Fighters make mistakes in fights. Officials do too - humans are human.
However, the level of officiating at UFC on FX 3 in Florida was unusually controversial. Combined with challenging ticket sales, the UFC was not impressed.
When remined it had been over three years since the UFC was last in Florida, President Dana White's reply was characteristically blunt: "It's gonna be a while again."
At the post-fight news conference, White expressed particular disbelief about the referees actions in Dustin Pague vs. Jared Papazian.
"How about the guy who's yelling at the fighters, saying, 'You can't touch the cage'?" said White. "Like his body cannot touch the cage. What? There were others, too. It was bad. It was as bad as bad gets. I mean, when the ref is interfering with the fight – you're not even supposed to know the ref is there. But that wasn't the case tonight."
MMAJunkie contacted Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which oversees the Florida Boxing Commission, to hear the official's side of the reffing controversy.
Friday's oddest incident involving a referee took place in a preliminary card fight between Pague and Papazian. When the fight hit the ground, Dustin Pague worked for a rear-naked choke. To defend, Papazian tried to push off the cage with his feet. As shown on the FUEL TV live broadcast, in a span of about 30 seconds, referee Frank Gentile warned Papazian six times not to push off the cage with his feet.
At the 2:25 mark of the first round, Gentile told Papazian, "Get your feet of the cage. Get your feet off that cage." He followed, seconds later, by telling the fighter twice to "Push off the cage," implying Papazian was not allowed to use his feet for any kind of leverage as he tried to defend Pague on his back. And just seconds after that, Gentile warned both Papazian and Pague to remove their feet from the cage – and stepped in to physically pull their feet back himself.
Moments later, Papazian, his feet now on the canvas, was forced to tap to the choke.
Under the Unified Rules of MMA, a fighter cannot use his toes to "grab hold of the fence and start to control either their body position or their opponent's body position." But a fighter may, however, "place their feet onto the cage and have their toes go through the fencing material at any time." Replays on FUEL did not appear to show Papazian's feet, or Pague's, for that matter, using toes to advance their position at any time.
"In the specific situation with Papazian’s feet on the cage, there was a miscommunication between the referee and the fighter," Sandi Poreda, the director of communications for the FDBPR said. "The referee was enforcing the rule that prohibits 'grabbing' the cage with one's toes. The officials discuss each event after the event has concluded. This issue was discussed, and the officials were encouraged to communicate clearly with fighters. Jared Papazian has not appealed the decision."
"The Commission conducts pre- and post-event briefs with the officials at each event. Updates to rules and any other pertinent information is discussed prior to events, and a full discussion of each event is held after the event concludes. This in-field training is used to ensure officials have the most current information and are constantly reviewing their work to increase professional development."
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