Kim Winslow: Being a referee is also about having the ‘it’ factor

Monday, January 09, 2012

The first female referee in the UFC, Kim WInslow has come under heavy criticism recently for what is perceived as poor reffing, most recently at Saturday’s Strikeforce when many, including the winner King Mo, felt Winslow was late in stopping the Lawal vs. Lorenz fight.

However, Nevada State Athetic Commissioner Keith Kizer, frequently named among the best commissioners in North America, feels the criticism is unwarranted.

“I had no issues with the stoppage,” Kizer wrote to MMAFighting.com on Monday when asked for a response to Lawal’s post-fight comments about the referee.

In 2009  MMAFighting interviewed Winslow, and provides relevance to the discussion today.

Michael David Smith: How do you feel about being the first female referee in UFC history?

Kim Winslow: Well, I was already the first female referee in MMA, so being the first in the UFC is just another step for me. It’s an honor, and I’m trying to set the bar for us ladies and I look forward to seeing more female refs in the future.

MDS: Should referees be noticed, or are the best referees the ones we don’t notice? Do you like getting attention from refereeing televised fights?

KW: I’m a little bit uncomfortable getting attention, to be honest. I like to do my job and go home. Getting attention is a little new for me … You don’t want a referee to stand out. The referees should be in the background. The fighters should shine, not the referees.

MDS: What is your professional background and how did you end up in the Octagon?

KW: My professional background is I’m an air-traffic controller. I started watching the UFC in 1993, with UFC 1 and was an instant fan of the sport. I also trained in martial arts even before UFC 1, starting out with taekwondo, and then I switched martial arts forms and learned Brazilian jiu jitsu, muay thai and other forms. So I’m trained in multiple styles, and I understand the ground game and the stand-up, and to me being involved in martial arts is very intellectually stimulating, like looking at submission attempts and how to properly apply them. That knowledge definitely helps. And I also think my work as an air-traffic controller has really helped me learn to tune out the background stuff and only focus on the task at hand. The crowd has no affect on me, and I can handle the stress, and my job has helped prepare me there. Air-traffic control and refereeing are both jobs where your primary focus is safety, and in that respect they go hand-in-hand, and they’re also both high-adrenaline jobs.

MDS: How important is a martial arts background to being a referee? And do you think referees need to have fought MMA?

KW: Well, you have to know martial arts, but being a referee is also about having the “it” factor. Some people have it and some don’t. A lot of people who have martial arts backgrounds wouldn’t be good referees because they don’t have that judgment, the ability to make those instant decisions. Other times you might meet someone who doesn’t have as much of a martial arts background but does have that ability to understand how to make those decisions. Background in the sport can help, but it’s not absolutely necessary. I’m also definitely a proponent of continuing education, and I still attend seminars. I would have loved to continue my martial arts training but my state, Nevada, does not allow you to train if you’re a sanctioned referee because they don’t want any conflicts of interest if you train at the same gym as a fighter — which I understand.

MDS: So you’ve trained in martial arts but you’ve never had an MMA fight yourself?

KW: No, I am not a fighter, I’m a safety girl. I don’t have the warrior spirit, I’m much more concerned about whether the other person is OK. Some of us are meant to ref and some of us are meant to fight. I have the capability to fight, but I’m not the person who fights unless I have to defend myself.

MDS: Are there any misconceptions that you think MMA fans have about referees?

KW: One thing I would like them to keep in mind is it’s really easy to referee from the couch or the stands with instant replay, but we have to make split-second decisions based on what we see in the ring. We also see things and hear things that they don’t: Sometimes we see a fighter’s eyes roll back into his head, a flash knockout, which the cameras don’t always catch. Fighters’ recoveries from those flash knockouts can be absolutely phenomenal, sometimes they can recover by the time they hit the canvas, but we have to make fighter safety our priority. So fans should keep that in mind.

MDS: What questions do fans ask you about being a referee?

KW: The question I get a lot that I’d like to address is, as a female, whether I can stop a fight, and should I be restricted to lower weight classes. I’ve never been restricted to lower weight classes. The largest fighters I’ve been in the ring with were a 386-pounder and a 392-pounder up in Washington (Ernest Henderson vs. Gaylon Cooper in 2007) and I did get in the middle of them and I did stop them effectively without a problem. I do want people to know that. That is not a factor. We are not expected to fight the fighters. I am definitely able to defend myself if it came to that. And anyway I’m not a small female. I’m bigger than Steve Mazzagatti, Josh Rosenthal and Yves Lavigne. It’s not a gender issue, and if I weren’t capable of stopping fights I wouldn’t have come as far as I have.

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