Referee Mario Yamasaki gave 27-year-old rising welterweight star Erick Silva his first UFC loss Saturday night in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after ruling his 29-second stoppage of Carlo Prater a disqualification.
Most people, if not all, who were watching the UFC 142 main card bout live likely assumed Yamasaki halted the action to award Silva the TKO victory. However, Yamasaki explained afterward he he had stopped the fight due to alleged illegal blows to the back of the head by Silva, and instead of winning, he had in fact been disqualified.
If Prater had been able to continue, Yamasaki could have just deducted a point from Silva and the fight could have proceeded, but because Prater had been TKO’d, Yamasaki was forced to make a ruling and unfortunately, by most accounts, it was the wrong one.
The most immediate reaction to the call came from UFC color commentator Joe Rogan who traditionally interviews the fighters after each bout. It is rare for Rogan to talk with referees during the Pay-Per-View broadcast after the fight, but as the replay of the final moments of the Silva-Prater fight played on the big screen, Rogan confronted referee Yamasaki about his decision to rule the fight a disqualification for Erick Silva:
Rogan: Mario, what was it about this that made you want to make this a disqualification, it looks fine from here?
Yamasaki: See, I was telling him, ‘Don’t hit the back of the head, don’t hit the back of the head.’
Rogan: But it seems he is hitting the side of the head. That doesn’t look like the back of the head to me man.
Yamasaki: That’s not back of the head?
Rogan: One looked like back of the head. It looks like he’s going way out of his way to try to hit the sides of the head. Is this a judgment call, are you happy with this call? Right now, how are you feeling about this?
Yamasaki: I have to decide right here, right now.
Rogan: I understand, you have to decide in the moment. But right now, how do you feel about it looking at that replay?
Yamasaki: Well, he hit some in the back of the head, and some not in the back of the head, but I have to decide right there and then, there’s nothing I can do.
Rogan: Erick, please come here again. Mario Yamasaki is a great referee. I think he made a mistake here. How do you feel about this?
Erick Silva: I have great respect for the referee. I think that most hit the side of the head. I don’t see any that hit the back of the head.
Rogan: I agree with that. I think you had a spectacular performance. I’m very sorry that this will not go as an official victory. In my mind it’s a victory.
In a thread entitled “I love Mario Yamasaki” started by Rogan at 3:45 a.m. this morning on the UG, he explained his reasons for confronting Yamasaki:
He’s a great guy, and I’m always happy to see him. When I step into the octagon however, I represent the people watching at home that might have obvious questions, and when something is controversial I’m forced to confront it honestly because that’s what I would want to hear from a person in my position if I was a fan watching it at home.
It was obviously a controversial call, and I’m sure some of you agree with it, but I certainly think it’s also possible to argue that it was a bad call. That was my perspective, so I had to express it. I’m not a perfect person, and I [expletive] up all the time. It’s a part of life. …
I think Mario Yamasaki is one of the best in the world at refereeing MMA. No doubt about it. He’s got great insight to the sport, he’s a life long martial artist, and he’s a really smart guy. …
What I was acting from, is that I saw an incredible young talent get denied a KO victory for a questionable call. When I entered into the Octagon and was told of the official ruling that Silva was going to be disqualified for illegal blows to the back of the head everyone that I was around who heard the news opened their mouths in shock. Everyone said, “what?”
The people in the truck couldn’t believe it. I had to read it back to them because I thought it was a mistake, and when I leaned over to explain it to Goldie he couldn’t believe it either. I had to ask Mario about it. I didn’t know how he was going to respond, but I had to ask him.
UFC President Dana White did not agree with Yamasaki’s call either and announced that Erick Silva would be paid his win bonus. He also indicated the incident is just one more example of why instant replay is needed in the sport.
Yamasaki was not the only referee to make a questionable call Saturday night. In the co-main event fight between Vitor Belfort and Anthony Johnson, referee Dan Miragliotta was repeatedly quick to stand the fighters up, giving little time for the fight to play out on the ground.