In the debate over Jon Jones' loss via disqualification against Matt Hamill at last weekend's finale of "The Ultimate Fighter," there's at least one part of the story that no one disputes.
With a little more than a minute left in the first round, and with Jones raining blows down upon Hamill from the mount position, Jones hit Hamill with several illegal "12-to-6" elbow strikes (just imagine the motion your elbow would make if you were to pull a football helmet onto your head with one hand). The strikes were a violation of the rules, and no one is arguing any different. He threw four of them before referee Steve Mazzagatti halted the fight to check on Hamill and take a point away from Jones.
Up until this point, the fight was without controversy. It's what happened next that prompted Jones and his management to file an appeal with the Nevada State Athletic Commission this week, asking them to change the verdict from a loss to a win for Jones -- or at the very least to rule the bout a no contest.
"A big part of it is that Mazzagatti just didn't handle things right," explained Jones. "You know, he's standing over Matt Hamill, who can't see at the time because he has blood in his eyes, and obviously he can't hear, and Mazzagatti is standing there asking him if he's okay. Then he stops the fight."
The question, according to Jones and his manager, Jason Genet, is why the fight was stopped. According to Jones' camp, a dislocated shoulder stemming from an earlier leg trip takedown was to blame for Hamill's inability to continue -- not the illegal strikes. Hamill, who is deaf, was unable to communicate this to Mazzagatti as the ref stood over him asking, "Are you done?"
According to Jones' management team, this is the point where a translator should have been brought in to help Hamill communicate with the referee. If his injuries were then deemed to be a result of the illegal blows, they say, he should have been given the allotted five minutes to recover. Instead, Mazzagatti used the newly approved instant replay option in MMA and ruled that the illegal elbow strikes had caused the fight-ending damage.
When UFC announcer Bruce Buffer announced Hamill the winner via disqualification, the shock was evident on Jones' face. In an instant, there went his win bonus and his undefeated record. And he still didn't have a scratch on him.
"I talked to Matt myself afterwards and he said he wouldn't have been able to continue because his shoulder was dislocated when I took him down -- not because of the strikes," said Jones. "I've watched the fight dozens of times by now and so has my manager, and you can see that none of the elbows I threw actually hit him on his nose, where the cut was. They hit him on the forehead, one was absorbed by his jaw, one on his cheek. The cut on his nose was opened way before that."
What perplexed Jones more was that, when he returned home and did some research on the referee who disqualified him, he found that he wasn't the only one to take issue with Mazzagatti's decisions. Several times he has drawn the ire of fans for questionable stoppages. UFC president Dana White once referred to him as "the worst referee in the history of fighting."
"I want to go about the appeals process without insulting him, but I think he did a poor job of handling it," said Jones. "I didn't really know anything about him until I went and read some of the blogs and found out that no one thinks he's a good ref. The UFC seems to hate this guy. No one thinks he's good at what he does. I guess this isn't the first time something has happened with him.
"This is all so new to me. I'm learning a lot about the game through this. But hopefully this will help [Mazzagatti] too, maybe get him to buckle down and become a little better at what he does. This is important to all of us who do it. We have careers to think about and bills to pay."
Bills may be foremost on Jones' mind at the moment, and understandably so. While he was in Las Vegas fighting, his fiancée was back home in Ithaca, New York, giving birth to their second child -- a daughter named Carmen Nicole Jones, after Jon's older sister who died of his cancer before her eighteenth birthday.
"I'll be honest," he said. "All this appeal stuff is kind of watered down when you have a new human being come in to your life."
Jones insists that he was happy with his overall performance, and believes that whether the loss remains on his record or not, it won't impede his progress up the UFC's light heavyweight ladder.
"I'm definitely not mad about the situation. It happened, I accept that, I'm not mad at anyone or upset about it. It was really up to my management team what to do about it. My manager said he wanted us to try and appeal and get that loss off our record, and I said OK. At the same time, we're going to work really hard not to offend Mazzagatti or the [Nevada State] Athletic Commission or disrespect anyone. We wrote the letter and I thought it was worded well, so we'll see what happens now. If we get a no? Fine, that's it. It's over. But why not try?"