Longtime referee Mario Yamasaki supports the use of instant replay in MMA. | Photo: Sherdog.com
Mario Yamasaki at UFC 142 on Jan. 14 found himself in an awkward position, a referee at the center of controversy.
Yamasaki disqualified Erick Silva for illegal blows to the back of the head of Carlo Prater in a featured welterweight match at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The highly-touted Brazilian prospect was closing for a finish, but Yamasaki’s decision brought an abrupt and controversial end to his 10-fight unbeaten streak. It remains the subject of heated debate.
“Erick hit a knee and Prater fell back sitting and grabbed Erick’s leg,” Yamasaki told Sherdog.com. “Erick began to strike Prater’s head, and, depending on what angle you see it from, you see the punches in a different way. From where I was at, I saw at least five punches hit the back of the head, and I yelled at Erick two or three times to not hit back of the head and he kept punching. There were about 11 punches there, and I stopped the fight.”
Boos cascaded in from the crowd once the decision was made public. Yamasaki wound up in the critical crosshairs of UFC color commentator Joe Rogan, who utilized instant replay to dissect what happened.
“The mistake there was not his; the mistake was mine,” Yamasaki said. “I stood next to Erick. I should have gotten out of there, and I didn’t. It was my mistake. [Rogan] was doing his job in there. Nobody liked what he did, but we can’t do anything about it now.”
In hopes of avoiding similar issues in the future, Yamasaki has declared his support for the use of instant replay.
“I think it would be a great change because it gives referees the opportunity to go back,” he said. “Making mistakes is human, and there’s nothing wrong with admitting it. There’s no shame in stumbling and going back.”
Yamasaki also wants to create an athletic commission in Brazil and plans to do so with the aid of former UFC fighter and referee Carlos Barreto.
“The UFC needs an athletic commission in Brazil,” he said. “The UFC wants Brazilian people to work at Brazilian events, from the referees and cutmen to the fighters and the Octagon support team. It’s very expensive to bring in all these people from the United States and Europe. Our intention is train all these people.”
In addition, Yamasaki is setting up educational courses for referees in Brazil, which, for him, will help meet another need in his homeland.
“We need more professional refereeing courses,” he said. “Just because a guy is a black belt doesn’t mean he’ll know how to officiate a fight. The important thing is to do it in a school and always hit on the same key, always stay up-to-date. It’s the same as flying an airplane. If you fly a plane today and don’t fly again for six months, your chance for failure is much higher than the pilot who flies every day.
“We have to put referees to work more often and keep talking to them,” Yamasaki added. “After every event, the athletic commission sits down with all the referees and judges to analyze it. Most states in the U.S. do it.”
The Silva-Prater bout was not Yamasaki’s first brush with controversy inside the Octagon. At UFC 52 in April 2005, he officiated the rematch between hall of famer Matt Hughes and Frank Trigg. “I was afraid I’d made a mistake in the fight between Hughes and Trigg,” he said. “Trigg landed a knee to the groin on Hughes, who was walking backwards. I was trying to stop the fight to see what had happened, but Trigg scored a knockdown, and if I’d stopped the fight there, Hughes was going to lose.
“So, I let it happen,” Yamasaki added. “Hughes let Trigg get a choke, and I was praying, ‘For God’s sake, do not tap, do not tap.’ If he tapped, it would have been because of my mistake. He broke out, took Trigg’s back and submitted him.”