Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Yves Lavigne, Referee Stoppages and Armchair Analysis

By E. Spencer Kyte (

While a great deal of the discussions stemming from UFC 102 have centered around the return to form of Minotauro Nogueira, Randy Couture’s “never say die” showing and Todd Duffee’s record-setting knockout, Yves Lavigne is getting his share of attention too.

Many are questioning Lavigne’s indecision in the ring when Jake Rosholt had a very tight arm triangle choke on Chris Leben. “The Crippler” appeared to tap weakly, Lavigne started to move in to stop the fight and then stopped when Leben’s legs bucked towards the referee. Seconds later, he was out cold, Lavigne jumped in and the hold was released.

Then Leben began to convulse on the canvas.

Seeing a fighter twitch on the mat is never a pretty sight and obvious concern for their safety mounts. In this case, people looking to cast blame turn to Lavigne, a referee who has had some tough calls in recent memory that certainly don’t help the situation.

Everyone remembers his stop-start routine from the UFC 96, where Pete Sell looked to be finished, but Lavigne “restarted” the fight before waving things off shortly thereafter. That same night, many also questioned a different official’s decision when a seemingly early stoppage awarded Shane Nelson a quick win over Aaron Riley.

Therein lies the problem: No matter what these referees do, people are going to question their decisions.

Don’t get in there early enough, you’re endangering fighters livelihood and well-being.

Get in there too soon and you’re depriving the paying customers of what they came to see in the first place and not giving the fighters a chance.

The only way a referee remains unscathed is if there is an unquestionable finish or the final bell sounds. Everything else is put under a microscope and scrutinized by hundreds of people, all of whom have an opinion on the events from the comfort of their living rooms and computer desks, myself included.

Interestingly enough, there was a non-call on that same card that merits some discussion, at least in the eyes of Watch Kalib Run’s Zak Woods.

On the most recent WKR Cage Cast recapping UFC 102, Woods questioned whether referee Mario Yamasaki could have jumped in and stopped the main event when Randy Couture was mounted and clearly taking a great deal of punishment.

Though Couture eventually got back to guard and continued in the bout, he wonders whether a little extra lenience was afforded in this bout simply because it was Randy Couture taking the punishment, and it’s hard not to understand where he is coming from.

There is no denying that there is room for improvement in the refereeing of Mixed Martial Arts fights, just as there is similar room in the officiating of most sports.

Legendary referee “Big” John McCarthy has introduced his COMMAND training program to help in this regard, which, along with continued experience and exposure, will hopefully result in better officiating.

But the naked truth is that referees are going to make mistakes.

They will stop fights too soon and let some continue on when they shouldn’t. Unfortunately, it is the nature of the beast, and something that will never be 100% resolved.

For the most part, these men and women perform admirably in a thankless position where the only time they receive recognition is when countless people who wouldn’t want to switch places with them feel they made a mistake.

Saturday night, Yves Lavigne fell under the microscope of public scrutiny; he let the fight continue for three seconds too long and didn’t trust his natural instinct.

Some are calling for his job, while others are talking about the potential of deaths in the ring if similar situations occur in the future.

I’d just ask that those same people keep this in mind the next time they think a referee stops a fight too early.

One thing that maybe only I find interesting in all this:

Guys can beat their opponents into bloody messes, knock them out cold and even break their appendages, usually to a chorus of cheers. Dan Henderson delivers a clearly unnecessary forearm to the head of a fallen Michael Bisping and it’s okay, because it was in the heat of the moment and you have to keep going until the fight is stopped.

Yet these referees make one mistake either way and people are calling for their careers and throwing them under the bus in the name of fighter safety, risk of injuries or perhaps even worse.

Somewhere in there lies a double standard that we’ll tackle tomorrow.

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