Johannesburg (South Africa) – At EFC AFRICA 19 the first main card bout of the evening saw Dino Bagattin face off against Tyron Rightford in a match that for many was the main event of the evening. It was a bout that ended in an official call that has become controversial. A call that was either a fair reflection of what happened or one that robbed both fighters of a conclusive outcome, and potentially one that put a stop to what could have been a legendary fight. In this exclusive interview EFC AFRICA asked for input from all the major role players in an attempt to discover the truth of situations like these, if there is one. The following answers are uncut.
WHAT’S YOUR VERSION OF HOW THE FIGHT WAS GOING UNTIL THE STOPPAGE?
Tyron Rightford: It was a good stand up war. I believe I was ahead on points in the fight even after the bad cut above my eye. I was landing more of the cleaner and harder punches and had rocked Dino twice or three times to his once.
Cairo Howarth: It was arguably the most exciting fight in EFC AFRICA history, on par with Mynhardt vs. Madge at EFC AFRICA 13, and was showing no signs of slowing down. Very evenly matched up until Dino floored Tyron.
Marius Lotter (President of PROMMA): This is unofficial as I was not the judge on the night. On my scorecard Tyron was slightly ahead after the first round. Round two, until the TKO, was won by Dino. So I had it at one round each.
Dino Bagattin: I think the fight was fairly even till the knock down. Tyron had landed me with some clean punches but I shook them off quite easily and came back strong to finish the round. After the cut early in the second he realized he was running out of time and that swung the fight in my favour immediately. After further exchanges it was only a matter of time before our game plan set in.
Graeme Cartmell: I feel it was an even first round, Tyron analysing every strike and Dino controlling the center with angles, Tyron possibly winning the round because he managed to rock Dino. The second round started the same but after a quick trade by both Tyron was left with a bone-deep cut above his eyebrow. I don’t know why the referee paused the action at the sight of blood, calling time for the doc to have a look… an initial error? The fight continued and Tyron turned up the heat. He began to aggressively engage, finding his rhythm with some great counters, wiping his eye periodically as it was pouring down his face and starting to obscure his sight in that eye. Dino was patient and it paid off as he landed a clean short right to the jaw as Tyron opened up to throw a right of his own. Tyron’s legs buckled and he lost his footing, recovering momentarily as Dino threw another hook and connected with his forearm. Tyron motored backwards and landed in a turtle position on his back, Dino threw a downward right cross landing on Tyron’s jaw. The ref was ready to pounce, Tyron’s arms where out defensively but Dino landed another punch to the jaw through Tyron’s guard as he began up-kicking towards Dino’s legs. Then the ref was in-between them stopping the action.
WAS IT AN EARLY STOPPAGE?
Tyron Rightford: Yes it was an early stoppage. Yes I was rocked by his right hand but recovered within two seconds. I slipped as I was trying to get away, I hit the ground and another punch hit me. It did no damage and I slipped a second punch, then the ref jumped in stopping the fight. I asked him wtf he was doing, I’m 100% fine. He had no response to that. I think he panicked as it was his first time in an EFC event as a ref, which I also think was a problem. He should not have been allowed to ref in a main card bout due to lack of experience.
Cairo Howarth: I feel it was a little early and would have liked to see it go on longer. Not saying that it would have changed the outcome, the win may well have been Dino’s, but I would agree that a few extra shots were needed to seal the victory. Now it is a questionable stoppage, hence this interview.
Marius Lotter: As the regulator for MMA safety and fairness to both fighters is the very first thing we look at. I do not believe it was stopped early. If you look at the replay it is clear that Tyron was knocked very hard and that he did not “defend himself intelligently”. I have also discussed it with the referee and he told me that Tyron’s eyes rolled backwards, a clear indication to stop the fight. Tyron tried to look as if he was defending himself but his arms were not under his control. Remember that Tyron is an experienced fighter with great defense and offence techniques. My opinion is that more shots would’ve been unnecessary. If the spectators wanted more shots one could argue that one or two shots would’ve given the same result but maybe more damage to Tyron’s cut on his already very deeply cut eyebrow. The referee had Tyron’s safety in mind at all times.
Dino Bagattin: Look, if the ref had allowed the fight to continue I was dominant and would have pounded him further. I dropped him standing and then followed up with two pin ground and pound right hands which left him defenseless and vulnerable.
Graeme Cartmell: Yes. It’s not conclusive enough for such an evenly matched fight to end it by being TKO’d defending off your back.
WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE?
Tyron Rightford: The fight should have gone on and he should have let the round finish as there were only twenty seconds left. A ref should know how much punishment a fighter is able to take beforehand. If he had watched any of my previous fights he would have known that I can take a lot of punishment without giving up or panicking, and while I was on the ground I was still defending myself by kicking and slipping punches. After the fight I asked the ref why he stopped the fight and he said my eyes were not there. How could I be defending myself if that was the case was my question back to him. He had no response to that. I rest my case.
Cairo Howarth: Only a few more seconds were needed to give two possible outcomes: Tyron would have recovered or Dino would have unquestionably claimed the victory.
Marius Lotter: I think that what we do with referees before and during events issufficient, but would recommend that we get more people going on officials courses. This would give everyone the understanding of what we do and how difficult it is to be a referee. Remember that the EFC referees get training only during events and that is only every second month. PROMMA will schedule more practical training courses to “fine tune” all officials (not only referees) in the near future. PROMMA choose referees carefully and we put them through strict training before they work at EFC events.
Graeme Cartmell: We need to ensure that safety is number one but the fight should have been allowed a further 10 seconds or a conclusive stoppage. It seemed the ref was rattled by Tyron’s wound. He called time due to blood and that could have shifted his thinking to being more anxious. In watching the fight again, I feel the ref was eager to stop the fight as soon as Tyrone went to the ground.
HOW CAN WE LEARN FROM IT?
Tyron Rightford: What is there to learn from losing a fight where the ref made a bad call? I’ve lost more than just the fight because of it and that’s not on. I don’t mind losing and I’m not a sore loser but when a fight gets stopped because a ref didn’t do his job correctly then it’s different. As for PROMMA I think they should send their refs overseas to the UFC and get trained where their refs go for proper international training. You don’t see fights like mine and Dino’s getting stopped prematurely there. At the end of the day EFC are a huge organization and the best event in SA and better than 90% of other organizations around the world, the only thing lacking is the consistency of refs and judges in SA. As fighters and fans we deserve the right results all the time. The time for learning has come to an end. EFC are 20 shows in now and it’s not acceptable that refs and judges still get decisions wrong at every single show. They are losing fans and the fighters are getting pissed off about the losses that are incorrect. Fighters put in a lot of effort training and time away from their families (wives and kids), and without the fans or fighters there would be no MMA in South Africa … Something needs to be done ASAP!
Cairo Howarth: Split-second decisions by officials, good and bad, are made in all sports, not just in MMA. There is room for improvement in every aspect of the sport, including the refereeing. As always EFC AFRICA will work with the sanctioning body, PROMMA, to continue to improve with every event.
Marius Lotter: I think that we could learn from this that if one wants to score a fight one should look at what happens and not what you want to see to happen. In this case Tyron’s fans and corner wanted him to have a comeback, not even seeing that he was already potentially concussed. MMA fights are reality based and spectators are usually planning their win beforehand (depending on which side they are on). We should educate spectators that safety comes first – as we should’ve learned through Ozzie’s case many months ago. MMA is a sport and not Gladiators who fight to the death.
Dino Bagattin: The ref makes the final call.
ANY OTHER COMMENTS?
Tyron Rightford: Dino and myself put up a great show and it’s not his fault the ref stopped the fight. He did what he had to until the call was made. I want a rematch, it’s that simple! And all the fans want that too because we are the best stand up fighters in EFC AFRICA and put it all on the line for them to say they spent their money well and will come back and watch the next event!
Cairo Howarth: Refereeing and judging is a thankless job but is an integral part of the sport. Instead of fans bashing the officials, rather spend that energy constructively building and growing the sport.
Marius Lotter: Please do not ask for any comments from other PROMMA officials as I am responsible for this particular EFC 19 event. We should protect referees to assist them to be even more confident while in the cage. They should be given the full control of the cage and keep them out of the media as well as public media places so they can do this very important job as best their ability allows them and not what the spectators want them to do. Remember there will always be a loser and therefore an unhappy corner, spectator or fan. PROMMA will use this fight in our future training courses with the aim to prolong MMA fights without putting these excellent athletes safety at risk.
Dino Bagattin: Tyron was in for a brutal beating and the ref should be commended for his decision in the heat of the moment. I know I beat him and the ref made the right call. When my corner approached Tyron he was still shook up on the ground and by the time I got there I greeted a humbled and beaten man.
Graeme Cartmell: MMA fighters are not you and I, they don’t operate within the same realm of pain and fear as us. Being brutalized in a gym for 3 months for anywhere between 7 seconds and 15 minutes of glory time is a bizarre concept and that’s why they fight and we spectate. The reason referees mediate and don’t strap on gloves is different. As most of them come from a fighting background and take years of experience in the Hexagon with them, they also unfortunately drag with them, on occasion, the baggage of a badly refereed bout of their own, a mismatch or a host of challenging career situations. This is why they have a notable anxiety to prevent the same thing from happening to the fight they are overseeing. It can often hang over their heads and I’m sure they are standing there in the hexagon thinking “not on my watch!” But therein lies a problem, that anxiety to stop a fight on the grounds of possibly seeing the fighters eyes rolling or a misjudged tap when he might have been moving for position isn’t good enough, not in a sport that requires such a high level of dedication, a sport that requires an opportunity to say, “I lost” or “I won”, not, “why did you stop it!” Yes, it’s difficult. Determining the point when enough is enough. I just do feel that taking into account Tyron’s previous bouts and the hype for this fight that technically defending shouldn’t yield a technical KO.
EFC AFRICA would like to thank all involved in this interview and in the fight itself, particularly the judges and referees who took on and take on the responsibility of overseeing such huge occasions unflinchingly. Sport is a human endeavor filled with emotion, the very reason we all love it so much. What are your thoughts on these questions and this situation? Post them below.
EFC AFRICA 20, presented by MusclePharm, takes place at the Carnival City Big Top Arena on 27 June 2013. Tickets on sale now at www.computicket.com. Tickets for the live broadcast to Nu Metro Cinemas available soon at www.numetro.com. Broadcast information and full fight card available at efcafrica.com