Former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum made his PFL debut vs. Renan Ferreira in a heavyweight tournament qualifier at PFL 3, on May 6, 2021, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The bout outcome was initially declared a TKO victory for the relatively unheralded Ferreira. However, shortly before the fight-ending sequence, Ferreira had been in a triangle and appeared to tap, but unfortunately, referee Keith Peterson was not in position to see it.
New Jersey is the first state to allowed instant replay, should the promoter choose to, but the PFL unfortunately did not. However, the NJSAC has an appeal process, and Werdum's manager Ali Abdelazziz immediately did so. After a thorough review of what happened, several days later, the bout outcome was changed to a No Decision. The PFL awarded each fighter one point in their qualifier, equivalent to a draw.
Now a full statement has been released, over the signature of Larry Hazzard, Sr., Commissioner, New Jersey State Athletic Control Board.
Dear Messrs. Werdum and Ferreira:
This agency received a timely request to appeal the outcome of the Renan Ferreira versus Fabricio Werdum bout. This professional mixed martial contest was held at Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City on May 6, 2021. This contest was part of the Professional Fighters League 3 event. (PFL 3)
Please consider this writing as a reply to the appeal request.
Prior to explaining our review of the conclusion of the bout in question, this agency would be remiss if it did not mention that both contestants put on an outstanding and very exciting performance. We congratulate both contestants.
The exact matter at hand is whether the fight night declared outcome of the bout; was the just, equitable and proper outcome of the contest. More specifically, did Mr. Ferreira make a motion or movements with his hand, fingers and arm to indicate a tap.
A nonverbal tap is defined in our administrative code as when a contestant physically uses his hand to indicate that he no longer wishes to continue in the contest.
The New Jersey State Athletic Control Board (NJSACB) has allowed the use of instant replay since January 3, 2007. The NJSACB would seem to be the first regulatory body for MMA to permit this use of replay. It also has been reported that the NJSACB was the first regulatory body to utilize instant replay to reverse the outcome of an MMA bout. In November 2008, a referee for a bout did not see a tap. Instant replay was utilized. The tap was evident on replay and the outcome was changed. However, the NJSACB does not mandate that promoters utilize instant replay at all events. This is mainly due to the cost of placing instant replay into the production. At PFL 3, the promotion chose not to implement instant replay use.
If instant replay is not in use at an event, our regulations have long provided for another established avenue of review. The complaining party can file an appeal.
When it comes to the actions of a referee, protocol permits the Commissioner to overturn the call, if in his discretion, a self-evident and palpable error has been committed. (See N.J.A.C. 13:46-8.30)
I have reviewed live time fight footage, available video clips, communicated with other current referees on staff, other staff personnel, and conferred with agency Counsel.
I have also reviewed fight footage supplied directly to us from PFL. This would include the actual broadcast, additional real time footage and slow motion footage.
I have been in contact with referee Keith Peterson subsequent to the contest. Mr. Peterson indicated that had he seen the hand/arm/finger motions of Mr. Ferreira, he would likely have stopped the contest and declared Mr. Werdum the victor via submission.
PFL 3 had retired MMA contestants Randy Couture, Kenny Florian and Sean O'Connell utilizing the latest video technology to call the action. Upon multiple reviews, all three stated during the broadcast that a fight ending tap had occurred.
I perused through media articles and social media opinions. Media outlets such as BJ Penn, Blackbeltmag, Bloody Elbow, ESPN, Fightsports, Jiu Jitsu Times, MMA Fighting, MMA Junkie, SB Nation and Sherdog all published articles indicating that a tap or taps occurred.
This review concludes by finding that Mr. Ferreira was caught in a deep triangle choke as well as an armbar attempt. It certainly appears that Mr. Ferreira tapped twice, due to the triangle, by opening his hand, straightening his fingers, and contacting Mr. Werdum's torso.
I do not find it relevant to consider whether Mr. Werdum is found to be credible by repeatedly stating that he released or even partially relaxed the submission attempt subsequent to his belief that a tap occurred.
I do not find it relevant to discuss whether Mr. Werdum failed to protect himself at all times and wait for the referee to end the contest.
My position is that it is only relevant to determine whether a fight ending tap took place.
I wish to note that I feel that Keith Peterson is one of, if not the best, MMA referees in the world; and that I will continue to have the utmost confidence in him. He will most certainly be considered for future high profile MMA contests held in our State. No one person that we are aware of noticed the taps in live time. Further, given the situation, it would not have made much sense for the referee to be positioned on the opposite side where the taps occurred.
I note that this agency has yet to input the official result of this particular bout to the designated official record keeper for MMA. We did not input the results immediately subsequent to the bout as we were aware of a need to review this matter. However, as the review is now complete, we will enter the bout results in the near future.
In conclusion, I, as Commissioner, and in my discretion, declare that a self-evident and palpable error occurred because of the failure to stop the contest due to the tap by Mr. Ferreira. I again note that such is a decision left to my sole discretion. Due to my finding, I am declaring a change in the announced result.
The official result will be recorded by this agency as a no decision. Since this is not an instant replay live time decision on a fight ending sequence, we believe the best outcome at a later than broadcast time date is a no decision.
We utilize the term no decision as opposed to no contest because this was not a foul stoppage. However, the terms no decision and no contest achieve the same overall result.
If instant replay had been utilized, we could have changed the outcome in real time prior to an official decision being announced.
It is not within our purview to dictate to the PFL how this change in decision will affect the purse payments, tournament points or division standings. Those are issues for PFL to solely decide in accordance with their rules and best judgment. Such decisions are not within our regulatory mandate.
We wish both Mr. Ferreira and Mr. Werdum the best in their future contests.
Yours in combative sports,
Larry Hazzard, Sr.
Deputy Commissioner Rhonda Utley-Herring
Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Lembo
Professional Fighters League