It’s been a while since referee Mario Yamasaki entered the Octagon. Twelve months, to be exact. But now he’s starting to work his way back.
The most experienced Brazilian when it comes to refereeing MMA fights in the big leagues, Yamasaki was last seen under the UFC banner on Feb. 3, 2018, when he oversaw the co-main event of UFC Belem. In that infamous match, Valentina Shevchenko took on promotional newcomer Priscila Cachoeira in Brazil and dominated her for nine minutes before finally tapping “Pedrita” with a rear-naked choke.
The booking proved to be a mismatch, with UFC matchmakers and the Brazilian MMA Athletic Commission (CABMMA) being criticized afterward for the pairing. Cachoeira’s coach came under fire as well for failing to throw in the towel, especially after Cachoeira suffered a knee injury between rounds, and the consensus was that Yamasaki should have stopped the fight long before Shevchenko mercifully finished “Pedrita.”
UFC president Dana White, who had attacked Yamasaki for previous calls before, declared that the referee should “never set foot in that Octagon again” after the event. White’s hopes have been answered so far, as Yamasaki hasn’t worked a UFC show since.
”I ended up focusing on other jobs and didn’t apply to any athletic commission after that fight because Dana would keep coming after me,” Yamasaki told MMA Fighting. “I decided to take a year off to relax and reset. I think I’ll apply to an athletic commission again this year and come back after relaxing for a year.”
Yamasaki, who owns a construction company in the United States and 13 jiu-jitsu schools, doesn’t make a living off the money he makes as a referee. He calls refereeing a “hobby,” and says that’s why he was able to do it for such a long time.
He loves it, though, and that’s why he wants to get back in there.
Yamasaki still worked as a referee in 2018, overseeing 10 bouts under the PFL banner and multiple events in Brazil, promotions not regulated by CABMMA.
Now, a month into 2019, Yamasaki reached out to Vice President of Regulatory Affairs of UFC, Marc Ratner, “to see the possibilities, what do I have to do, if he wants me to do something” in order to be able to work in the Octagon again.
Looking back on Shevchenko vs. Cachoeira, Yamasaki admits he handled the situation poorly.
”I think I really could have stopped it earlier,” he said. “It was a mistake.”
Days after the bout, Yamasaki released a statement in which he said he “allowed ‘Pedrita’ to be a warrior and keep fighting.”
The referee regrets saying those words, too.
”I was misinterpreted because, first, I had a public relations that asked me to say that, but it’s not what I really meant,” Yamasaki said. “I told ‘Pedrita’ in the locker room that I wouldn’t stop the fight if she was defending herself. She moved every time I said I was going to stop the fight, but I really should have stopped it earlier so it wouldn’t have [been] controversial. It was no one else’s fault but me.”
Yamasaki parted ways with the PR company shorty after that. Not because the way things were handled, he explains, but he didn’t see a point of employing a PR company if he intended to stay away from the MMA world for some time.
Now feeling ready to work as a referee under the bright lights again, and not holding grudges towards CABMMA for not assigning him for events in Brazil after that, Yamasaki doesn’t expect to have his image linked to the Shevchenko vs. Cachoeira controversy — or any other controversy — forever.
”I was doing an overview of my career and I have nothing but good things to say about the UFC and everything that happened in my life,” Yamasaki said. “We never imagined that the sport would get to this point and I would get to this point. Being in the UFC for 20 years, and jiu-jitsu and MMA before that. Dana has been good to me, despite other controversies. It’s 20 years… I started in the UFC before he did, and we always got along.
”I think it’s a lesson for me that sometimes we’re not focused and things happen. The fights that were controversial, I wasn’t as focused as I usually am. It’s lessons you learn in life. But I can’t complain. I think (Michael) Chiesa is an excellent fighter. That happened, I think he [went out], he says he didn’t, but I don’t think that will stay in everyone’s memories… but people always tend to remember the bad moments. If that’s the case, what can I do? It’s like saying Jose Aldo, Anderson Silva, Vitor Belfort — will people remember him for the kick to the face or his entire career? It depends on who you ask.”