The main event of this weekend’s Demolidor Fight event in Brazil ended with one of the scariest things you will ever see in combat sports. In the third round of Melquizael Costa’s and Rafael Barbosa’s featherweight title fight, Barbosa locked in a standing choke and grappled Costa to the ground. He quickly put Costa into a brutal anaconda choke and the fight should have been over seconds later. Instead, the referee in charge of the action inexplicably let Barbosa squeeze the life out of a clearly unconscious Costa for another minute and a half. Barbosa had to stop the fight himself, and as soon as he got up, he yelled at referee Emerson Pereira Saez (skip to around 11:42 for the start of the sequence in question).
You’ll notice that Costa moves a bit as Barbosa is choking him out. Costa spoke to MMA Fighting about the fight, and told them that when it looked like he was fighting back a bit, his body was actually convulsing in seizures. “My corner and his corner yelled that I was out, but the referee said he would only stop the fight if I was out,” he said. “And I was! Every referee touches the fighter to see if they are out, but he never touched me. My opponent stopped the fight. Otherwise, I would be dead.”
Former UFC official John McCarthy agreed:
Costa went to the hospital after the fight, and he says he could barely breathe as he was revived by doctors in the octagon. Saez defended himself to MMA Fighting, telling them that Costa’s eyes were open and it appeared he was moving under his own power. He should have touched Costa to see if he was unconscious, though he says he was talking to the fighters as Barbosa was holding the choke. Saez said that he will be retiring as a professional MMA referee.
Barbosa said that he lightened up on the choke after he felt Costa slacken, which prompted him to tell Saez to stop the fight. However, he also pointed out that Costa’s active corner may have helped make thing’s worse, saying, “I know that the referee is wrong, but [Costa’s] team wouldn’t say much either. He was out, and his team kept telling him to get up, to defend. They thought he was still awake. I don’t think the referee is completely wrong here.”