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The Best Seat In the House Can Be the Most Costly

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Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 7.03.37 PMWhat’s it worth to you for the best seat in the house for a pay-per-view, blockbuster MMA event? Hundreds? Thousands? Maybe you know somebody who knows somebody, and you sidesaddle a spot with the timekeeper? The only vantage of greater value would be to cross the threshold of the fencing-an arm’s reach from the mixed martial artists featured under the bright lights: the referee. Marc Goddard, an MMA referee who has officiated marquee match-ups that may have lulled lesser-qualified officials into a state of reclining their La-Z-Boy, only to leap for joy in conjunction with the millions of viewers around the world – losing sight of the immensity at hand: careers, health, or even upholding the legitimacy and professionalism of MMA as a sport. It was interesting to explore this idea with Goddard when he appeared as a special guest on Jon and Mike’s MMA Corner.

Goddard’s introduction to the trials and tribulations of refereeing should conjure up doubts for those who may be sitting at their desk and filling out an application for such a line of work,

“The referee: You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t. It’s not a job for everyone.”

Ambiguity opens the door of possibility for others who definitely should keep it slammed shut. MMA fans nestle into their living room couches and espouse claims that the referee’s job is one-size fits all; it’s not that hard, but Goddard countered,

“You’ve got to distinguish yourself from that [the fight] and the reality of what you do. You’re in the firing line, and that’s the nature of the job.”

Goddard doesn’t shy away from the ridicule he opens himself up to while officiating professional athletes; he admitted,

“I think it comes down to officials getting the critique. That’s just the nature of the beast; it’s par for the course.”

There’s no gray in the matter when Goddard is draped head-to-toe in black: shoes, pants, shirt, latex gloves-time to smash it up,

“If you can’t handle it, then you are definitely in the wrong job. The more experience you get, the older you get, the higher profile you get, you just learn to roll with it because when it’s good it’s good. I’m not going to say when it’s bad it’s bad because, most of the time, when people are saying it’s bad, it’s a perception of bad; 90% of the people don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about anyway.”

Before tracking down Goddard to trade season tickets with him that read: “Row Octagon,” Goddard detailed the mindset and abilities prerequisite to acting as the last protective barrier between two trained assassins,

“You have to be able to read a fight. It either comes to you, or it doesn’t. If somebody is going to sweep and go for a belly-down armbar, you need to know which way to go. If you need to start thinking about it, that’s when mistakes will occur, and that’s when you’ll start second-guessing. When you’re referee, you are watching things in a peripheral sense; you’re looking at everything. There’s a natural flow, and if you’re just watching, essentially waiting for a violation to step in; that’s your job. It sounds pretty simple. In principle, it is, but people try to make it more difficult that it is.”

Some Referees Just Don’t Have It

If the criteria spelled out as clear as a “do not remove” tag on your favorite chair doesn’t resonate as something comprehensible, please locate the nearest latch on the cage’s door and exit immediately. The responsibilities of an MMA referee, or any combat sport’s official, are enormous, to say the least, yet some referees, like Steve Mazzagatti, routinely spot themselves in positions of scrutiny. Coincidence? Likely not.

In a recent contest for World Series of Fighting (WSOF) gold at WSOF 22, Mazzagatti was seated front and center, as he was slated to enforce the rules of the Decagon in a welterweight title fight between Jake Shields (31-8-1 1NC) and Rousimar Palhares (18-6-0). Walking into the championship bout, there was no secret of the potential for Palhares to play the role of a dirty fighter, yet this concept was lost in the folds of the beach chair that Mazzagatti called this fight from. Not only were claims of eye-raking substantiated with photos such as those posted below,

but his positioning on the canvas when Palhares rolled Shields into a Kimura locked up so tightly that the viewers at home tapped,

which raised question marks that were bolded in a series of three with exclamation points acting as spacers (or at least that’s what stood out on Twitter).

Shortly after his losing efforts against Palhares, Shields sat down with Michael Placencia, better known as Fight Mike MMA, to project his point of view on the performance of Mazzagatti while officiating that night,

“Mazzagatti is completely clueless. I was obviously really pissed with him after the fight; I was even yelling at him during the fight. Palhares wasn’t just kind of gouging, he was taking his thumb and sticking it in my eye. I was telling Mazzagatti, who was right next to it. He just didn’t see it and kept ignoring them. Finally, he warned him. Then, he warned him again and told him he was going to take a point away; warned him again and didn’t take a point away. Maybe he’s not a bad guy, but he’s not competent at being a ref.”

Watch Fight Mike MMA’s sit-down with Shields for yourself:

WSOF 22 was not the only questionable decision by Mazzagatti. Other examples include:

Controversy swirled at UFC 81 when Mazzagatti deducted a point from Brock Lesnar for perceived shots to the back of the head of Frank Mir. After the point deduction and restart in action, the new positioning propelled Mir into an advantageous position, hence leading to his kneebar victory. Since you’re seated and reading, check out the interview conducted by MMA Junkie (2008) with Mazzagatti to explore such a questionable decision:

http://mmajunkie.com/2008/02/referee-steve-mazzagatti-discusses-lesnar-mir-fight-an-mmajunkiecom-interview

Justified or not, an inability to call the fight correctly collectively spawns desires to kick the chair out from underneath Mazzagatti.

A similar act of haste proved arguable during The Ultimate Fighter: Season 19. Mazzagatti believed Roger Zapata delivered illegal elbows to the back of Ian Stephens’ head. Without warning, Mazzagatti leapt in and began pilfering points. Dana White, President of the UFC, mirrored most MMA fans who endure a Mazzagatti led dance: fuming out of the room:

What Do We Do About Poor Refereeing?

Goddard is no magician, though referees who build a track record of poor quality and lacking ability are those he’d choose to lose their best seat in the house. He claimed,

“There’s a magic word there, though it’s not a magic word; it’s real, and it’s called acceptance. It’s about having that acceptance, and you can attribute that to anything you do. Have an ambition, have a goal to have an end game; that’s what fighters do. If it’s not for you, you’re going to find out quite quick.”

Mazzagatti is far from a new kid on the block, and a ref with his reputation may need the decision made for them. Goddard continued,

“I can’t explain the very real pressure officials are under. That’s what we’re there to do, and that’s what we’re paid for.”

Could it be that these refs are enjoying their seats too much, removing their official’s patch and shoving their fist into the cavity of a giant foam finger? MMA’s excitement fans the flames of pandemonium on a nearly round-by-round basis; Goddard can tease the idea of being consumed by either the red or blue corner, even needing pause on his own stool in that minute between rounds, but his experience roots him in the middle of the action. Relaxed on the podcast, he allowed a fraction of his fanfare to escape,

 “You can sense the occasion.”

Goddard rocked all the listeners in his lap, and he opened his referee scrapbook to the page labeled: masochism. The page was dated March 3, 2013, for a matchup between “The All-American” Brian Stann versus Wanderlei “The Axe Murder” Silva at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. He recalled,

“It’s funny because I remember one of the events I was refereeing in Japan a couple of years ago, and it was Brian Stann and Wanderlei Silva.”

Hosts Jon and Mike collectively hooted in anticipation of Goddard’s recollection of the middleweight tilt. Here’s why:

“Your reaction says it all, and that’s kind of how I was feeling. That was just all out violence; it was a fight in its truest sense. I’m watching it go down in front of me, and, of course, I get a sense of at one point wanting to stand back and just start clapping. Obviously, you just stay in the moment. You’re in another place, in a forgotten place, and that’s the problem with a lot of referees or would be officials; they can’t detach. They get caught looking.”

When it comes to the referee game, Goddard demonstrated he is more than willing to share a seat next to you and pass along his knowledge, but MMA’s fans and fighters assuredly would always prefer a carbon copy of Goddard in the driver’s seat, acting as the third man in the ring.

 

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Jacare Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum Official for UFC 224

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Brazils second UFC event of the new year added another middleweight contest. UFC officials announced, Kelvin Gastelum will face Jacare Souza in Rio de Janeiro at UFC 224.

The inevitable main card booking of Souza comes after headlining UFC on Fox 27. The Brazilian fighter is 3-2 in his last 5. His recent contests only look worrisome in comparison to the entirety of his long career. Prior to his past 5, Souza held an eight fight win streak. In that period of time, he defeated Gegard Mousasi, Derek Brunson (for the first time), and Chris Camozzi twice. Despite the drama words and numbers on screens create, his recent record is nothing to have concern over. A split decision loss to Yoel Romero in 2015, and a 2017 TKO loss to division champion, Robert Whittaker is manageable. Defeating Derek Brunson in the opening round of their main event bout kept him deep in the milky opaque froth that is the middleweight title picture. Clearly his position in that photo lies upon the upcoming match up.

Looking ahead for Jacare Souza, assuming he wins, becomes interesting, just as it devastating for Kelvin Gastelum. Gastelum is 3-1 since returning to middleweight, technically his record sits at 2-1 and 1 No Contest. He tested positive for marijuana in a sample collected the night of his bout against Vitor Belfort by USADA in March of 2017. Originally, the outcome of the bout read the way viewers remembered it; a 1st rd. TKO in favor of Gastelum. On May 7th, 2017, the win was officially overturned and changed to a No Contest. He also received a 90 day suspension, adjusted to the day of the failed test (March 11th).

In the aftermath of the failed test, his scheduled contest against Anderson Silva. He then split his next two contests, losing to Chris Weidman and defeating Michael Bisping emphatically, yet under odd circumstances. A win for Gastelum certainly muddies the waters of middleweight contenders, while adding to a good 185 lb. resume.

UFC 224 takes place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on May 12th, 2018 at the Jeunesse Arena. A battle betwen Brazilians is set for the date as Lyoto Machida takes on Vitor Belfort. Other featured bouts include; Aleksei Oleynik vs. Junior Albini*, Cezar Ferreira vs. Karl Roberson*, Alberto Mina vs. Ramazan Emeev, and Davi Ramos vs. Nick Hein*.

*Bouts reportedly set for UFC 224

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Exclusive: Mike Ekundayo, “He could come with anything, I don’t care”

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In a little less than a week, Rise of Champions crowns its inaugural bantamweight champion. The crowning of the first 135 lb. champion marks the young promotions first champion. It makes sense why the promotion owned and operated by UK MMA star, Brad Pickett, and Team Titan head coach, Mickey Papas plan to crown the promotions first champion in the bantamweight division. Pickett competed in the division throughout his tenure with the WEC, and ultimately the entity which absorbed the light weight promotion, the UFC. Even more-so, two young and rising prospects of the division. One undefeated in his professional and amateur career, the other riding a seven consecutive victories, five by submission. The two meet February 17th, Mike Ekundayo puts his career unbeaten streak up against Jonas Magard’s at ROC 5, for the aforementioned, inaugural bantamweight championship.

Speaking to the undefeated Ekundayo before his fight, he believes this opportunity to be inevitable. Born in Hackney, (a borough of London) early in life, Ekundayo was no stranger to cramming his belongings into large cardboard boxes. At the age of 7, he moved from Hackney to Herne Hill, a district located in South London. Two years later he found himself in similar situation, moving from his vaguely new home in Herne Hill to Brixton. A road trip in the car to his new home, took approximately 5 minutes.

It is admittedly, not an easy life. In a harrowing article describing the horrors of gang life in London by the metro.uk, former gang member turned community activist, made the claim, “When you are from Brixton, from Peckham, west London, anywhere in London, you are seeing hardship where a lot of communities can’t reach their full potential”.

In his own words, Ekundayo describes his home as, “not the best start to have in your life. It’s not the best upbringing”. But that couldn’t matter any less for him. Not only does the London resident consistently work to grow his potential, he gets to see it every day. His coaches Brad Pickett and Mickey Papas hold the knowledge as well as first-hand experience, increasing his limits with every session. “We’re all close”, speaking of his coaches and team. “My head coach is Mickey Papas, he’s very knowable in the game. He’s been around for a very long time. He teaches me a lot, I can learn a lot of stuff from Mickey Papas. Sometimes I just think, how does he know all of this? Where did he get this information from?”

He continued, “While I was coming up through amateur, Brad (Pickett) was still an active fighter, but nowadays he’s taken a coaching approach. So he’s coaching us prospects getting us to where he got to and further… He’s been through it all, gotten to the top, and stayed at the top”.

Further discussing his coach, “For UK MMA, you could definitely call Brad a legend. He’s done a lot in his career, and someone who I rate highly as an MMA fighter is Demetrious Johnson, and of course Brad has got a win over (him). I feel like just being surrounded by someone like Brad, you’re working towards the right things. When he passes information onto you, you respect it that bit more because of far he got in his career. He’s definitely given me the right guidance, I trust his guidance”.

When it comes to the upcoming title fight, confidence poured out from where praise and respect had once been. “I just think it’s my time, to be honest. I really do believe it’s my time for all of this. The work I put in, certain things become inevitable”, he said. “I actually called this after I won my third fight, I called for belts and big shows. I spoke it to existence”. He continued, “It’s my time to finally to get a strap of some sort. All the straps is what we’re going for, all of them. We’re going for every one”.

“Rise of Champions is my show… That’s how I feel when I’m performing on ROC, it’s just my show, it’s my time to shine. Everyone knows who there here to see, there not really there to see the other guys. It’s my time, it’s my show and I’m going to put on a show on February 17th and I’m going to win that belt”.

The infectious nature of his positive attitude was palpable. Although we only spoke through small rectangular devices, I could feel his energy in the room. His attitude shined brightest when talking about what it would mean to be the first ever ROC Bantamweight champion. Ekundayo claimed, “It just means a lot to have my first belt in anything to be honest… Within myself, I call myself a champion, every day. But now, other people would have to call me a champion because I’ve got a belt… And one thing I really want to do is, which sounds a bit weird, I just want to take the belt home to my area, to Brixton.”

“I just want to take it to my area, and just show the people of that area what hard work can achieve… I want to just take it to my people and show them that not for nothing, we are from Brixton, it’s not the best start to have in your life. It’s not the best upbringing but you can rise above it and you can achieve your goals and that’s what the belt will mean”.

When the conversation shifted to the topic of his opponent, Ekundayo had less encouraging words rolling off his tongue. Jonas Magard, the second half of the ROC 5 main event, holds a record of 7-4. Currently he owns a seven fight win streak after starting his career 1-3. Ekundayo thought, “He did fight quite decent guys in his three loses… but in the seven fight win streak, none of his opponents have been of caliber”.

He elaborated further, “What’s in my thoughts is more me, then it is of him. So, he could come with anything, I don’t care. I’m just focused on how I’m going to be picture perfect. How I’m going to paint a masterpiece, how I’m going to make it a beautifully perfect performance. That’s what my primary focus is on, so what he does to me is irrelevant, I’m just going to focus on how I’m going to be perfect on the night of February 17th”.

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UFC 222 Re-Worked with Cris Cyborg vs. Yana Kunitskaya, and Frankie Edgar vs. Brian Ortega

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UFC 222 has been saved, and it didn’t take a superhero to lift the burning boulder which was Max Holloway’s injury and withdrawal. All it took was a female named Cyborg and a man with a demeanor so smooth, he could be mistaken for an alter-ego. Cris Cyborg now serves as the UFC 222 main event when she defends her featherweight belt against Yana Kunitskaya. Frankie Edgar bumped down to the co-main event to face Brian Ortega in what is likely a title eliminator. The news of the UFC 222 revival originally stemmed from a report by MMAFighting.com and confirmed later in the evening by the UFC.

Over the course of the week, reports surrounded the Las Vegas card and whether it would survive. Multiple options were reportedly being mulled over; cancelling the card outright, changing the pay-per-view (PPV) to a ‘Fight Night’ with an Edgar vs. Ortega main event, Dillashaw vs. Garbrandt 2 main event, among others. Ultimately, the promotion landed on Cyborg vs. Kunitskaya as the new main event, while also booking Brian Ortega.

This adjustment of the card places their women’s Featherweight champion in the second PPV main event in three months. Cris Cyborg recently put her undisputed Featherweight title on the line against Holly Holm at the year ending card, UFC 219. She successfully defended her belt by unanimous decision, in what was an amazing technical display from the Brazilian. In her octagon career, Cyborg is undefeated in her four appearances with three KO/TKO stoppages.

The second half of the new main event, Yana Kunitskaya, makes her UFC debut against the scariest women on the roster. If the 145 lb. champion was not enough of a challenge, Kunitskaya also makes her first appearance in the division since defeating Cindy Dandois in December of 2010. Of Russia descent, her most recent performances came inside the Invicta FC cage. At the female-only promotion, she posted a record of 1-1, with 1 No Contest. Her loss and no contest, both came at the hands of former UFC Featherweight title challenger, Tonya Evinger.

Turning to the co-main event, both fighters have been relatively inactive but, for good reason. Brian Ortega amazingly forced perennial men’s Featherweight contender, Cub Swanson, to tap in the second round of their ‘Fight Night: Fresno’ contest. Ortega fought twice in 2017, but more-so stayed inactive following his stoppage victory over Swanson. The Californian contender announced his desire to wait in line for the next title shot following the recent victory.

For Frankie Edgar, his last fight took place at UFC 211 when he absolutely demolished young and rising star, Yair Rodriguez. A card which took place last May. While Ortega holds an undefeated record, Edgar is undefeated in his previous 9 fights, excluding people named Jose Aldo.

UFC 222 takes place at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 3rd.

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