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Benoit Saint-Denis’ coach reacts to referee incompetence at UFC 267: ‘I didn’t understand what he was doing’

UFC 267: Zaleski dos Santos v Saint Denis Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Benoit Saint-Denis was on the wrong end of — in the opinions of most who watched it — dangerous refereeing during his UFC 267 loss to Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos. And while Saint-Denis’ coach said in the aftermath that he would never have stopped the fight himself, he was surprised the official didn’t.

In the second round of their welterweight bout, Saint-Denis was wobbled and badly hurt by a barrage of unanswered strikes from dos Santos, to the point where fans, media, fighters — including cageside commentators Daniel Cormier and Paul Felder — were screaming for referee Vyacheslav Kiselev to stop it. Not only did Kiselev not stop the action, he didn’t even seem to be close to stopping it. In the end, Saint-Denis survived the onslaught and gutted it out to the final horn.

Saint-Denis’ coaches, including Daniel Woirin, were also criticized for not stopping the bout. Woirin provided an update to MMA Fighting on Monday, stating that his fighter is doing better after being hospitalized following the bout.

“He’s doing great,” Woirin told MMA Fighting. “He left the hospital [Monday] and he’s coming back to France on Tuesday.”

Woirin stated in a recent interview that he “would never throw in the towel” and thought Kiselev was going to stop the action at one point during Round 2, during which his fighter ate 94 significant strikes, according to UFC stats.

While Saint-Denis earned the respect from everybody watching the fight for his toughness, Kiselev has been put through the proverbial wringer, including being pulled from his remaining assignment at UFC 267. In addition to the second-round onslaught, Saint-Denis was on the receiving end of an accidental eye poke, which led to a pause in the action. Saint-Denis clearly stated he couldn’t see and Kiselev allowed the bout to continue without calling a doctor in to check on the fighter.

Woirin was proud Saint-Denis was able to show his grit for the world to see, but wasn’t happy with Kiselev and believed the right call was made to pull the referee from the rest of the card.

“I was surprised that he didn’t stop the fight but it permitted [everyone] to see how tough Benoit is,” Woirin said. “I do agree with him being pulled out of the rest of the card because they are there to protect the fighters, which he didn’t do in that fight.

“I didn’t understand what he was doing [after the eye poke]. We tried telling the referee to bring a doctor because Benoit couldn’t see.”

Saint-Denis took to social media on Monday to seemingly let fans know he’s OK and that the previously undefeated fighter will be making the move down to the lightweight division when he’s ready to return.

In regards to Cormier and Felder’s reactions, Woirin knows it comes from a caring place, but also believes the two former octagon competitors need to understand the extensive relationship between coach and fighter.

“I understood their reaction but they don’t know Benoit like I do,” Woirin stated. “Even they said that they don’t know him like I do.”