The most recent episode of The Ultimate Fighter was hyped up as one of the most controversial fights in TUF history. In the season 19 fight, Team Edgar fighter Ian Stephens lost a highly controversial and bizarre decision to Team Penn’s Roger Zapata. According to Dana White, the fallout from the fight was severe.
As reported on MMA Fighting, White argued that the events of this TUF fight led, in part, to the departure of longtime Nevada State Athletic Commission head Keith Kizer from his position. Here’s White on Fox Sports 1 discussing the issue:
“After that moment on The Ultimate Fighter I think it created change,’ said White. “Finally, everything that I’ve been crying about and yelling about and screaming about finally came to a head in this episode of The Ultimate Fighter. I think that the Nevada State Athletic Commission has done a great job fixing the problem and moving forward in fixing the future of reffing and judging in mixed martial arts. Here in Nevada, anyway.
“I think this was the explosion of what’s going on and has been going on here in Nevada for a few years now. I think this was the moment where the right people recognized what was going on and that some changes needed to be made.”
The fight in question saw wrestler Ian Stephens ground Zapata throughout the fight, however fail to land many shots, while Zapata was actively striking from his back and in all positions. Originally a draw after 2 rounds, the fight went to a sudden victory round as is customary on TUF. In that round, Zapata landed a 12 to 6 elbow and referee Steve Mazzagatti deducted a point. At the end of the round, 2 judges scored the round 9-9 (10-9 Zapata minus the point), one 10-8 Stephens (10-9 minus the point). Under normal circumstances that would be a majority draw, but because the fight was on TUF, as White explained it, the judges were then asked to “circle the winner”, and they chose Zapata.
There is a lot to unpack in this situation. First off, the timetable does work with White’s argument that this led to some changes in the NSAC. TUF was filmed in the fall, with this fight taking place in roughly the first week of November (the previous week’s episode took place on Halloween). Kizer announced his departure in early January, roughly two months later.
Also involved here is referee Steve Mazzagatti, a longtime target of frustration from Dana White. On the show, White went on a tirade against Mazzagatti for taking the point without an official warning. Mazzagatti did indeed warn Zapata on numerous occasions, though, from what we were shown, never officially said this was his final warning. [Though this is a good place to point out that, at the end of the day, TUF is an edited TV show, and so we can not be confident that we were shown everything.] Mazzagatti did referee UFC 168 in December after this incident, though has not been in the UFC since.
The other question that remains is who made the call to have judges select a winner. Again, under normal criteria, this should have been a majority draw. However, as it is an exhibition fight, it is not subject to the same guidelines as a normally sanctioned fight. Was this a call made by Kizer and the commission, by UFC representatives, or by the TUF crew who needed a winner for the TV show?
Bloody Elbow will have more information as it becomes available.
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