Marc Goddard on what it is like to be a referee and breaks down Grant vs. Vera

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I’ve tried to give an insight, I’ve tried to give an education, I’ve tried to give an explanation to offer some sort of balance and understanding into our world. I viewed it as some sort of personal fulfillment and responsibility. Giving back to the sport that has given me so much? Who, what, where and why we do what we do sometimes. But I’ve found the effect much like pouring a glass of milk into a swimming pool. A growing cloud with clear visible effect – quickly dissipated, absorbed and lost to the surrounding mass. Totally engulfed and washed away [quickly] without any prior visible trace. Its why I decided a few years ago not to offer public interaction and explanation – instead I concentrated my efforts on those that where willingly attending to listen to the betterment of the sport, it’s officials and the training thereof. It’s an unrealistic notion to expect the fans and spectators of any sport to know an officials role – it’s simply not their job but in offering an insight I could at least rest a little easier knowing that I contributed to at least trying to bridge the gap.

Sometimes we have a clearer path on our evening’s journeys, sometimes we are totally engulfed and immersed start to finish and leave feeling mentally exhausted – it’s a lottery in terms of expectancy, never replicated. On the contrary to others belief when I referee I don’t want to talk, ever. I never want to hear the sound of my own voice. All I want to say is the words “lets do this” and “stop” 3 or 5 times per fight. That is all I ever want. I have reffed so many unbelievable bouts the World over and remained anonymous in doing so time after time and that is a referees utopia – believe me because the reality of our job is – when you do your job, just your job, what you are paid to do then people don’t talk shit about you. And I am totally at peace and acceptance with that. Just for a moment – apply that same thought process to your daily work. Interesting no?

I have had the honour of being the man in the middle for so many fight of the year candidates and winners – Aldo Mendes 2 in Brazil, Condit Hendricks in Canada, Stann v Silva in Japan to name but a few – very few, even die hard fans could tell you that I was the referee for these bouts. Utopia indeed. “The best referees are the ones you don’t see and hear” I couldn’t agree more. But what people fail to realize is that end goal simply does not lie in the hands of the referee entirely. Two fighters enter, fight within the confines of the rules and leave after 15 or 25 minutes I guarantee you that I you will never hear me or any other referee of note and experience exceed the “start/stop” max word count rationale. This I will promise you. But what happens when those said confines are breached? What happens when our personal preference max word count has to be broken? We have to speak, it’s our job and now just like every step movement, position and action – the same close scrutiny can now be placed upon what you say and how you say it.

I had a very interesting and action filled evening when working last night at UFC London – in particular the bout between Marlon Vera and Davey Grant. I start the fight in my normal fashion and true to form with my sole intention on my next word being “stop” exactly 5 minutes later. At a point in that first round you will hear me warn Vera for holding the fence, short concise and in normal fashion. Grant also communicated to me before my first intervention that his glove [fingers inside the cuff] was being held but I can only react to what I see. You will then see me stop the action when Vera was on his back and Grant stood in his guard for the same finger in cuff glove holding Grant was signifying to me earlier. Only this time I did see. I do not stand the fighter [Vera] up as that would be of detriment to the standing fighter who was not committing the foul – instead I issue my warning and allow the fight to continue.

In the second round you will hear me interject again – as the same fingers in cuff process happened once more, this when I decided to stand the fighters at the same point anyway. So now that’s three warning within one and half rounds [on top of my pleading in between rounds]. People remark upon my tone at times – please think of this. It’s a fight, in an arena, with 16,000 people. It’s not a doctors waiting room. When a fighter may not be taking note of your prior warnings your natural instinct may be to escalate your tone – its called authority, I’m a referee – not a mother. I’m there to be listened to and obeyed [only when prompted to speak] and at times my tone and message will be stern. That’s my job. We move to the third round and for the third time in three consecutive rounds the same foul was committed. My verbal call out of the point deduction was again in the same fashion of referees talking during fights – we only want to break the action and alter the potential flow of the fight when absolutely necessary – so when the top fighter is the one being fouled stopping them, standing them up, issuing the warning again and deducting the point is the wrong course of action as any experienced referee would agree.

A couple of points of note – people commentated on me asking for the translator at the end of round two. This was a deliberate act out of consideration for the TV and watching audience as I didn’t want anyone to think that Vera was at a disadvantage from my communications – he wasn’t as he understands, spoke and speaks great English just as we did between each other in the dressing room in my fighter meeting rule debrief before the fights began. It was a consideration call I was making. People also remarked again about my stern tone and my comment of “I’m in charge” again back to the repeated warnings issues, it’s a fight, its loud, and prior warnings are not being adhered to – remember I’m a referee!

People often ask “what is the role of a ref”? and “what do you actually do”? and I tell them – its simple, I travel the world to get shouted at! you may have heard me refer to the fact about referees often being damned if they do, damned if they don’t and in super charged atmospheres like last night with multiple interventions of a referee being called upon it provides a great example, discussion and learning point. What if I had chose to not act upon repeated fouls, what if the same action led to an arm being dragged back in for a fight ending submission, what if the same repeated fouls went unpunished and said fighter had won a super close razor thin decision? What if that had happened? What position/discussions would I find myself in today?

And now the part that no one sees, that no camera picks up. The young man in question Mr Vera approached me after the fight backstage to apologize for his conduct and that I had to act. I tell him that he doesn’t have to – as I certainly don’t need one, I certainly don’t expect one, all I want is this talented young man to think, be more considered in his approach and allow his skills to give him the fairest possible outcome in his fights. He accepts and we shake hands and my heart goes out to him as I recognize so much. The actual acts he was committing can be instinctual form years or training in a Gi – gripping and holding “something” and I recognize this but I am forced to act when a repeated warning [not a single act] are not adhered to. Its not always so clear as signifying the “intent” in “intentional” !

I hope that you found this useful, helpful or insightful in some way. I hope that I can update or offer such insights once more – but I do contribute and write on a regular basis for Fighters Only magazine where such instances are broken down in detail. Remember we are humans, I strive for perfection and aim for it every single time. The need for improvement and review remains constant and believe me there is not a harsher critique in this world of me than myself! Again my apologies for the lengthy content but I hope that you can appreciate, and its not every day!

My closing words are of thanks to both Mr Vera and Mr Grant for a fast paced action packed and exciting fight totally regardless of any interjections that I had to make. That was a super display of modern day mixed martial arts. I look forward to you both excelling in your forthcoming careers.

Many thanks.

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