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Invicta’s Celine Haga challenging Missouri commission ruling in court

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Celine Haga’s fight in January finished with her opponent Amy Montenegro unconscious.
Scott Hirano, Invicta FC

Celine Haga is taking the Missouri Office of Athletics to court.

The Invicta FC fighter filed a petition in Cole County Circuit Court for judicial review of the commission’s decision not to overturn her controversial loss from January on Monday, per documents obtained by MMA Fighting. One of Haga’s claims is that the denying of her appeal is a violation of her constitutional rights, because she was not granted a hearing.

Haga choked opponent Amy Montenegro unconscious at the third-round bell in their fight at Invicta FC 21 on Jan. 14 in Kansas City. Referee Greg Franklin did not determine that Montenegro was unconscious prior to the bell, but she was when Franklin stopped the fight. The result was then sent to the judges, with Montenegro winning by unanimous decision.

Multiple referees and experts, including John McCarthy, have said that if a fighter is unconscious at the bell, the rightful winner of the fight is the athlete applying the submission causing the opponent to be out. However, every athletic commission has its own rules and many of them are unclear about specific situations.

Haga appealed the result, but was denied Jan. 26. A spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions & Professional Registration (DIFP) told MMA Fighting that there would be no change to the result because it was “determined that no violations of the rules occurred during the fight.”

On Feb. 7, Haga’s attorney Lucas Middlebrook, known in the MMA world as the lawyer for Nick Diaz in his marijuana case against the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC), formally requested a reconsideration of the appeal, per the petition. A week later, Missouri Office of Athletics director Tim Lueckenhoff replied to Middlebrook, saying that the situation had been properly reviewed and no further investigation nor hearing is required.

The petition states that the Missouri Office of Athletics decision violates Haga’s “constitutional rights, is unsupported by competent or substantial evidence, is unauthorized by law, is made upon unlawful procedure and without a fair trial and is otherwise arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.”

Haga has been “damaged” by the decision, the petition states. Haga told MMA Fighting last month that evening her record with the same amount of wins and losses is one of her career goals. The Norway native’s record is now 10-14.

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

Another notable thing about the result is that two judges awarded Montenegro the third round on their cards even though she was choked unconscious in what was a close round up until that point.

The Missouri Office of Athletics did overturn an Invicta result last year. Tonya Evinger appealed a submission loss to Yana Kunitskaya from November, because referee Mike England told her to move from what was a perfectly legal position. Her moving resulted in Evinger getting caught deeper in an armbar and ultimately tapping out. The Missouri Office of Athletics acknowledged the referee error and overturned the result to a no-contest in December.

In addition to Middlebrook, Haga’s local Missouri counsel is Bandre’ Hunt Snider, LLC.