Amateur MMA Needs Professional Officiating

Written By: Bobbie Clark

As MMA grows in popularity, the need for well-trained referees becomes even more paramount. The sport can’t afford to have subpar officiating. The lack of which can alter outcomes and, more importantly, cause serious injury to the fighters who put life and limb on the line every time they step into the cage.

This past weekend’s Legacy Fighting Championships amateur event brought forth a perfect example.

Vega talks to the referee during his match.

The incident in question occurred in the first round of the lightweight bout between Julian Vega and Delis Borges. Vega locked up what looked like a tight arm bar. After several seconds, the referee stepped in to stop the fight. Then, inexplicably, the ref waves off the submission after Borges said he did not tap. He then proceeded to put both fighters back on the mat, with Borges on top. Vega vehemently protested, and was allowed to resume top position in side control. The fighters then scrambled back to their feet, when Vega shot in for another takedown, allowing Borges to go for a guillotine as the round expired.

Vega was able to end the fight in the second round with another arm bar. While I’m sure the outcome was a relief to Vega, it had to be an even bigger relief for the ref. Vega was not only able to salvage a win, but he may have also saved the ref from a possible repercussions. Had Borges won the fight, Vega and his team at Elite MMA would have had a legitimate beef.

But there’s more to this story.

Vega later told me that as he was cranking on Borges’s arm in the first round, he kept telling the ref that he’s going to break it. While allowing the fight to continue was a serious blunder on the ref’s part, not all the blame should be placed on him. There’s a certain mentality among some jiu-jitsu fighters that once a broken limb is imminent, then the match should stop.

Vega said as much himself. “I heard (Borges’) arm pop like four times,” he said. “I felt bad afterwards.”

Vega celebrates after winning

Vega said the last thing he wants is to hurt someone. I know that sounds counterintuitive for a sport as brutal as MMA, but admitting defeat is actually a major facet of martial arts in general. Officials need to know this. They need to be intimately familiar with all facets of MMA, from stand up to grappling. Vega even went so far as to suggest that officials need to be at least a blue belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu before stepping into the cage.

That said, I’m willing to bet Vega won’t make that mistake again. If presented with similar situation inside the cage, Vega probably won’t be imploring the ref to stop the fight before breaking an arm. He’ll probably just go ahead and break it.

In my opinion, the ref’s biggest mistake wasn’t stopping the fight. It was letting it resume.

No one would’ve faulted him for ending the fight. I think a major part of a referee’s job is to watch out for the safety of fighters.

It saves fighters from not only severe pain, but also the agony of months of rehabilitation.

About The Author: A journalist by trade, Bobbie Clark is a Louisiana-native who started covering MMA about two years ago. His articles have appeared on,, and now he’s not writing, reading or watching all things MMA, he enjoys fathering, husbanding, cooking and, when his body allows it, Brazilian jiu jitsu. He moved to Houston in the summer of 2011 with his wife, Lindsey, two-year-old son, Jack, and dog, Boudin. His dream is to cover MMA full time, but paychecks are hard to come by in the world of MMA journalism.