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Celine Haga loses fight result appeal with Missouri commission, considers pursuing case in court

Celine Haga believes she should have won by submission against Amy Montenegro at Invicta FC 21.
Celine Haga believes she should have won by submission against Amy Montenegro at Invicta FC 21.
Scott Hirano, Invicta FC

Celine Haga choked her opponent unconscious earlier this month, but didn’t win the fight by submission or decision. Last week, she took another loss: in her appeal bid to get the result overturned by the Missouri Office of Athletics (MOA).

At the end of the third round of her fight at Invicta FC 21 on Jan. 14, Haga cinched in a rear-naked choke on Amy Montenegro. The choke was in deep as the bell sounded. When referee Greg Franklin stepped in to stop the contest, Montenegro was unconscious.

Franklin did not rule a submission win for Haga. Instead, the bout went to the judges’ scorecards. Montenegro got the win by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28). Two judges, Kevin Champion and Brett Miller, ruled that Montenegro won the third round, despite Haga choking her out at the buzzer.

Haga appealed the result, but was told last week in a letter from the MOA that the referee is the “individual responsible for enforcing the rules” of an MMA contest and Franklin “made no determination during the bout that Montenegro could not continue prior to the sounding of the bell ending the fight.”

“The Office determined that no violations of the rules occurred during the fight,” a spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions & Professional Registration, the MOA’s parent body, told MMA Fighting in a statement. “Therefore, there will be no change in the official decision of the bout.”

Haga, 32, told MMA Fighting on Monday that she was given her win bonus by Invicta president Shannon Knapp, but the victory means just as much to her as the money. The Norway native, who trains at JacksonWink MMA in Albuquerque, said she was told by the UFC that she could not try out for The Ultimate Fighter due to her losing record. Haga, who is now 10-14, is determined to gain more wins than losses for a proper chance at the UFC.

“I’m just still upset that the commission denied the appeal,” Haga said. “Especially with my regard. I started out at 1-11 and I worked so hard to get where I am. A win would mean two fights from an even record. Instead I’m now four fights away.”

Haga won four straight fights coming into her Invicta debut against Montenegro and nine of her last 11.

Many referees and officials have agreed with Haga’s stance that she was the rightful winner. John McCarthy, the godfather of MMA officiating and one of the writers of the Unified Rules of MMA, said Haga should have won, because if a fighter is unconscious even at the bell, the athlete applying the submission earns the victory. But different commissions have different rules and different applications of rules.

Haga said Montenegro was out even before the bell sounded and Franklin stopped the action. It is important to note that the referee ends rounds and fights and not the sounding of the bell.

“I know that she fell asleep before the bell because I could feel and hear it,” Haga said. “And I don’t know if they did research on the video. There’s no doubt about it.”

Montenegro, 33, has been classy about the situation on social media. She wrote in a recent Facebook post that she has gotten a lot of positive and negative feedback since the bout and respects all opinions about the matter.

“My heart goes out to Celine as I know she worked very hard too and fought an amazing fight,” Montenegro wrote.

Hey everyone! I know some of you have probably noticed that I hadn't made any kind of post after my fight Jan 14 in...

Posted by Amy Montenegro on Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Missouri Office of Athletics overturned an Invicta fight result from November last month, ruling that referee Mike England erred in telling women’s bantamweight champion Tonya Evinger to move when she was in a legal position. That sequence led to Yana Kunitskaya further locking in an armbar and Evinger tapping out. The MOA ruled the fight a no contest Dec. 1. Evinger got to keep her belt and the rematch is set for March 25 back in Kansas City.

Haga, too, would like a rematch with Montenegro. If that doesn’t happen soon, she said she’s willing to fight in another promotion to stay active and work toward her goal of earning more wins than losses on her pro record.

In the meantime, Haga and her manager Rosa Freitas will be exploring the possibility of further challenging the Invicta 21 result in court.

“I’m just not good at taking no for an answer,” Haga said. “And I guess my record reflects that. I just don’t give up easy. So I kind of want to fight for this.”

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