Mario Yamasaki’s reputation as an official precedes him, and not in a good way. When a referee’s name becomes a trending topic after an Ultimate Fighting Championship event, it is almost never painted in a positive light.
Valentina Shevchenko made a statement in the UFC Fight Night 125 co-main event on Saturday in Belem, Brazil, as she touched down in the women’s flyweight division and thoroughly dominated organizational newcomer Priscila Cachoeira. Many believed the previously unbeaten Cachoeira absorbed far more damage than she should have under Yamasaki’s watch.
This is not the first time the well-known referee has had fans questioning his commitment to his craft. If you remember, at UFC 52, Matt Hughes took a direct shot to the groin from Frank Trigg, grimaced and looked in Yamasaki’s direction for assistance. When Yamasaki did not intervene, Hughes was forced to cover up and defend himself until adrenaline kicked in and allowed him to fend off Trigg. He won the fight, but anyone watching could see the groin strike land.
Yamasaki was in the headlines again at UFC 142, where Erick Silva was disqualified over illegal blows to the back of Carlo Prater’s head. Replays showed they were clean shots. More recently, his decision to halt the Kevin Lee-Michael Chiesa main event at UFC Fight Night 112 made news. Chiesa protested the stoppage, as he was in a rear-naked choke but never tapped.
Yamasaki addressed his inaction in Shevchenko-Cachoeira in a statement to MMAFighting.com: “MMA is a contact sport and no fighter likes his fight to be stopped with no chance to revert the result.” However, that was exactly what he did to Chiesa, who challenged Yamasaki to a grappling match because he was not given a “chance to revert the result.” Yamasaki’s response could be telling in regards to his mindset about officiating events.
Many MMA referees are former fighters or hold high ranks in martial arts that they continue to practice and teach. That keeps them sharp in the cage. Yamasaki turned down Chiesa’s challenge during an appearance on The MMA Hour. His reasoning? “I’m 53 years old. I don’t train anymore. How am I going to do this?”
It may not be necessary for a referee to train to be good at his or her job, but those that do are well-respected in the sport. Herb Dean and Marc Goddard come to mind, and Trigg has even begun to referee at UFC events. While they may not be fighting or actively competing in martial arts, training likely remains part of their lives and probably helps them officiate at a higher level.
The Brazilian MMA Athletic Commission issued a statement saying it would review what happened in Shevchenko-Cachoeira and decide the next course of action. It reiterated its stance that the referee is “the highest authority in the moment whose role is to protect the fighter at all times, including stopping the fight at the proper moment.”
If Yamasaki admits he no longer trains, how invested can he be in the action in front of him? Skills fade, and if he has lost interest in martial arts on a personal level, should he still be serving as a referee, especially when one considers the issues involving him that continue to arise?
Edward Carbajal serves as the lead MMA analyst for Frontproof Media and holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a brown belt in Ishin Ryu Karate. He has covered combat sports since 2014 and has been a fan of MMA since UFC 1. You can follow him on Twitter @Carbazel or at his website TheBlogBoardJungle.com.