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MMA Referee Yves Lavigne Says Dealing with Criticism "Part of the Job"

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Written by James Ryan   

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MMA Referee Yves Lavigne Says Dealing with Criticism "Part of the Job"


Yves Lavigne
“A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new.”—Albert Einstein


After UFC 115, many fans were up in arms over the fact that Yves Lavigne had apparently “screwed up big time,” when he prematurely (and non-deliberately) stopped the fight between Matt Wiman and Mac Danzig.


Wiman had Danzig in a guillotine choke, and Lavigne called a stoppage to the fight in the first round, despite the fact that Danzig had not submitted, and was apparently still conscious after the two fighters were separated.


As a result, many fans were calling Lavigne the “worst” referee in all of Mixed Martial Arts (after Steve Mazzagatti, of course—not my personal opinion—just summarizing the general consensus across the internet).


Oh well, such is the life of a referee—and any referee will tell you that dealing with criticism is just a part of the job.


“Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them, and you have their shoes.”—Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy


Just to be clear on the differences—sympathy is when you feel sorry for someone, and empathy is when you can relate to a particular person because you have likely been through very similar experiences in your life.


How many of Lavigne’s critics can honestly say that they know first-hand what it is like to be in his position?


I’m gonna guess—not too many (including, yours truly).


It’s easy to criticize a referee (and sometimes lots of fun), particularly an MMA referee, because the majority of the fans are completely incapable of relating to them and the difficult balance of stress and responsibility that they so willingly accept.


For myself—the reason why I don’t generally sympathize with referees is because, as far as I’m concerned, they knew exactly what they were getting into when they first decided to become referees. If anything, I just wish that more of them would be willing to accept greater accountability for their bad decisions and occasional poor judgment.


I find it difficult to empathize with referees because I have never been a referee—although the thought has certainly crossed my mind once or twice.


As thick as I would like to think that my own skin is, I’m still not entirely sure that it is thick enough to be an MMA referee. It’s hard enough being a Freelance MMA Sportswriter (it is a fact, that Brock Lesnar would easily destroy Shane Carwin and Fedor Emelianenko at the exact same time—bring it on, fight fans!).


I had to know for myself—does Yves Lavigne really have skin as thick as an alligator, or does he just have a special way of dealing with his critics that is better than most?


Perhaps as a writer, I could learn a thing or two from Mr. Lavigne about dealing with negativity.


Perhaps we all could.


To read, rate and comment on James Ryan's awesome interview of Yves Lavigne, please click the "READ RYAN'S INTERVIEW OF LAVIGNE HERE" link below!


James Ryan: Hello Yves. How are you doing today?

Yves Lavigne: Hello James. I am doing well, thank you. And yourself?


James Ryan: Doing great! I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me today. Are you sure that you’re prepared for my ‘ultra-tough’ questions?


Yves Lavigne: [Laughs] I hope so.


James Ryan: Sweet. For starters, how did you become a referee in Mixed Martial Arts?


Yves Lavigne: That’s a pretty complicated question, so I’ll try to give you the short-story version.


Back in 1993, a friend of mine was already a referee in kickboxing and I heard that the Athletic Commission here in Quebec was in need a ref. I was already involved in karate tournaments at the time, so I applied to the Commission and followed all of the courses that they asked me to take. Later, they decided to hire me as a referee.


After watching the very first UFC on television, I immediately fell in love with the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.


I knew that MMA was truly a great sport and that one day, it was going to be very big.


Later, after observing a couple of events put on by Extreme Fighting on the Reserves here in Quebec, the Government did not agree, and so I pushed my belief onto the Athletic Commissioner, who was also the secretary of the WBC at the time, but he didn’t really believe me either.


Despite that, Quebec has always had a very proactive vision towards Mixed Martial Arts and eventually, MMA was recognized as a legitimate sport. Since I was the most knowledgeable person at the time, the Commissioner asked for my help to legalize MMA here in Quebec, which resulted in my being a part of the team that legalized MMA here in Quebec.


So that’s how I got started.


James Ryan: Cool. Do you find that a lot of people don’t understand that you are involved with other organizations besides the UFC?


Yves Lavigne: I would like to be clear—I am not working for the UFC. I work for the Athletic Commission. Only they can decide if they want me or not on the show in their jurisdiction.


I know that the UFC has recommended referees that they like to work with, and I feel truly blessed that I am on that list, but it is always up to the Athletic Commission to decide who the UFC is going to have on their show.


Last weekend for example, I was not available for anybody. I was busy raising money for children with cancer. Every year, I ride my motorcycle in what we refer to as an ‘Iron Butt.’ They’re not all the same, and this particular one happens to be a 24-hour ride that spans 1800 kilometers.


This was my second year being involved and I really love it because I love riding my motorcycle, so it just makes sense to do it for a good cause.


James Ryan: That’s awesome! It’s great that you can find the time to help such a worthwhile charity.


You mentioned karate earlier. What other styles of martial arts have you studied?


Yves Lavigne: I have studied karate, a little bit of wrestling in high school, some Japanese Jiu Jitsu, and eventually I trained in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. But mainly, it was karate.


James Ryan: How important is fighter safety?


Yves Lavigne: Safety is a very important part of the rules. Obviously, I will speak for myself here and not for all referees in general, because I don’t think that it’s fair to speak for someone else, but I definitely don’t want anybody getting hurt.


More specifically, I have no problem speaking about the Matt Wiman and Mac Danzig fight.


I spoke with both fighters afterwards, and although I will not discuss what was said with them in exact detail, I can definitely tell you why I stopped that fight.


In the case of that particular fight, it was simply a matter of bad communication between myself and Mac Danzig—period.


To some extent, I was certainly influenced by Mr. Wiman due to the fact that he told me that Danzig was out. At first, I told him ‘no’ but when he told me again that he was out, I said ‘okay, I’ll check him out.’


Danzig’s one hand on top looked limp and the other one was bracing under the leg or hip of Wiman.


I went for Danzig’s limp hand because I was expecting some sort of resistance. I shook his hand because you can not start having a conversation with someone who is getting choked out. In fact, what I expected from that fighter was a thumbs-up. Danzig did not give me the thumbs up—the hand was not at all rigid, so that’s why I decided to stop the fight.


If you look at the end result of that fight—yes, I am the one who was responsible for stopping that fight.


James Ryan: Yes, but you have a greater responsibility to make sure that all of your fighters are safe. So in that regard, it would seem that you definitely did the right thing because you believed that Danzig’s safety was in danger.


Yves Lavigne: In that regard, all of the steps that I took were good.


I had one competitor telling me that his opponent was out. I had no way of knowing for sure if he was out or not, so I had to check him out, and the process is to always shake one hand and wait for the thumbs-up. He didn’t give me the thumbs-up, so I decided to stop that fight.


Obviously I was wrong and I covered that with Mr. Danzig after the fight and I am truly sorry for screwing their match because it was not my intention to stop this fight prematurely. I know and respect how hard these fighters train and it means a lot to them to go in front of everybody.


I am responsible for that. I will take the responsibility because I am the one who stopped that fight.


Like I said, if you look at the mechanics of that fight, it was only bad communication between me and Mr. Danzig.


James Ryan: Is it safe to assume that you have pre-fight discussions with all of the fighters? Was Danzig made aware of your expectation for the thumbs-up? Is he not ultimately responsible for the stoppage?


Yves Lavigne: In this case, he was just relaxing and that’s why he did not respond. However, how the heck was I supposed to know if he was okay or not?


James Ryan: [Laughs] Precisely.


Yves Lavigne: If he didn’t give me any thumbs-up, to me, that meant that he was out. Based on that assumption, was I supposed to continue to let him get choked out even longer?


James Ryan: If you believed him to be out, then no, of course not.


Yves Lavigne: I did the same thing at the WEC fights last weekend. The fighter was in a triangle choke and he seemed to me like he was out. I checked him, shook his hand—no thumbs up, so I stopped the fight.


In that particular case, the fighter was unconscious.


So if you look at the situation in the UFC and you look at the other fight in the WEC, both situations were very close to the same.


I used the same mechanics because the mechanics work.


James Ryan: Sounds like you’re doing the right thing. It’s your job to prioritize the fighter’s safety more than the wins and losses. Safety-wise, you did exactly what you were supposed to do.


Yves Lavigne: Personally, I wouldn’t change a thing. The only thing that I can do differently in the future, is to try and put the fighter’s hand a little bit further from his body to see if he tries to bring it back into his body on his own.


I discussed the situation afterwards with a few of the other referees because in my opinion, the mechanics were good. Obviously, Mr Danzig was not out and so the end result did not produce what we expected.


As referees, we now have to figure out another step to prevent that type of situation from happening again in the future. Place the hand further from the body and then wait a second to see if the fighter is going to bring it back in to his opponent.


James Ryan: That makes sense.


Yves Lavigne: Well some people were saying that I should have asked the fighter. But as a general rule of thumb, what if the fighter was Japanese or from someplace where I don’t know their language?


Plus, when a fighter is getting choked out, the fans are very excited and screaming in the arena—it’s tough to hear. I don’t think that Danzig even heard Wiman say that he was out or he probably would have responded.


James Ryan: Everything happens so quickly. If Wiman was saying that Danzig was out, what are you supposed to do if he wasn’t responding?


Yves Lavigne: Exactly. Some people are apparently reporting on the internet that you can’t be choked out by a guillotine when you have half of your neck exposed.


James Ryan: I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that I heard Joe Rogan say that during his post-fight announcement.


Does it bother you when guys like Joe Rogan or Dana White publicly criticize the officiating in the media? Or do you just accept that as a part of the job?


Yves Lavigne: First of all, I would say that because anything is possible, I would encourage the fans who are interested, to research the guillotine choke, possibly even watch examples on YouTube or something, and see for themselves.


To answer your question about the criticism—Joe has a job to do and I really don’t care. He is entitled to his opinion—that’s fine. I don’t know him personally, but I think that he’s doing a great job.


James Ryan: Something I have had to learn to deal with as a writer is criticism by the fans. How do you deal with some of the more negative comments that are said about you?


Yves Lavigne: It’s all part of being a ref. A lot of the criticism is as a result of not really knowing the rules of MMA.


We follow the Unified Rules. Fans need to realize that rules are sometimes different from State to State.


They see one show, and they believe that we are using one set of rules, but sometimes the Unified Rules are not unified everywhere, so this is one thing that the fans don’t realize.


Another thing could be the misinformation. The fans don’t always know exactly what we are looking for as a ref. That’s why we do the pre-fight speech with all the fighters. That way, we can be very clear with all of the fighters on what we expect.


People don’t know a lot of this and to criticize us without knowing those things—oh well, I have learned to take it all with a grain of salt.


It’s part of the job. If you don’t want to be criticized, go do something else.


James Ryan: That’s right. You don’t want to be a referee if you can’t put up with the criticism. It’s inevitable. [Laughs]


Yves Lavigne: Exactly. [Laughs]


Criticism is part of the job and when we make a judgement call, it is sometimes based on partial information that we may have, and we have to make a decision in a split second.


When you make a judgement call, there will always someone who will not agree and they will have a strong point for not agreeing with you. And that’s fine—that’s part of the job and I have no problem with that.


If someone has a valid point, I will definitely think about it and change something if required. But when someone just says, ‘you suck!’ then all I can think is, ‘oh, thank you.’ [Laughs]


James Ryan: [Laughs]


Yves Lavigne: That’s obviously not very constructive. But if you say that decision sucked because of ‘this’ or ‘that,’ I’m probably going to listen, or read it and think about it, and say to myself, ‘ya, that makes sense’ and maybe I will change something after.


But just saying that I suck—I don’t care about that. Sorry, but I don’t care.


James Ryan: [Laughs] I like that. I like that you don’t have the whole attitude of ‘I know everything that there is to know and there’s nothing I can learn.’ You certainly seem like you’re open-minded, and you’re willing to evolve with the sport and be accountable for the decisions that you make.


Yves Lavigne: I am!


James Ryan: That takes a lot of courage in my opinion.


Yves Lavigne: The Mac Danzig incident—I take full responsibility for that. I’m the one who stopped that fight. I made a mistake based on partial information and miscommunication that I had with one fighter. I think that the next step is to find a way to prevent that from happening in the future and I did share that with other referees that night.


I will not speak with another fighter during a fight because of the language issues and stress levels.


If someone comes up with a better suggestion on how to deal with this type of a situation and has a really good point—I will take that under careful consideration and I will make an adjustment if I think that I need to.


James Ryan: One final question.


Yves Lavigne: You have my total devotion and all the time that you need, James.


James Ryan: Thank you. What are your thoughts on instant replay and how, if at all, do you see it being useful to the sport of MMA?


Yves Lavigne: I think that it’s a good thing, but we would definitely have to learn how to use it.


Not all fouls are committed intentionally. The referee chooses the best point of view that he can. We are an integrated part of that fight. People will just have to learn to live with our decisions.


Boxing doesn’t use it. We would be the first fighting sport to use it.


Also, I’m looking at a fight for different reasons then from why most people are looking at a fight. I’m not looking at that fight from an entertainment point of view.


A lot of times, I have to go back to watch the fight just to enjoy it. I do not enjoy the fight while I’m in there. I try to be one step ahead.


James Ryan: Well, you’re there to do a job, right?


Yves, this has been an incredibly insightful conversation and I must admit, I have a new-found respect for just how difficult your job really is.


Thank you again for your time and for answering all of my questions.


Yves Lavigne: Awesome, thanks!


And by the way, thank you James for making me more important than I am. Bottom line is that I’m just a referee.


James Ryan: Please don’t sell yourself short, Yves. It pains me to say this [Laughs] but referees are people too. [Laughs]


Yves Lavigne: [Laughs]


James Ryan: Without referees, we would have no sports. I know that it must feel like a pretty thankless job sometimes, but that’s what makes you such a great person. You don’t do it for the glory, you do it for the love of MMA and I admire that greatly.


Thank you

This is my interview. If you don’t like it...I have others. Check them out at Mr. James Ryan.com


Referee: “I think I’ve heard just about enough out of you, Coach!”
Coach: “Well at least we know your hearing works. Too bad about your eyesight!”

Last Updated on Sunday, 04 July 2010 02:44
 
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