Of all the great storylines and fights that took place at UFC 178 this past weekend, one fight stood out as the lone black mark. That was in the main card fight middleweight fight between Tim Kennedy and Yoel Romero, when the Cuban wrestler Romero took an extended period of time between rounds to recover after nearly getting knocked out.
The incident happened between the second and third rounds, right after Romero was rocked with a series of uppercuts and other shots. The round ended just in time to save him from being finished. That’s when confusion started. Despite being prompted by official John McCarthy and Nevada Athletic Commission officials, Romero’s corner stalled on the stool and extra 28 seconds before returning to action. Those 28 seconds ended up being precious ones, as Romero proceeded to TKO Kennedy just 38 seconds into the third round.
A pensive, dejected Tim Kennedy appeared on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour to talk about the controversial sequence of events as they took place.
"I thought the fight was over twice," he told Ariel Helwani. "If anybody’s to blame, it’s totally me for the outcome. And I think somebody has to step up and be a bigger guy in all this. Dana [White] knows he cheated, the Nevada Athletic Commission knows that he cheated, his corner knew that he cheated. You know, they were bragging about it, smiling about it. [Ricardo] Liborio’s coming up and apologizing…
"They all know what happened, it’s the oldest trick in the book. It’s no secret. If this is any other sport, if this is NFL or the NBA, it’d be like, oh man, the end of the fourth quarter, we’re going to go an extra 28 seconds. It doesn’t happen. It’s beyond unprofessional, it’s truly tragic."
Kennedy said that he actually thought the fight was over even before Romero refused to budge from his stool after the allotted 60-break between rounds. He thought that when McCarthy came over to call him off it was due to the onslaught, not because the round had ended.
So his confusion began there and it only got worse a minute later.
"I thought the fight was actually ended," he said. "I thought when [McCarthy] came in actually that that was the end of the fight. I thought [at the end of the second round] he’s stopping me from hitting him because he’s out…so I got back to my corner and I’m like, yeah, cool, and then they bring the stool in and I’m like, this sucks.
"And then [my coach] Greg [Jackson]’s was like, get ready for him to swing for the fences, he’s going to be dangerous. I’m like, what are you talking about? Is that not the end of the fight? Because I can see [Romero]. He’s like, ‘no mas, no mas, no mas’ to his corner.
"I’m like, what’s going on? I’m pointing at Dana, I’m pointing at the crowd, I’m pointing at the athletic commission, I’m pointing at the judges. I walked over there, and dude, it’s an eternity when you’re in the cage. If you get the 28 seconds to recover, imagine if I had the extra 28 seconds in the second round. The guy wouldn’t be walking for a month."
By the time McCarthy got Romero up and the stool out of the cage, Kennedy said he felt as if the rug had been pulled out from under him -- that he’d mentally checked out.
"I was gone. I just wasn’t even mentally there anymore, which was a big huge mistake on my part," he said. "I thought the fight was over, and I’d won it twice, then I rushed in and made a huge mistake.
"I was gone. I was thinking it was the end of the fight. I wasn’t even thinking about fighting. I was reeling."
Romero punished Kennedy’s aggression as the fight resumed in the third. As Kennedy landed a spinning backfist, Romero came to life. He blasted Kennedy with a lunging left-right combo, then pursued him to the fence where he finished the fight.
The reason for the delay in Romero getting up was in part because that the UFC’s own cutman applied too much Vaseline on Romero. Dana White himself put part of the blame for the incident on the UFC in the post-fight press conference.
But even with that, Kennedy said the stool was part of the whole orchestration to cheat.
Though Kennedy said he hasn’t watched the fight yet, he’s still fuming over what he considered a blatant ruse that Romero and his corner got by with. He said that he thought the American Top Team cornermen pulled a fast one on one of the most-revered referees in the game, McCarthy, who has since received his share of heat in the media as well.
"Everything [Romero’s corner] did was calculated, from the extra Vaseline, to throwing in the towels, to dumping bottles of water on the floor, to leaving the stool in there…that’s how pathetic this is. And the fact that they’re smug about it was even more tragic. It’s just that much more unprofessional."
As for McCarthy himself, who was making his return to referee a Nevada fight in the UFC for the first time in years, Kennedy said it’s simple: He screwed up.
"I think John is the best ref in the promotion," Kennedy said. "He and Herb Dean, truly, I have respect for. He f---ed up majorly in my fight. He got owned. He got owned that night by a bunch of guys doing sh---y things. He got played by all three of them, and he just let it happen.
"And before the fight, I told John, I said listen, if I hurt him, he’s going to start playing cheap. I promise. His corner’s going to do it, and he’s going to do it."
Kennedy said he had a talk with McCarthy before the fight, saying to watch out for intentional fouls if he gets Romero in trouble. He cited Romero’s fight with Derek Brunson, when Romero landed a shot to the groin after getting hurt.
"[It wasn’t] even close," he said. "He aimed and hit him in the [groin]. And he did it with Ronny Markes. It’s not a question, when he gets hurt, he fouls intentionally. I should have been more ready for it, but I was having John be ready for it, and obviously he wasn’t. He got owned."
McCarthy, when contacted by MMA Fighting, declined to comment.
When Helwani read to him NAC commission head Bob Bennett’s response to the fight being overturned to a "no contest" – that, "they are very seldom overruled, the likelihood of an appeal being overturned is very slim. I’m not going to say it’s not going to happen, but like I initially said, it would be deferred to our legal department" -- Kennedy said that he was perplexed.
"That truly baffled me," he said. "They are acknowledging that they are in violations of the rules, but they’re not going to do anything about it. There are replays. We’re the only sport that allows this kind of unprofessionalism…and then acknowledge that it actually happened?
"First, we allowed it to happen. That’s John McCarthy. And then the athletic commission is acknowledging their violations of their rules, and they’re ignoring it. How arbitrary is that? I don’t even understand how we get can consider ourselves truly a sport…we’re going to be on FOX, right? We’re supposed to be this big, huge professional sport, but then let this stuff happen?"
Kennedy said his coaches were more upset about the turn of events than he was, but that he was going to go hunting for the next month and allow himself some distance to figure things out. As far as a rematch, or if he’d even want to fight Romero again, a deflated Kennedy wasn’t sure.
"I don’t know…if he can fight fair. Can he?" Kennedy said. "I can’t answer that.
"Right now I’m mad, he cheated. He cheated in our fight. He got knocked out and then took advantage of me reeling. That’s horsesh--."