Octagon, but requesting someone not being in there is different than requesting that a certain referee be assigned.
So if fighters can request who they don’t want, should they be able to request who they do want? This seems unfair to be able to pick and choose a referee. Fighters could create personal bonds with referees, and that could sway a fight one way or another. Refs are supposed to be unbiased and just look at the fight objectively. That is the way it should be and most likely is with officials in the UFC and MMA now, but picking and choosing could muddy the water.
There is a reason the officiating crew is not announced until the day of or week of the event. There are, of course, bad people in this world and people who may be looking to fix a fight for any number of reasons. That is not saying that any referee at the highest level could be persuaded one way or another, but things do happen in this world.
Requesting certain referees should not be a thing that happens in MMA or any other sport. It needs to be fair and safe for all. However, if someone doesn’t feel safe or comfortable with the assigned referee, they absolutely should have the option to refuse a referee’s placement in their bout.
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