UFC Fight Night “Maia vs. LaFlare”
Saturday, March 21
Maracanazinho Gymnasium | Rio de Janeiro
Leandro Silva’s biggest gift of 2015 won’t be wrapped up underneath a tree. Christmas came early for the Brazilian lightweight, who in March pocketed an unearned win bonus as a result of Sherdog.com’s “Robbery of the Year.”
Traditionally, this award has been reserved for injustices of the judging kind, such as last year’s decision debacle involving Ross Pearson and noted bandit Diego Sanchez. Since the category was created in 2008, five of the seven “Robbery” recipients have involved wonky scorecards. However, once in a while there comes along an officiating error so ridiculous that it must be singled out. It happened in 2012, and unfortunately, it happened again in 2015.
The scene of the crime was UFC Fight Night “Maia vs. LaFlare” -- an injury-wracked card with a makeshift main event held on March 21 at Maracanazinho Gymnasium in Rio de Janeiro. Silva took on American Drew Dober in a 155-pound preliminary bout, with both men looking to capitalize on momentum from submission wins in the months prior.
After spending the first round on their feet -- where Dober earned a 10-9 score, according to most MMA pundits -- the lightweights went to the ground early in the second courtesy of a Silva double-leg takedown. Dober quickly posted and stood up against the fence, only to be spun back down to the canvas near the center of the cage. There, Silva used head-and-arm control to pass from half guard to Dober’s right side. The transition allowed Dober enough space to bridge and roll to his knees, where he defended Silva’s attempt to back-mount and then moved to stand again.
Silva held Dober in a front headlock as they worked back up, his right arm looped around the American’s neck. Dober was on his feet for only a split second when Silva cinched up the neck, grabbed control of Dober’s right arm and jumped guard in an attempt to finish with a guillotine choke. As the fighters hit the floor, Dober repositioned himself into half guard on Silva’s left side, instantly relieving pressure on the far-side choke. With his right arm pinned underneath his opponent’s body, Dober put his left hand to work inside, peeling at Silva’s gloves to loosen the grip. Meanwhile, referee Eduardo Herdy kneeled a few feet away, keeping a close eye on the action. Dober appeared calm -- in hindsight, perhaps a little too calm -- as he closed his eyes, took deep breaths and kept working to free himself from what was now just a headlock.
“Excellent escape and counter there from Dober,” UFC color commentator and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Kenny Florian said. “Leandro Silva’s not going to finish that. He’s on the wrong side.”
Roughly 13 seconds after hitting the ground, Dober succeeded in prying Silva’s right wrist out from underneath his chin. Loosed of the headlock, Dober dropped his left hand back to the mat, while Silva finally gave up on the “choke” and slowly began to pull back his right arm. In the same instant, referee Herdy grabbed hold of Dober’s left forearm, apparently believing the Nebraskan had gone unconscious, and waved to signal the end of the fight.
Dober, who could not see the referee’s signal behind his back, looked up in confusion when Herdy tried to separate the fighters. Silva nodded and spoke to the official before raising his arms in triumph. All the while, Dober continued to work from top position, believing the fight would continue. Finally, Herdy succeeded in peeling apart the fighters, and Dober rose to his feet apoplectic as he came to understand what had transpired.
“Oh, my god,” a shocked Florian exclaimed, noting that Herdy never actually lifted Dober’s arm to check for a response. “That’s awful. He’s on the proper side. He never tapped. That referee just messed up this fight.”
As his opponent danced and climbed atop the fence to celebrate, Dober paced the cage in disbelief while his trainer, Leister Bowling, gave Herdy an earful. The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s broadcast commentators were astonished, and even the normally raucous Rio crowd seemed reluctant in cheering their countryman’s bizarre victory. Slow-motion replays offered no clarity as to why Herdy had chosen to stop the fight. It was, simply put, a massive screw-up.
Within minutes, conspiracy theories began sprouting on MMA forums and social media, with fans suggesting the UFC had fixed the fight or that Herdy and Silva were training partners. After all, what other explanation could there be for a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt like Herdy to fail so spectacularly in assessing a basic choke?
“Now there is a guy who should NEVER ref again!!!!” UFC President Dana White wrote on Twitter.
With a stoppage this bad, people wanted answers. None were forthcoming: Media members who hoped to speak with the official, such as MMAFighting.com’s Guilherme Cruz, were informed by the Brazilian MMA Athletic Commission (CABMMA) that Herdy would not be allowed to give interviews.
Of course, the most logical explanation is simple human error, an unavoidable problem which rears its head in MMA more often than anyone would like. The botched stoppage was actually Herdy’s second blunder of the night, and his actions in the Silva-Dober bout begin to make a little more sense when one considers his earlier gaffe. Two fights prior, during a lightweight prelim between Christos Giagos and Jorge Antonio Cezario de Oliveira, Herdy took nearly three seconds to recognize that Oliveira was tapping out to a rear-naked choke. Three seconds may not sound like a long time, but to Oliveira, who was quickly losing consciousness, it must have seemed like an eternity. Could it have been that the ref’s premature stoppage in Silva-Dober was influenced by his delayed reaction in Giagos-Oliveira? Unfortunately, nobody was allowed to ask him.
While not directly responsible for the robbery, Silva was certainly complicit, as well. “Buscape” had clearly given up on the submission attempt by the time Herdy got involved and must have known that Dober did not tap. Yet once the fight was stopped, Silva leaped to his feet and celebrated as though he had just earned a legitimate win. To his credit, Dober handled the “loss” like a professional and remained level-headed in his post-fight interviews.
“It wasn’t choking me,” Dober said. “I was actually in a position where it would be extremely impossible for him to finish, so when the ref jumped in and tried to stop it, I was just extremely confused. I wanted to continue fighting, but it happened the way it happened. He asked if I tapped, and I said ‘no,’ and then he asked my opponent, and my opponent said ‘yes.’”
Dober was paid his win bonus that night, and White told the fighter that the UFC would push for the result to be changed to a no-contest. In the immediate aftermath, however, CABMMA officials told Sherdog.com there was no action for the sanctioning body to take, since the strange finish did not fall within any of its guidelines for overturning a result.
Unlike years past, however, the story of 2015’s biggest MMA officiating bungle comes with a happy ending. Days after its initial statement, the CABMMA reversed course and decided to change the result to a no-contest after all, even calling Dober to apologize for the referee’s error. The commission also added a new provision to its rules allowing CABMMA to overturn a “self-evident error” made by an official.
Herdy, the man who White said “should never ref again,” returned to the Octagon eight months later to officiate a pair of bouts at UFC Fight Night “Belfort vs. Henderson 3” in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In his first assignment, Herdy successfully stopped a fight due to submission and did so without controversy.
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