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We talked to Brian Ebersole about the state of MMA officiating in 2013 and TWAS is not pleased

We talked to Brian Ebersole about the state of MMA officiating in 2013 and TWAS is not pleased

Brian Ebersole has fought men for sport, glory and a little bit of cash over 75 times. That’s just the professional bouts that can be traced through Youtube and Ebersole’s own memory of the battles. In other words, The White Anderson Silva knows what he’s talking about when it comes to combat sports. His career started in the midwest with a wrestling scholarship to Eastern Illinois University, where he met Matt Hughes and the rest is pretty much a hairy history. Ebersole joined the early iteration of American Kickboxing Academy, moved to Australia, spends time in Thailand and is a long-time veteran and student of martial arts. I’ve compiled this brief resume of his (this really is only partial) to reiterate the point: Ebersole knows what’s up. For me, speaking to him about fighting is like me with my rudimentary math skills starting up a conversation with someone working the Large Hadron Collider. But I kept up, I think.

Ebersole has a problem with the state of MMA’s officiating, and after seeing Steve Mazzagatti horribly out of position when Josh Burkmann choked out Jon Fitch at World Series of Fighting 3, Ebersole decided now was the time to speak up. It’s a hell of an interesting read, and we’ll be doing more.

So why are we here, White Anderson Silva?

I would love to discuss how things have changed from UFC 1 to now, where we used to fight 30 minute fights to the finish. I would love to discuss the controversies. It’s interesting to see how the sport changed from no rules and an open-ended time format situation, there’s obvious reasons why time limits are in, with Severn and Shamrock like that. And that isn’t really two guys who couldn’t finish each other, but they didn’t really want to try to finish each other. And so now the sport is putting us in smaller and smaller bounds and shorter bursts because that’s highlight making and fan pleasing. My first issue would have to be the rounds. It’s really strange to be beating someone up for 5 minutes, trying to not get hit by his baseball bat, then stand him up, give him a reast and then let him swing the bat at you again. So, it’s a bit awkward.

So you prefer the ten minute opening round in Pride?

I loved that. And I feel like that was more in line with what we signed up for. We’re in a combat sport competing for a finish between grappling and striking. To not favor one or the other and let that fight play out the most naturally, you can’t impose these time limits. It’s a step away from the natural order of things.

But that’s never going to change, wouldn’t you say?

The round structure may not change any time soon, but the way the UFC scores, with the ten point must system, I don’t know. I went to a One FC rules meeting with Matt Hume last month, and it was really interesting. He basically said there was one rule, which is to not strike that mohawk down to the spine on the head. I mean obviously no fish hooking or eye gouging, you know what I mean. And of course no pulling hair. But just about everything goes, but they score the way Pride scored: The guy who came the closest to finishing the fight is priority number one, then damage, then control and ring generalship and stuff like that. I just saw a fight over the weekend that was close but he dominated one round. He should’ve won the fight. Based on that scoring, but ten point must it’s 29-28 to the guy who got beat up. It was an amateur event called Malaysian Invasion which is part of the One FC network, and these guys were fighting for amateur belts and would in theory one day fight up to a One FC card. Roger Huerta and I did a TV show at Tiger Muay Thai that had us pick and train a team of guys for a week then at the event they fought it out. But it’s fights like that where one guy hurt the guy, whereas the other guy maybe landed the takedown or controlled the fight won, when the story of the fight wasn’t the takedown or extra jab, it was that guy got beat up. Pride rules, one guy wins, UFC rules ten point must wins. The boxing holdover. One is more natural.

Yeah but do you think that will change? They probably just want to keep making the most exciting fights possible…

I think the next step is making the cage smaller. That’s what will probably happen next. Then we’ll end up in a King of the Cage type cage and you can’t take a backwards step with out touching the cage. But I feel like they’re going to put us in smaller and smaller cages to force the action.

My counterpoint to that, is that some of the smaller guys have said the Octagon is too big…

Yeah they are quick dudes and can create space pretty quick… But then again as a fighter you have to engage or you won’t keep your job very long, and other organizations are following suit to be quit honest. And as they should, I mean, if you’re not there to actually have a go, then you shouldn’t really be trying to make money in the sport. It is entertainment, I’ll be the first to admit that. Talking to the guy who got suspended from the US for trying to entertain. So I definitely get that factor. What I don’t enjoy is taking the fight away from it’s natural course, and that has to do with even stand ups. I’ve seen some atrocious stand ups from referees and none are immune to it. Big John had a very terrible event where two fights in a row and he stood people right up. And I watch fights with friends and other people in the sport, and we look at each other and go: that guy got stood up because he’s a striker on his back. You put Demian Maia on his back and that stand up won’t happen. The referees are biased because they know the skill sets and stereotypes that go with certain people and they are playing to that. You watch someone like Melvin Manhoef get taken down, and he stops throwing vicious kicks and punches, the crowd boos because they came here to see Melvin throw bombs. They get frustrated. That’s still part of the sport. I saw Dennis Hallman lose a fight to John Howard that he was winning 2-0 and the third round was fair. If memory serves me correct Dennis spent a little time on top, then got reversed, then he spent a minute on bottom, reversed again and spent about thirty seconds on top at the end of the fight… You know, I love the guy to death but Josh Rosenthal with about twenty seconds left stands them up. Why are you standing up a muay thai fighter who already reversed and spent time on top. He proved he could do it on his own that round. He got stood up and he clipped Dennis Hallman with a hook that knocked him out and he won a fight that he was losing two rounds to zero with the third round close. So he wasn’t going to win the fight any other way. I find that almost… Genki Sudo and Duane Ludwig — same thing. Genki was going to win that fight then they stood them up and he went hell for leather and finished. But that wasn’t the natural course of that physical encounter. That was because of the referee’s intervention.

One FC has those three five minute rounds too though…

I just enjoy their scoring.

What would you prefer? One fifteen minute round?

Yeah, if fifteen minutes is the limit, let us fight for fifteen minutes. In a championship fight, I guess we can have a break in there. Let the guys reset. I don’t know if you would go fifteen and ten. Or ten and ten or ten and five, five five. The less breaks the better and more natural it is. More so than the rounds intervening we need the referees to just stop. Too much intervention. We have these referees that say get busy and do something, now some legitimately know what they are talking about and they see stalling. Other ones, I think they get bored themselves and they don’t see the nuance in the grappling game. I mean, I’ve fought in plenty small shows where I’ve been pressuring someone and been near passing when the ref tells me to ‘get busy.’ I’m choking the guy with my forearm and I’m about to advance my position. Did you not see that? It’s frustrating to not see the natural course of things play out. We all know that grappler vs. striker, there’s a strategy there. And grapplers are often punished or not given enough time to really implement their full gameplan.

So what happens? You put fighters in as referees and you have possible conflicts of interest? People know each other… What needs to happen?

I think ex-fighters are going to be judges more and more, I hope that’s the case as we move into the next generation with some of these guys retiring in the next 5-10 years, hopefully they’ll get licensed and be part of the sport. I think there would be nothing better for the sport than correcting the officiating problems that are being talked about oh so much. I don’t know if I would make to many changes to the rules, but I would love to see refs that are more hands off. We suffered through Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn for thirty minutes circling. And neither wanted to land a jab. Never in the situation was there a ref that said “OK Ken, lay down on your back and we’re putting Dan on top of you.” to force action. That will never happen. I don’t understand it. A pure striker on his back and he can just hold on to get a stand up by stifling your efforts and squeezing you for thirty seconds, I don’t see that as a reward. He’s the one making the fight boring and he gets stood back up and gets to use his preferred weapons. That’s one of my biggest gripes when I see a grappler punished. But more so, I’m not going to cry about a grappler getting stood up, what happens most of the time, he’s not being lazy, because the guy on bottom holds on and doesn’t want to scramble, or use technique or try to stand up himself out of fear of getting passed or having his back taken. So I don’t think that’s something that should be rewarded.

Why do so few people throw elbows on the bottom in guard?

Probably because they’re afraid elbows are going to come back to them from the top. If you put yourself in a certain range of combat offensively, you put yourself in that same range to have the guy come back at you. I see it in Thai fights a lot, where they won’t throw an elbow until the third or fourth round. The first two rounds they’re very respectful and playful, but as soon as that first elbow gets thrown, boy do they come back. They come back with a vengeance then usually and boy the fight is on. So I think it’s one of those things where “if I don’t do it, he won’t remember to do it.” Hahaha. So yeah, they could be effective from bottom but they’re more effective from top. Kind of a waking the dragon situation.

I don’t know if I like that answer hahaha


I think that’s a great technique that can be used more to stay active from the bottom, and that ties in to the judges who don’t see or recognize that work going on. For example: Carlos Condit vs. GSP.

Amazing, amazing work on bottom!

I feel like that’s a situation, in my opinion at least, the judges need to start seeing that activity from the bottom trumps control on top. Maybe.

I think every attempt should be rewarded on it’s own merit from top or bottom regardless. I think some people get dumbfounded and go on autopilot when they watch these fights. “Oh the guy on bottom can’t do anything. You can’t box from your back.” No you can’t, but if you’re being more active and landing a few more punches than the guy on top, and you’re rocking the boat of the guy on top and he’s barely holding on, then he’s not all that impressive.

The reason we had this phone call was the whole Mazzagatti, Fitch and Burkman situation.

That’s the most recent situation. I think it’s sad Mazzagatti was that out of position and that slow to respond on the main event of a fledgling show and he’s supposedly a well-respected referee, unless you ask Dana White, and he was so slow to get in. It was a bit disturbing. If it wasn’t for the sportsmanship of Burkman we could’ve had a real problem. When he let go of the choke he still did kind of a wrestling move and took the underhook and flipped him over and we see Jon’s head thump to the floor. Now, he did stand up, point and walk away, but he could’ve thrown a few punches and Mazzagatti was nowhere to stop him, he was that out of position.

It gets lost that the referee is there to protect the fighters, he’s not there to push the action. They shouldn’t be hands-on.

They are there to call a foul, stop the fight and make sure they’re done when the round ends. That’s about it. But they all have their signature walkout and are building their brands and they’re becoming more famous than the fighters themselves. They don’t get punished like we do if we make a mistake, or any employee of any company. They are beyond reproach and I find that quite odd.

I’m willing to play devil’s advocate for the sake of conversation; don’t they get fined or suspended with the AC?

They do, but then again I’ve never heard of any issues outside of John McCarthy which is a whole other issue because he can’t get a license from Keith Kizer, which I find odd. I can’t think of any.

Keith Kizer came out and defended Mazzagatti…

He said the story should be more about Burkmann’s win than Mazzagatti’s mistake, well hold on. Two separate stories, and there was definitely a lot of coverage over Burkmann’s great win over the perpetual number two welterweight in the world in Jon Fitch. That story was out there. It was all over MMA news, gyms were talking about it and on and on. But of course there’s another story about the ref screwing up. It’s not shutting down Burkmann’s win, but a conversation has to be had about it.

That’s the conversation we’re having now. So where do we go from here? Does it start with the athletic commission? Are you, by having this interview, screwing your chances of fighting in Vegas?

The Dana White interview shed some light on our options as athletes, and I always said I won’t fight if Kim Winslow is my referee. I absolutely will not enter the cage if she’s my ref.

Do you have that choice?

I learned in an interview on from Dana, that the fighters would have to speak out and refuse a certain referee. Again, it’s something I always said in jest although I’m serious, and I didn’t know if my protest would hold much weight, but a protest of the fighters would hold weight against a referee. I have two on my list now. Actually we’ll call it three. I mean, I’m sure even the best fall to promotional pressure, or they hear the fans booing. Listen, we’re hearing them boo, don’t worry, we get it, but we’re working on something right now so we can’t be distracted. But now looking at Mazzagatti and the links, it seems like he’s let a few fair people have taken some extra damage. Uncalled for. It’s a tough job. You see refs jump in and touch both fighters then jump out and pretend they didn’t do it. Maybe they are un-athletic, or they don’t have spatial awareness or good attention spans, but it seems like they’re always on the wrong side of the line. You only need to squat down into a tough position a few times a night. For the rest of it you can shuffle about and relax.

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