UFC lightweight Michael Chiesa will have to first hate referee Mario Yamasaki before he can learn to love him. But, rest assured, the time will come.
Yamasaki was the man responsible for Chiesa’s fight with Kevin Lee ending prematurely on Sunday night (June 25) in Oklahoma, but he will also be the man responsible for Chiesa and Lee likely meeting for a second time at some point later this year.
That’s what tends to happen, you see, in a situation such as this. A fight without a satisfactory ending, they will do it again down the line with the sole purpose of finding one. Questions will be answered. Was Chiesa, for example, going to survive or escape Lee’s choke on June 25? Was he then going to be in a position to mount a comeback and win the fight? Or, as is more likely, did Mario Yamasaki’s swift intervention merely speed up the inevitable?
Kevin Lee will tell you he was just seconds away from feeling Chiesa’s hand tap or his body fall limp in his arms. He was that sure of victory. Chiesa, on the other hand, is a fighter and a winner and will therefore always believe he knew of a way out of trouble.
That’s the problem with a premature stoppage. It leaves everything open to interpretation. It sparks debate; one person’s word against another. It’s why we hate them. It’s why fighters hate them. It’s also why they tend to result in a rematch.
So, as an embittered Michael Chiesa licks his wounds and learns to appreciate the role Yamasaki will play in securing him a Kevin Lee return, here is a selection of some famously premature stoppages in mixed martial arts…
6. Kyle Bradley vs. Phillipe Nover
UFC 98, May 2009
An Yves Lavigne special, this one involved Kyle Bradley throwing Phillipe Nover to the floor, landing a hard right hand on his grounded opponent and then adding an even more hurtful right hand – thrown as an uppercut – to Nover’s jaw as he attempted to rise in a scramble. So far, so brutal, right? Well, Nover was certainly hurt. He even sagged as a result of the uppercut. The problem for Lavigne, though, was Nover also showed incredible powers of recovery and, within a split-second of seeming to be hurt, was right back to rolling out of danger and coming back at his opponent.
By this time, of course, Lavigne had said enough was enough and stopped the fight due to Nover’s reaction to the uppercut. “I’m fine, man,” Nover told him, before jogging on the spot, getting loose and showing everyone in the arena he was good to go.
5. Ryan Jensen vs. Steve Steinbeiss
UFC Fight Night 15, September 2009
Steve Steinbess was in trouble, that much was clear. Ryan Jensen’s guillotine choke was tight and he was wriggling and writhing to make it tighter, a movement that not only heightened Steinbeiss’ peril but also inadvertently blocked referee Gary Ritter’s view, which meant he had to shift position for a better look. This led to mild panic on the part of Ritter. Worse, he rashly grabbed the arm of Steinbeiss, felt for a sign of life, and then proceeded to stop the fight.
Seconds later, Steinbeiss rolled out of the choke, having been stopped, with his thumb in the air and an incredulous look on his face. The thumb, he claimed, had been erect when Steinbess was searching for clues. It remained erect for some time after the fight, too, and was used to inform all in the arena that Steve Steinbeiss was A-OK and more than prepared to continue.
4. Renan Barão vs. Urijah Faber II
UFC 169, February 2014
It was hard not to sympathise with Urijah Faber the night he was stopped inside a round by Renan Barão at UFC 169. It wasn’t so much the stoppage, either, which, admittedly was poor. No, what made it worse was Barão’s behaviour leading up to it and then following it.
Not content with buckling Faber’s legs with a wild right hand, which caused Faber to hit the deck flat on his stomach, Barão then whacked away with hammer fists, as Faber pulled himself to his hands and knees, and motioned for the referee, Herb Dean, to stop the fight. That the hammer fists seemed glancing and half-hearted didn’t matter to Barão. Nor did he care that Faber had his left hand cupped by his ear, protecting himself from the blows.
Dean, unfortunately, bought the Brazilian’s concern and stopped the fight, and a delighted, dancing Barão wheeled away like a man on his way to a carnival.
3. Nate Quarry vs. Pete Sell I
UFC Fight Night 1, August 2005
Worse than a referee making a bad call is a referee making a bad call and creating a scene. This is exactly what happened when referee Cecil Peoples watched Nate Quarry drop Pete Sell with a short left hand and dive on top of him to do more damage. Instead of waiting for the damage to unfold, Peoples, perhaps feeling left out, took it upon himself to jump on Quarry from behind, creating a Quarry sandwich, and then hold back the aggressor’s arms, thus saving Sell from further punishment.
What made this scene worse was how Peoples managed to prologue it to the point where it became really, really awkward. More than just halting a fight, he’d somehow wound up group-hugging Quarry and Sell, doing so while all three were horizontal, and then had to suffer the indignity of being shit-talked by Sell, the fighter he had stopped, from the bottom.
Only once a stool entered the cage and Peoples removed himself from the equation did it become clear to everyone, not least of all Sell, what had happened.
2. Matt Wiman vs. Mac Danzig
UFC 115, June 2010
The protagonists’ faces tell the story. Matt Wiman, the victor, removed his gum shield to apologise to Mac Danzig, someone he’d moments earlier been trying to choke unconscious, and offered to keep going; Yves Lavigne had the look of a referee who knew he’d made a pig’s ear of it all; Mac Danzig, meanwhile, the unfortunate lightweight who was caught in a choke but never tapped, could only put his head in his hands and try not to cry on live television.
It was, in the end, a gutter for all involved. Wiman didn’t want to win this way and Danzig certainly didn’t want to lose this way. Even Lavigne, in the cold light of day – meaning, a minute after it happened – presumably regretted acting with such haste when he felt for Danzig’s arm and believed it had gone limp. It hadn’t, of course. Danzig knew this. Wiman, the man doing the choking, also knew this.
1. Marcus Silveira vs. Kazushi Sakuraba
UFC 15.5, December 1999
This stoppage was so bad they eschewed the customary scheduling of a rematch and instead decided to do the rematch that very same night. Sakuraba and Silveira both agreed to it and the referee, John McCarthy, understood the reasons for it and would also officiate it. That’s how mistimed and unfortunate the stoppage was first time around.
In retrospect, it was a simple case of misunderstanding. Sakuraba copped a couple of uppercuts from Silveira while up against the fence and then, in what would otherwise be considered a wise move, decided to drop to the floor and go in search of a single-leg takedown. Regrettably, however, McCarthy saw Sakuraba’s drop to the floor not as strategy but as a sign he was hurt and unable to control his legs. This prompted ‘Big’ John to swoop in, call the fight off and save Sakuraba from further punishment. It was the wrong move, though. It left Sakuraba and his corner team bewildered, McCarthy with egg on his face, and even Silveira reluctant to accept the victory.
Later that evening, with their first fight declared a no-contest following a review, Sakuraba emphatically put the record straight when he submitted ‘Conan’ via arm-bar. Injustice and redemption all in one night.