Josh Burkman knew Jon Fitch was out.
He’d choked him unconscious with a guillotine, but referee Steve Mazzagatti hadn’t realized it yet. It was up to Burkman to let go and that’s what he did, releasing the choke and raising his hand in victory Saturday in the World Series of Fighting 3 main event.
“Right when I went on my back, I pretty much knew that I had the choke, especially being able to get around that angle and trap his leg,” Burkman told the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show. “Then I felt him fight it and then I felt him go limp, and when he went limp, I just wanted to make sure that he was out. When I really tightened it, he didn’t move and he just fell into it. I knew he was done. Like I said, I have a lot of respect for Jon Fitch. I have a lot of respect for this sport, and so I released the choke.”
The finish came 41 seconds into the first round. Burkman had staggered Fitch with a right hand before grabbing the standing guillotine.
“I got my hands in the right position and still then I hadn’t thought about going to my back,” Burkman said. “You can see me backing up, trying to pull him up but also trying to tighten that choke a little. When he grabbed my leg, I knew that his hands weren’t in the right place to fight the choke and I knew I could sink it in by falling to the angle. I was in the moment and it just felt right.”
Burkman also knew Fitch wouldn’t tap. He was conscious of the fact that his opponent was willing to go unconscious, and he didn’t want to make the situation any worse than it had to be.
“I even joked around with Jon Fitch because we had to do some interviews together before [the event],” Burkman said. “I was like, ‘I wish I wouldn’t have watched your countdown video because I like you more now.’ Seeing him with his wife and his kid, there’s a person outside of this sport and people who love them and care about them. I would hate for my wife or my kids to ever have to see me in a bad position and [an opponent] make it worse. That was a big reason for letting go.”
Mazzagatti has received plenty of criticism for not stopping the fight, and Burkman doesn’t disagree with it. In his view, the referee was out of position, but Burkman also said the finish happened quickly and the criticism of Mazzagatti has been harsh.
“This is a sport,” Burkman said. “Referees are going to make mistakes. Fighters are going to make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect, and to try to judge people on perfection in a combat sport that is very aggressive is our mistake because nobody is going to be perfect or do everything right.”
Listen to the full interview (beginning at 1:02:02).