Ronaldo Souza was finished in a fight for the first time since 2008, losing to Robert Whittaker by second-round TKO at UFC on FOX 24. But many people criticized referee Mario Yamasaki’s stoppage Saturday night in Kansas City.
Whittaker dropped “Jacare" with a vicious head kick followed by punches, and kept hurting the Brazilian on the ground. When Souza tried to push Whittaker and scramble, Yamasaki decided it was enough and called the bout.
"I re-watched the fight, but I know what I did there, I know what was going on,” Yamasaki told MMA Fighting on Sunday. "I was the one in there. Watching on TV, people have a different image than the one I’m seeing in there, and I have to follow the rules. The rules say I have to protect the athlete, and when the fighter is not intelligently defending himself anymore, he’s on autopilot, it will only cause more damage."
You can’t know for sure what would have happened if Yamasaki had given his countryman more time in the fight. However, Yamasaki says Souza went out as soon as he hit the ground, and woke right back up when Whittaker landed more punches.
"I don’t know if you saw it, but ‘Jacare' went out on the ground, was punched and came back, and ate three more strong elbows,” Yamasaki said, "and I decided it was better to stop the fight because, in my opinion, Whittaker would only let him come back up to knock him down again and beat him up. To preserve him, who was no longer intelligently defending himself, I decided to stop the fight.
"I talk to a lot of people about Gary Goodridge, Eder Jofre and (Adilson) ‘Maguila’, who suffer from dementia pugilistica, that people don’t know how dangerous is to get unnecessary punches. I’m following my ethic, and also the athletic commission. Everyone from the athletic commission praised me, but fans didn’t like it. They say I don’t like Brazilians, blah blah blah. I’m the referee, I have to follow the rules."
"Watching on the TV, it might give you the impression that I could have let it go a little longer, but you can’t see his eyes,” he continued. "The TV doesn’t show that. He was hurt. He would only eat more punches, and it was my decision to make sure he was safe since he couldn’t defend himself anymore. Let him go back up to get punched three times and go out, why would that do him any good?”
Yamasaki, who recently admitted he made a mistake during Travis Browne vs. Derrick Lewis heavyweight fight in letting the fight go a bit too long, said he’s working on producing an online course for everyone interested in the referee’s work.
"John McCarthy and I will an online course for everyone interested in the sport,” Yamasaki said. "Not only referees, but journalists, coaches, fighters, so people can understand more about out decisions, the athletic commissions and doctors, what they tell us to do in the fights. At the (Travis) Browne fight, I decided to give him more time and look what happened. One or two punches can make a big difference. But I followed my instinct to protect the athlete."