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Matt Mitrione: It was the referee's job to 'save me from myself' after eye pokes against Travis Browne

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MMA Fighting

In retrospect, Matt Mitrione would have liked for his UFC Fight Night 81 battle with Travis Browne to have been stopped after the initial eye poke. Only, he doesn’t think the responsibility should have fell to him to make that decision. Especially in the heat of the moment, while his livelihood was in play.

The heavyweight believes that the referee that night, Gary Forman, should intervened upon understanding that the first poke — and definitely the second poke — were effecting his vision.

On Tuesday, Mitrione, who ended up succumbing to punches (TKO) late in the third round on the canvas, appeared on The MMA Hour. He talked about the situation that unfolded out in Boston from retrospect, like a man who was trying to resolve why the commission stood by and did nothing.

"I feel that I’m a competitor," Mitrione told Ariel Helwani. "I’m a life-long competitor. And I know that I’m losing the potential of getting the other half of my paycheck if I say I can’t go anymore. So, I’m going to do anything I possibly can to continue fighting, even if it’s not in my best option, because I need just one chance to get him.

"In the middle of that fight, after the first eye poke, I was fighting with one eye closed just so I could see one Travis. That’s not a safe way to fight at the highest level in the world against people that are [skilled in] takedowns, kicks, punches, everything in the world. So I feel like, once that was seen and I had my eye closed for however long it was closed, like a minute or something like that…that should have been a sign to the doctors and for the referee to be like, ‘hold on, dude’s closing his eye because he can’t focus, we need to call this a no contest. We need to save him from himself, and step in and do something about this.’ Because I’m not going to do that, because I’m too grindy and gritty and I want my paycheck. But it’s not a safe way for the sport to evolve.

"I’m not going to blow the whistle on myself, and removed that chance of getting the other half of my money."

Mitrione, who had his eye lanced on Tuesday to relieve swelling, suffered a broken orbital bone, as well as a separated shoulder, all after the initial eye poke, which occurred in the first round. Browne was not warned after the first poke nor docked a point after the second. Instead, the doctors looked at Mitrione and, from what he said, urged his decision as to whether he thought he could continue or not.

Mitrione was able to open his eye by Tuesday afternoon and has his vision back, but could be facing surgery down the road.

And just two days removed from losing his second consecutive fight in the heavyweight division — with the stakes being bigger than ever as a pending free agent going in  — he was thinking of some of the things that are wrong with the fight game. He said he’d be in favor of instituting instant replay, at the exact moment when a potential foul has injured somebody.

"For example, I finally got the straight left I was waiting on for Travis, I finally got it and it was time for me to go for the kill," he said. "I start going in for the kill, I throw my long hook followed by a straight, and that’s when I get poked in the eye. And then I kind of fell back and covered my eye up, and the referee lets it continue and lets Travis kind of jump into it, and I’ve got to kind of start swinging to protect myself."

Mitrione said at the moment he wheeled backwards favoring his eye the referee should have intervened to see what happened, and to give him the appropriate time to recover if it was deemed a foul.

"In that situation, they should have let me speak to my corner, not strategically, but to say, hey, coach I can’t see shit. I’m seeing double and it’s eight inches apart. And Henry’s going to be like, look dude, you do not need to finish this fight, because he’s going to step in for me and protect me. Whereas me, they’re putting pressure on me saying hey can you go, and I’m telling them, look dude, just give me five minutes so I can pull my eyes back together. That’s how far my double-vision was."

Mitrione was quick to point out that he was not trying to make excuses or come off as whiny in the aftermath of the ordeal, and he was definitive that he didn’t think Browne poked him in the eye on purpose.

As for his contract being up, and whether or not that played a factor in his decision to continue fighting, Mitrione said there might have been some abstract feelings that way.

"The thought of losing my other paycheck was on my mind," he said. "I’ll go blind for more money, but I’m not going to go blind for the company. So like, I feel that, no I didn’t think of that, but I guess indirectly I did because I’m thinking about winning. Even though in the moment I knew it wasn’t the safest decision for me to go ahead — like, how can I fight the number whatever guy in the world, with one eye closed?"

In hindsight, the 37-year old Mitrione was asked if he would have said he couldn’t continue after the first eye poke, so that he could save the potential loss being on his record in an altered situation.

"That’s the thing man, it shouldn’t be up to me, the guy who lives his life to compete to make a decision," he said. "It should be up to the commission, the doctors and the referee to realize the dude is fighting with one eye closed, and he’s complaining about seeing double.

"In that situation, you have to protect me from myself. You have to. That’s your job. That’s what the commission and the doctors are there for, and the referee. That’s what he’s there for. Otherwise it’s a fair fight and they don’t need anybody else. But when something comes into the mix, that is a curve ball, a variable that wasn’t expected, and there’s an injury to a fighter…well of course, dude, that’s my money. Of course I’m going to go out and do everything I can to get my money."