“Watching” sporting events is a worldwide form of entertainment that engages and indirectly involves viewers in many ways. Regardless of age, gender, race or education level of the viewed sport, those watching are taken on an emotional journey of sorts. Spectators become engaged and involved in the contests. Some view the action on a serious, personal level. Some are a bit more casual in their viewership. No matter what level of involvement, one thing is certain: all viewers have an opinion or assessment of what they see happening.

That’s one of the greatest attributes of being an observer. One can openly support, debate or discuss their assessments of competitor performance, strategy or the way the officials are calling the contest. Even for the most educated people on the subject, there is one major thing that contributes to their thoughts being considered no more than anyone else’s opinions: they were not participating at that exact moment in the contest. Until you walk a mile in one’s shoes…well, you know the rest.

Referees in MMA have many duties and responsibilities. Arguably one of the most difficult skills to cultivate is split-second decision-making. The moment that something happens (whether a foul, injury, stoppage of a bout), it is our responsibility to act (or not act) at that moment. Much easier said than done!

Being at the right place at the right time and consciously make the “right” decision based on our assessment of the action within split seconds is crucial. Oh, I didn’t mention that the decision has to fall within a laundry list of rules, regulations, safety measures, fair play and ethical consideration—all within the time it takes you to open a soda or beer bottle in the comfort of your surroundings.

To make things clear, the referee is the “sole arbiter” of the bout. In simple terms, no one but the referee can make a decision in the bout. Fighters can quit. Coaches may throw in the towel. Doctors may recommend the bout to be halted. Athletic/Tribal Commissions may have an opinion or ruling. Ultimately, however, only the referee can accept or deny any of those recommendations, with no assistance. Quite a bit of responsibility, no???

You’ve probably been thinking from the beginning of this article, “Well, the replay clearly shows…” MMA referees do not (yet) have the ability to take time out, look at a call from various angles and adjust our decision accordingly. You must keep in mind that only larger events have the budget/ability to provide production equipment to catch these things that we see on television. What about the smaller regional events? They matter just as much (or more so) to the growth of the sport, but do not offer those luxuries.

Unlike the NFL or NHL, there is no standard, widely used replay system in MMA. And in sports like pro football, the rules are exactly the same wherever they play. That is not the case for combat sports. Each state or tribal land regulates and monitors the sports differently. In fact, the rules themselves still differ from area to area.

Regardless of the sport, there will always be good, bad and questionable officials’ calls. It’s called “human nature.” Those of us who officiate agreed to sign up understanding that. Trust me, I understand the fun and excitement of yelling at the officials and disagreeing with calls. I’m a diehard sports fan as well!

That being said, I also value the importance of trained, skilled, competent and (properly) experienced MMA referees. It is paramount to the safe, successful evolution of the sport.
So now when you see a call that you don’t agree with, please continue to scream, complain and debate. After all, without that, MMA wouldn’t be as interesting.

All I ask is that you keep this information in the back of your mind and think about the tough position we’re in.

For more information on MMA Rules or officiating check out Combat Consulting or follow Rob on Twitter: @hindsmmareferee

Photo: Referee Rob Hinds (center) stops Veronica Rothehausler from delivering further punishment (Esther Lin/Invicta FC)

About The Author

Rob Hinds
Guest Contributor

Rob Hinds has refereed over 4,200 MMA bouts and judged more than 750. He has refereed for organizations on all levels including: UFC, Bellator MMA, Invicta FC, KOTC, IFL and Adrenaline MMA. Rob has an extensive background in martial arts, including both lengthy amateur and professional fight careers. Along with being a tenured referee and judge, Rob dedicates much of his time to researching and updating rules, regulations and procedures to keep not only himself, but the sport's officials current.

  • Gabriel Sabaitis

    You won’t find a more competent MMA Referee.

  • A meteorologist can make an infinite number of errors per week and everyone lets it slide, but if an MMA ref makes even one error he’s doomed to a full-scale lambasting.

  • Instructor K Caldwell

    I think the correct comparison to MMA refereeing is refereeing basketball.