Sunday’s UFC Fight Night 112 in Oklahoma City was a suitably silly affair, with Justine Kish getting decisioned after a rear naked choke plus an ensuing emergency defecation, hall-of-famer B.J. Penn getting embarrassed by an elderly German, and Johny Hendricks, the man who once stood toe-to-toe with Georges St-Pierre during the Canadian’s reign of welterweight terror, finding himself on the receiving end of a high kick sent by a middleweight the size of a Sprinter van. And that was all before the main event, in which things got especially weird.
Lightweight contenders Michael Chiesa and Kevin Lee kicked off their bout a month earlier, when Lee made a joke about Chiesa’s mom and Chiesa proceeded to try and dislodge Lee’s garish sunglasses from his face. They met for keeps last night and didn’t touch gloves before a rocky first round that ended with Chiesa losing by submission after Lee outwrestled him and locked him in a rear naked choke with under 30 seconds left.
However, Chiesa never tapped out, as referee Mario Yamasaki put an abrupt stop to the fight shortly after Lee got the choke on, prompting an immediate and vociferous protest from the bloodied Chiesa.
Chiesa was getting his ass kicked and Lee may have been close to wringing a tap from his opponent, but the premature stoppage looked even more egregious since it came after Justine Kish escaped an even more established rear naked choke just two fights earlier. The best MMA fights are the ones where each fighter is pushed to their limit and almost beaten, only to recover and stay in the fight. Chiesa could easily have escaped after losing the round 10-8 and made it a fight. He also could have tapped out two seconds after Yamasaki stopped things, but there’s no telling now, and everyone but Lee is frustrated as hell at that fact.
Chiesa ripped into Yamasaki, a veteran referee and experienced jiu-jitsu practitioner, calling on him to “never officiate ever again.”
I mean, Mario Yamasaki should just crawl in a hole and never step inside of any type of professional mixed martial arts event. He should never officiate ever again. He should spend more time going over the rules than making stupid little heart symbols to the cameras.
As he noted, he had a legitimate case for leaning into the choke and no longer trying to pry Lee’s arms off of his neck. He has escaped similar choke-outs before and gone on to win, and he said he would appeal the loss and ask Dana White for a rematch.
Go back and watch [Lee’s] fight with Al Iaquinta. He straps in palm-to-palm and really squeezes, and that choke requires a lot of arm pump, a lot of arm strength. So once he switched with palm-to-pal, I just went into this, flexed my neck, get my arms in, get my palms up, and once I feel him start to loosen up, I buckle my elbow down. I mean, I might not be ranked by a belt instructor (in jiu-jitsu), but I am a black belt level MMA fighter. I don’t lose by rear-naked choke. You’ve seen me get in this position time and time again. I was doing totally fine.
The amount of power a referee has to stop a fight makes this sort of outcome inevitable from time to time, much like how the poorly articulated and razor-thin margins between illegal and legal moves will occasionally make for confusing stoppages. If the fight had continued, Lee looked like the favorite to win, but he shouldn’t have won in the way he did. Hopefully, these two get a rematch (as Chiesa is calling for) and Yamasaki isn’t in charge of officiating it.