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In the sport of MMA, it's safe to say that referees and judges generally have the toughest and most thankless jobs of anyone not actually competing in the cage.
Generally speaking, the only time you'll hear a referee or judge's name is when something goes wrong. If a fight gets stopped early or too late, the referee lands in the crosshairs of the fans, the media and the promoter. If the judges return a bizarre decision that doesn't seem to make sense to anyone involved, again the voices are stentorian against the bad call.
In the next episode of The Ultimate Fighter, the referee and judges involved in the upcoming fight between Team Edgar's Ian Stephens and Team Penn's Roger Zapata end up taking the focal point away from the competition in a series of colossal blunders that makes you believe this has somehow turned into The Three Stooges in a comedy of errors.
Without giving any spoilers, the referee's job in a fight is to manage the action and protect the safety of the fighters while enforcing the rules. Ultimately, the referee is there to make sure nothing illegal happens and to stop the fight at the end of each round or when a knockout, TKO or submission finishes one of the competitors. Unfortunately, referees aren't necessarily governed in how they apply the rules or opt to do things like stand fights up from a prone position or deduct points when an illegal act has taken place.
There are dozens upon dozens of examples of referees giving warnings multiple times in a fight but never actually taking points away, and then there are other moments where a referee wastes no time breaking apart the fighters after an illegal strike lands as a point is taken away for the infraction. Again, the problem being there's no set of rules that govern how many warnings can be given versus just taking a point away for the infraction. It's a confusing aspect of the sport, and the referees hold all the power in their hands.
The other major problem that pops up this episode are the judges who sit cageside and score the fight. Judging is done on the 10-point must system, which means the round winner gets 10 points and the loser of the round gets 9 points or less. Each round is scored independently of the others, so even if one fighter dominates and does maximum damage in round one and gets a 10-9 score across the board, if that fighter loses the next two rounds, even if they are much closer, he or she still loses when the final scores are tallied.
But the scoring criteria is what usually results in wacky decisions that baffle the mind of everyone watching a fight when a bad decision is rendered. Strikes, submission attempts, Octagon control - these are all factors that weigh into scoring, but there's no defined point amount for each action or inaction so really it comes down to the eye test of saying who you believe won the round. It's a controversial topic that often gets bantered about in MMA, but after the next episode of The Ultimate Fighter, there's no doubt that the judges and referee will land in plenty of hot water on Thursday morning when this show airs.
The situation that unfolds on the next episode sends everybody over the edge and the eruption after the bout is over could end up being one of the most controversial moments in the 19-plus season history of The Ultimate Fighter.
While this particular scenario outweighs virtually everything else that happens in this episode, there are some other bright spots to look forward to during the lead up to the controversial fight.
We learn more about both Ian Stephens and Roger Zapata and the emotional charge that led each of them to the show. Stephens faced tragedy early in his life and was forced to overcome that to become the athlete he is today, while Zapata had a heartbreaking exit from home to go pursue his dream with hopes of one day being the Ultimate Fighter champion.
A UFC Hall of Famer also makes an appearance during the episode to help an old friend teach and train his team while getting ready for the next fight. It's actually a rather funny pairing considering the relationship these two had during their respective careers, but now as friends they help each other whenever possible, including a guest stint as coach on The Ultimate Fighter.
In the end, however, it all boils down to the fight this week between Stephens and Zapata.
Stephens is a former college wrestler who was a two-time All-American and national champion while at Tennessee Temple University as well as Lindsay Wilson College. Now just to make things clear, these schools and the governing body (NCWA) are not on the same circuit as the NCAA All-Americans and national champions most MMA fans are used to seeing. These schools lost their wrestling programs for one reason or another (usually budgetary cutbacks) and the NCWA provides a body to allow athletes at these schools to continue to compete despite not being recognized by the NCAA.
On the other side is Roger Zapata, who, ironically enough, had some criticisms of wrestling on last week's episode, so he'll certainly get to test his theories in this fight. Zapata is 4-1 as a pro and after dropping his first fight by decision, he's come back with four wins in a row, including three by TKO. Zapata is primarily a striker, so he's going to have to employ some anti-wrestling against Stephens to attempt to keep this fight standing for his best chance at victory.
The fight between Stephens and Zapata will bring about a lot of debate the minute the episode airs and there's no better way to tease this one than to say you have to see it. When it's over, you may end up standing out of your chair or off the couch and literally start screaming at the television screen, but this might be the can't-miss episode of the entire season.