There is no more thankless task in mixed martial arts than refereeing. No one ever thought they won a fight due to the ref, but plenty of losses are blamed on the officials. And refereeing is incredibly difficult – an impossible balance has to be maintained, in far less than a split second, with thousands watching, between protecting an athlete’s livelihood and his or her health.
At UFC 205 Dan Miragliotta thought Chris Weidman had both hands on the ground, as did the onlookers, when opponent Gegard Mousasi landed a knee to the head. The referee was giving Weidman time to recover when the replay was shown in slow motion from multiple directions and it was determined that Weidman’s hand had in fact been momentarily yanked off the mat.
Miragliotta has received volumes of criticism for the error, but the mistake was understandable – it’s not a sign of incompetence, it’s a sign of being human. To balance all the b****ing about refs, going forward The UnderGround is going to regularly recognize Wicked Good Referee moments.
Bellator 176: Carvalho vs. Manhoef took place on April 8, 2017, at the Pala Alpitour in Torino, Italy and aired on Spike TV. The main event was a middleweight world title fight, a rematch between Rafael Carvalho and Melvin Manhoef; Kevin ‘The Ref’ MacDonald was the referee. As Italy does not have a commission, the event was overseen by Mike Mazzulli, Director of Athletic Regulation for the Mohegan Tribe and President of the Association of Boxing Commissions.
The whole idea behind reffing is to be invisible, but sometimes fights need a ref so badly that is impossible. Just 30 seconds into the fight Carvalho pawed at Manhoef, inadvertently jabbing him in the eye with a finger. MacDonald simultaneously channeled his inner Usain Bolt and his inner Annalisa Flanagan (google her) and dashed forward to break the action.
MacDonald gave Manhoef a break and warned Carvalho. He then warned Manhoef as well, as both fighters had been pawing at each other.
Later in the fight, Carvalho had Manhoef pushed up against the fence and attempted an outside trip. Manhoef responded by momentarily grabbing the fence, which is all it took to stay standing.
MacDonald immediately broke the action. Carvalho indicated with body language he had done nothing wrong, as he walked to the neutral corner. The ref then spoke firmly to Manhoef while gesticulating appropriately, walked him to the center of the cage, held his wrist, and indicated to each judge to take one point away. Then he restarted the fighters from center.
Fouls in mixed martial arts are often viewed as something you can do once and just get a warning. Warnings do not play into scoring under the Unified Rules. What reason then is there to not foul once? MacDonald handled the moment with characteristic excellence, and is thus the inaugural recipient of The UnderGround Wicked Good Referee award.