Keith Kizer defends referee Steve Mazzagatti on Fitch vs. Burkman: 'This isn't about the ref'

Ethan Miller

Dana White went after one of his major targets, referee Steve Mazzagatti, for his work in the finish of the Jon Fitch vs. Josh Burkman World Series of Fighting main event on Friday night,and questioned why Mazzagatti is still officiating. Keith Kizer of the commission responded, saying everyone at ringside was shocked when Fitch was out, and it wasn't a ref judgment call, comparing it to a one-punch knockout.

Dana White on Saturday night after UFC 161 went off on one of his usual major targets, Nevada State Athletic Commission referee Steve Mazzagatti, and the commission itself. But this time, it wasn't after a UFC show in the state, nor from something that happened on one of White's cards.

Instead, it was the brief World Series of Fighting main event where former UFC competitors Jon Fitch and Josh Burkman headlined. In one of the biggest upsets in recent memory, Burkman used a guillotine choke to finish a guy who is known for having some of the best submission defense in the sport. White, in Winnipeg, said he was watching the fight, turning it on his computer just as the main event was about to start.

Burkman choked Fitch out, turned him, and stood up, with the crowd at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino arena in Las Vegas and a national TV audience in shock. Mazzagatti was the referee in question. The controversy was where Mazzagatti was in position, sensed the seriousness of the situation, and should have stepped in, rather than Burkman letting go on his own volition with Fitch already out.

"Does anyone disagree with me that Mazzagatti's a f***ing toolbox?," asked White at a media scrum after the press conference in Winnipeg. "I mean, he literally did nothing. Fitch is out cold. And I saw some people talking s*** on the Internet today, like, well B.J. Penn held the choke for five more seconds (against Jens Pulver) and somebody else, I can't remember who it was. Those were rear naked chokes.

"Anyone who has ever done Jiu Jitsu, that thing (the guillotine) does f***ing damage," said White. "It hurts, and a guy is unconscious. You're squeezing his neck as hard as you can. You're a f***ing idiot that a rear naked choke is the same as that front choke. When he (Fitch) goes out, then he (Burkman) rolls him f***ing over, let's his head flop to the thing. He's standing over him before Mazzagatti gets in there.

"The Nevada State Athletic Commission will keep this guy around until he seriously hurts somebody," said White. "That guy is dangerous."

Keith Kizer, the Executive Director of the commission said that he's surprised this was a story, saying in this instance, he didn't even see it as a referee judgment call, good or bad.

Kizer compared the sudden choke out to a one punch knockout in boxing where the fighter lands the punch, knocks the guy out, the opponent stops on his own volition, and the ref sees the damage and waves it off.

Kizer said that he, other members of the commission, as well as World Series of Fighting officials, other fighters and television announcer Bas Rutten all thought when Burkman turned Fitch over, he was trying to switch to a new move. They were shocked to see that Fitch was unconscious on the ground.

"It as neither a positive or a negative on the referee," said Kizer. "All of us in the arena, and the commentators who know their stuff, were really shocked Jon was out. Steve was right there. He had to walk two steps. He walked two steps and waved off the fight. It was very easy for him, and every easy for Josh as well. It was a weird ending to the fight, but good for Josh."

"They'll make him referee the main event now," said White, talking about UFC's next show in Las Vegas, UFC 162, on July 6, headlined by Anderson Silva's title defense against Chris Weidman. "Now, because I said this, the Nevada State Athletic Commission will have him do the Silva fight."

Kizer said that when Dana White posted his views a web site forum, most people were disagreeing with White, and arguing the point.

"Bas Rutten, who was doing the live commentary at the moment Josh got the move, he said how Josh didn't have full guard. He gave the impression it (the guillotine) wasn't going to work. He then stood up, and there was awkward silence from Bas. He was shocked. Other fighters in the front row were shocked. When Josh started to stand up, he (Rutten) thought that he's not going to get him so he's going to transition to another move. Then he saw it and said,`Wow, Jon Fitch is out.'"

"The guy went out and Josh immediately released the hold," said Kizer. "What's weird is he flipped Fitch over, away from the ref. When Josh had the hold, he (Mazzagatti) was one step away. He had a perfect view. Josh flipped him away from the ref, then stood up. I would praise the referee if he did a good job. But here, there's nothing to talk about the ref. It wasn't a good job or a bad job. He had no job. I think most people thought Jon was going to get out. Bas and I both thought he was letting go of the hold and transitioning to another hold."

Kizer noted Fitch was fine after the fight, and considered this a weird one to criticize.

"The story should be about Josh getting an amazing win, doing the right thing, and releasing the hold," said Kizer. "This isn't about the ref."

White did not mention Kizer by name, and when Kizer's name was brought up, he would not comment on it, but did make reference to the ego of the commission in his complaint.

"It's not corrupt when you talk about the Nevada State Athletic Commission," White said. "It's complete and total ego. Because I keep complaining, they'll keep putting him (Mazzagatti) front and center. It's disgusting. At what point do you realize this guy an incompetent fool. I wonder what's going to happen if somebody gets seriously hurt in a Mazzagatti fight. They'll say, `Anything can happen, it's a combat sport.' This guy is dangerous."

Kizer said he believed White's issues stemmed with Mazzagatti dated back more than five years, when Mazzagatti ordered a stand-up in the first Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir fight when Lesnar was trying to finish Mir with punches, and a few hit Mir in the back of the head. Seconds later, after the restart, Mir submitted Lesnar.

"Brock meant a lot of money to them when he lost that fight from being stood up," Kizer said. "But there was definitely a foul, whether accidental or intentional, and then Brock got caught."

White said that UFC has sent the commission DVDs of Mazzagatti's work that they are complaining about.

"We continuously complain about this guy," he said. "If the Nevada State Athletic Commission wants to keep him as a ref, put him in the minor leagues and give him some more work and gets some more experience. He doesn't belong in the pros.

"All I can do now is talk," said White. "I don't know how many more times I can say it. I don't know how many more times he can look bad. It's f***ing crazy. You'll hear people say the Nevada State Athletic Commission is in Zuffa's pocket. Yeah, okay, if the Nevada State Athletic Commission gave a s*** about what we thought, Mazzagatti would have been gone a long time ago. The Nevada State Athletic Commission used to be the best in the country. It's not anymore."
Kizer said he's only talked to White a few times about Mazzagatti.

"He's usually praising him, including on season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter, he said to me that Steve's doing a great job and I told him I'll let Steve know," said Kizer. "That was the last time I talked to Dana about Steve."

"Dana's a good guy," said Kizer. "Very few people care about other people as much as Dana. But you've heard what he's said about former fighters, former employees, even fighters in his organization. Even Jon Jones. He likes to put people down, whether rightly or wrongly. It's an ego thing. We all have egos. I think it's wrong when people lie and you can make your own conclusions on Dana."

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