Many proverbial cogs go into making sure an MMA event goes according to plan. Every one of these individuals that make the well-oiled machine tick is paramount to success. A referee is an extremely important role, making sure fighters are safe and that the bout goes according to plan.
I had the opportunity to talk to one of the UK’s highly respected referees Sam Amidi. To pick his brain on what it’s like to be the 3rd man in the lion’s den of the cage.
I appreciate you taking the time to speak to me today Sam.
“Hey Aaron, thanks for taking the time to interview me. It’s always great seeing platforms like MMA UK continue to gain more coverage.”
Bellator has always ensured the safety of their fighters with some of the best the industry has to offer. How does it feel to have been selected by Scott Coker’s team to make sure things go according to plan behind the scenes at Bellator 275 when he and his fighters returned across the Atlantic?
“It’s great being part of the Bellator Ops team. We’re a tight-knit unit and work hard to ensure that fight week runs as smoothly as possible for the athletes involved. These fighters go through a lot of physical and mental preparation and we work on ensuring they are fully supported and have everything they need to prepare as best as possible. Throughout the week we oversee the fighter’s weight cuts to ensure they drop their weight safely and not leave it trying to cut 20 pounds on the final day. On fight night, I and the team oversee the commissioning and back of house running of the event. It’s been a privilege to be part of the team for the past 4 years. It’s taken me to places like Israel, Russia, France, Italy, Ireland and so on. Although the goal is to be able to referee on the Bellator platform someday. They have a great team of officials that come over from the States and the UK to oversee the European events.”
Being in the capable hands of an official is just as important as the cornermen for any Mixed martial artist. Across your career, you have conducted yourself with the utmost professionalism and have gained the respect of many fighters and promoters alike over your many years of officiating. A fact that you are no doubt proud of?
“It’s important you treat every athlete with the utmost respect. We need to remember the sport is about them and create a safe platform for them to compete in. Being competent and doing the right thing for the sport is important for the growth of the sport. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to things, but you have to question if you’re in the sport for the right reasons if you allow standards to drop. I stick to my morale and standards, as officials it’s important we lead by example and help shows do right by the fighters.”
Every person in the world of MMA, fighters to cornermen to announcers and cameramen have a story to tell about their cog-like inclusion in the well-oiled machine, that is the violent yet exhilarating world of mixed martial arts. Would you care to elaborate to our readers on how you first took your 1st step into the “machinery” so to speak?
“So I, like many others, grew up in an era where the blockbuster movies were Karate kid, Jean Claude Van Dame films etc. The excitement of karate was huge. I started at a young age doing karate, competed a few times and generally enjoyed training at my local club. I did this up until I was around 11. Fast forward 12 years, I was well into my fitness and weight lifting. I was fortunate to know my good friend and colleague Daniel Movahedi which I’m sure you all know and was the person to open the door for me to officiate. He was competing at UCMMA in Troxy. On top of this my wife’s cousins, husband at the time Ahmet (God rest his soul) his brother, ran an MMA club under the name of Bandogs MMA. He was going to the event so I thought why not, a night out to watch my good friend fight. Stepping into the Troxy and watching the fights just reignited my passion for combat sports. The following week I went to my first training session at Bandogs MMA and came out with a black eye. I was absolutely buzzing from it and from there on I just continued training 4-5 times a week. I competed at an amateur level having competed 8 times across MMA, boxing and K1. My final bout was in 2012 for a local amateur title. It was fun and although I came out with the win, I knew I didn’t have the time to train as much as I wanted to progress further, as I had a young family. This is when I began exploring the option of officiating as I loved the sport and wanted to continue being involved in some capacity.”
As previously stated, your career has spread over the years and you have been a part of many great fight cards across the UK. I have seen you officiating at two London events, Fightstar Championship 20 and Contenders 31 first trip to the capital for Contender 31. Have there been any bouts, in particular, that stand out in your mind?
“I’ve been involved in plenty of bouts well over 3000 over my span. I have been in the middle of some amazing fights over the years. I feel blessed to see the talent coming through and seeing the evolution of the sport. You look at the amateur scene today and they’re miles ahead of what it was 10 even 5 years ago. For me I have to say officiating Jay Shepard‘s last fight in Contenders will stand out when he won the title. Both he and his opponent put on a war. It’s hard to accept that he won’t be defending his title due to his passing, but he will always have a place in my memory from that night.”
As well as good times, unfortunately, there has to be some bad. Has there ever been a stage in your career that you have felt threatened while conducting your duties across your officiating duties?
“Never really had any issues with my own safety, It’s not the first thing on my mind as my priority is the safety of the fighters. We’ve seen it kick off in a crowd, or fighters kicking off with each other post-fight, but nothing of major worry. The only particular story that stands out was from an event in Austria where we finished the event and it all went well, but the promoter legged it across the border to his home country. Left me and fellow officials at the event without being paid and soon we realised the venue belonged to Hells Angel lol. So you can imagine it was an awkward situation as we had no form of travel to get us back to the hotel and most of the people left were part of Hell’s Angels. Thankfully the doctor and his ambulance crew saw the situation we were in and took us back to the hotel. I have more stories but that certainly stands out for me.”
What advice would you give to aspiring referees in regards to dealing with the proverbial light and dark side of officiating, before taking their first step towards being the 3rd man in the cage?
“my advice will be don’t run, take steps to learn the sport. One of the first questions I ask any potential officials that reach out is; why do you want to be an official?”
“I want to understand their purpose and if they’re doing it for the right reasons or just to try to earn a bit of cash or give themselves a title in the sport. It’s important to understand this sport will highlight those that aren’t in it for the right reasons. Reach out to top officials and ask for insight. Speak to your local promoters/Interclubs and see if you can shadow, find a mentor to learn the sport and what it takes. You wouldn’t operate on someone without going through full extensive training over years, so what makes you think you can officiate and be responsible for the safety of two fighters without learning the ropes and paying attention to detail. There are plenty of online and face to face courses to help you learn and understand the fundamentals. Marc Goddard has an online programme and does the IMMAF courses in different regions throughout the year, it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled for that if you want to get started.”
“All I say is take your time, ask for help and the likes of myself, Dan Movahedi, Mike Williams among others are always willing to put time into those that are willing to put the time into learning.”
The year has only just begun, and many organisations are arranging fight cards. It is one hell of a time to be an MMA fan in the UK. I’m particularly looking forward to UKFC‘s first card of 2022 UKFC18 in Preston, it has an amazing card this year, definitely not one to be missed.
No doubt many of these cards will have your inclusion on the night. Are there any events upcoming that you are particularly looking forward to being a part of?
“I have a busy diary to start the year off. Already travelled to Budapest for Karate Combat and officiated Victory in Brighton on the weekend. I’m looking forward to Cage Warriors academy this week and Fightstar the week after. The Contenders card in April is also looking very good, so plenty of good events for fans to attend and watch over these next few weeks.”
I wish you all the best in your future endeavours Sam. And again thank you for taking the time to speak with me today, it has been a pleasure.
Last but not least do you have a message for the readers and anybody you’d like to give a shout-out to?
“Thanks for your time. Shout-out to you and the MMAUK team, you guys are doing great things. Shout-out to everyone I work with within the sport, too many to name but you all know who you are. I’m looking forward to seeing the fighters, teams and fans on shows soon. A big shout-out to Mauler MMA for their quality apparel and Vigour8 for keeping my skin clean after events. I also want to say a big thanks to the EMMAA rules and reg board. They’re doing good things this year so watch this space. And last but not least to my family. I wouldn’t be doing what I love without their support.”
“Stay safe everyone and hopefully see most of you soon!”