Verbal submissions: A closer look at the Danny Roberts stoppage controversy

Verbal submissions: A closer look at the Danny Roberts stoppage controversy

At UFC London, there were numerous performances inside the Octagon that had people talking in the aftermath. Unfortunately, however, one of the biggest talking points from the event was a controversial stoppage in the bout between England’s Danny “Hot Chocolate” Roberts and Brazil’s Claudio Silva. With the controversy coming from the decision of referee Kevin Sataki, I spoke to one of the top officials in MMA in Leon Roberts to get his say on the call.


The fight was highly anticipated by fans, with Claudio Silva having an impressive resume in the UFC and Danny Roberts always delivering a great fight to the fans. The fight played out as many imagined for the most part, with Roberts catching Silva on the feet but Silva threatening with submissions on the ground. As the fight entered the third round, Silva was likely 2 rounds up after throwing every submission in the book at Roberts who defended very carefully and smartly. The round began and the fight’s momentum was changing, Roberts began landing more and hurting “Hannibal” Silva. Claudio grabbed onto the arm of Roberts looking for an armbar before he was picked up and slammed to the mat. Roberts was able to mostly roll out of the armbar but when he did relieve some of the pressure the fight was stopped much to the confusion of the fans inside the O2 Arena.

Referee Kevin Sataki said he heard a verbal tap from Roberts who shouted out in pain twice. Roberts was immediately devastated and in his post-fight interview inside the octagon, was visibly disappointed that the fight had been stopped so prematurely especially after his hard work to stay in the fight. Leon Roberts helped clarify to me what he believes a verbal tap actually means.

“A verbal submission is an audible sound that a ref interprets as pain, it does not have to be the words “tap” or “stop”. I do not discuss this in my rules meeting but I know that Kevin does and he states what he interprets as a verbal submission.”

This was the biggest area of debate with many asking what constitutes as a verbal submission. If you’re in a painful position, a fighter may make noise where the pressure is being put on them but does that justify a tap out. The likes of Dan Hardy and John Kavanagh have come out and said that surely a verbal tap should only be something as simple as stop or help. Leon Roberts believes that the referee in question was only trying to act to protect the fighter and therefore was in the right.

“It does not have to be the words “tap” or “stop” “

“The ref and the fighter would probably be the only ones who would hear this as a ref’s mic will not pick everything up. People can dispute and argue this, but Kevin was right there and if he heard a scream or shout that in his mind was a fighter in pain then he has a duty of care to ensure the safety of that fighter.”

This has now become part of a bigger conversation regarding referees receiving more criticism for their actions with UFC President Dana White slating Kevin Sataki on his own social media. This is due to the enhanced exposure the UFC is now getting with Referee Marc Goddard being very much at the centre of this since the release of his new podcast with Dan Hardy. Though Roberts appreciates that with more eyes to the sport comes more criticism, he believes referees need to have a voice and that they receive far too much personal criticism for doing their job.

“Kevin has taken a lot of flack over his decision and it really saddens me when so-called fans of the sport will use social media to curse and threaten a ref and even his family because of a decision he made. These ignorant and arrogant people have no place in our sport and are the one really negative thing about a sport that I love.”

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