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Trading Shots: Did Michael Chiesa get robbed or saved at UFC Fight Night 112?

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Did referee Mario Yamasaki make a major blunder with his stoppage in the UFC Fight Night 112 main event, or just a minor one? Retired UFC and WEC fighter Danny Downes joins MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes to discuss in this week’s Trading Shots.

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Downes: It was a wild weekend in the MMA world, Ben. We had freak injuries, double knockdowns, fading legends and feces. To cap it all off, we ended it with a controversial stoppage.

Somewhere, Steve Mazzagatti breathed a sigh of relief as Mario Yamasaki intervened prematurely in the Kevin Lee vs. Michael Chiesa bout, making him the Internet’s new most hated referee. Since you love to tell us about your recreational jiu-jitsu experience as much as possible, why don’t you share your expertise on this one with us?

Fowlkes: You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear that you weren’t using the word “expertise” with total sincerity there.

But hey, since you asked, can I go ahead and be the guy who admits he doesn’t get the controversy on this one? Chiesa was stuck in a rear-naked choke. He wasn’t working an escape. He had 30 seconds left in the round. He stopped defending with his hands and let them float there in front of him, very much like the posture of a man who has lost consciousness.

How surprised can he really be that Mario Yamasaki took this as a sign that he should stop the fight?

Was it slightly premature? Yes, but only slightly. There’s not a ton of risk in letting Chiesa stay in that kind of choke for an extra couple of seconds, so sure, Yamasaki could have done more to verify that he was all the way out before intervening, but it’s disingenuous to act like he ruined the fight just because he denied Chiesa the chance to fall completely asleep.

What am I missing here, Danny? Is there where you tell me about the honor of going out on your shield? Or maybe you think Yamasaki ruined Chiesa’s shot at an MMA version of the rope-a-dope, where you lie so quiet and still inside a choke that you convince the other guy to let go and celebrate, at which point you pounce. Tell me, on the spectrum of referee screw-ups, was this one really that bad?

Downes: As far as referee screw-ups are concerned, this one is definitely minor, mostly because the stakes were so low. While I wold never want to denigrate the honor of being the main event of a UFC Fight Night in Oklahoma City, it wasn’t a title shot. It wasn’t even a rivalry fans really cared about.

As an aside, let me predict that we’re going to see a lot more press conference scuffles revolving around something even dumber than Chiesa’s mom having tickets. How do you tell fighters not to take a swing at each other when, 1) It gets them attention, and 2) 90 percent of the hype package for the fight revolved around that incident?

I’ll admit that I was a little surprised at how upset some fans were at the stoppage, but there a couple of things at work here. First of all, it’s Yamasaki. The MMA universe loves to attack referees, and Yamasaki seems to be the new fall guy. And once you get that reputation (rightly or wrongly), everything you do gets amplified.

Secondly, Chiesa passed your “WTF Test.” He looked dead to rights, but as soon as Yamasaki called it off, he was incensed. That doesn’t mean that we would have gotten out of the choke, but it does produce some doubt.

Third and finally, it’s a choke. It’s uncomfortable and dangerous to watch fighters take unnecessary punches. We all cringe a little when a fighter is knocked out and takes a couple extra hits before the TKO (well, unless that fighter is Michael Bisping).

A rear-naked choke doesn’t produce that same visceral reaction. You’ve touched on this when discussing Ronda Rousey. Some of her mainstream success can be attributed to the fact that she armbarred opponents instead of leaving them a bloody mess. It’s a more palatable type of violence.

Was Chiesa robbed? No, but I do think that Yamasaki did rob him of an opportunity. Even if there were only a five percent chance of escaping, why not give him the benefit of the doubt? What real harm could come from it? Do you think there’s anything to learn from this fight, or did you react like the rest of MMA fans when Chiesa pushed for a rematch? Meh.

Fowlkes: I think the question of a rematch is where we’re all forced to be honest about what we’re really doing here. Because if you truly think that Chiesa was unfairly and prematurely stopped in a fight that he still had every opportunity to win, then you have to support an immediate rematch. How can you not?

But if, when faced when that proposition, you admit that you don’t feel like you need to see that again, I suspect it’s because you think you know who won that fight. (Either that, or you can stand six more weeks of mom jokes.)

I don’t blame Chiesa for being upset. He’s going to fan the fires of victory until every last ember is cold and black. I also don’t blame Lee for wanting to pocket his win and move on. I can only kind of blame Yamasaki, who came to a reasonable, if somewhat hasty conclusion, given the visual evidence.

But let’s be honest and admit that we’ve criticized refs for being too slow to intervene just like we’re criticizing Yamasaki for being a little quick. We ask for perfection from these people and when they deliver their reward is not getting yelled at on social media. This one might have been imperfect, but I have a hard time believing it altered the outcome. If that’s not the point, I don’t know what is.

For complete coverage of UFC Fight Night 112, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.



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