Seeing MMA fighter Austin Batra go airborne, arms overhead, looking like he was about to drive his fists through an opponent who was hardly moving, it was difficult not to jump to conclusions.
Why would Batra stay on the attack after he’d just landed a knockout blow? Why did he choose such an aggressive and extravagant maneuver? Was it not clear that the referee had already stepped in to wave off the fight?
The first available clip of the incident — which sprang from the co-main event of a Battlefield Fight League amateur show that took place in Coquitlam, British Columbia, on Saturday before rapidly making the social media rounds — gave a limited and grainy-looking depiction of Batra’s actions, but the promotion has since released its own video that provides a clearer image of what happened.
What first appeared to be a 32-second knockout win for Batra was overturned to a disqualification win for opponent Perry Hayer, a result that made Hayer the BFL welterweight champion under the oddest circumstances. In a backstage interview with Jeremy Brand of MMA Sucka, the 23-year-old Batra said that game plan was “to kill,” but implied that the referee could have been faster stopping the fight so that he could have avoided attempting his flying strike.
The next day, Batra recorded another video in which he explained that he did what he could to avoid landing on Hayer. MMA Fighting reached out to both fighters to get their respective sides of the story and see how they were dealing with this surprising moment of notoriety.
“First of all, I just want to say that the fight, it was a fight,” Batra said. “We both stepped up and we accepted the fight, there was a lot of hype behind this fight, so what happened in there — you’re face to face with a guy who wants to try and rip your head off. You develop instincts and get into a zone for preparation. The adrenaline is surging, my adrenaline was surging, and you’re constantly looking for a way to finish a fight in your favor. As a fighter, you know the risk that you’re taking. I knew that ‘I could die tomorrow.’ The doctor, everyone, they talk to you before the fight and you sign papers. You know the risks. And then crazy things can happen and we accept that. We put our life on the line for this.
“What a lot of people don’t know is that everything happens very fast in the octagon. When you watch it in the replay, when you watch it in slow motion, it is so easy for you guys to say, ‘Oh, he should have done this or he should have done that.’ So in this fight I knew I had it as soon as I hit him with the first left hook. I caught him. He stumbled back. That’s when I knew I had to go in for the finish or else this could have been dragging on into further rounds.”
The British Columbia Athletic Commission didn’t see it Batra’s way and they made the decision to disqualify him. Reached for comment, the BCAC only offered a brief reply:
“BCAC will be reviewing the Batra vs. Hayer fight to determine the outcome of the bout and if any further disciplinary action is required as a result of potential unsportsmanlike conduct.”
Having had a chance to review the footage himself, Batra maintains that he had already begun to attempt his high-flying strike before the referee had stepped in. As for why he chose to literally leap in to finish the fight that to that point was still ongoing from his perspective, he pointed to his respect for Hayer’s grappling game and his strategy to avoid getting caught in a submission from the bottom, which is how Batra lost his last fight.
He also believes he did enough to avoid causing any additional damage.
“I only had him in my sights. I couldn’t see the ref coming from my right. At that exact moment, the fight was still on,” said Batra. “I jumped at my opponent with a double axe handle strike and then immediately after leaving the ground I noticed the referee waving off the fight. If you watch the replay in slow motion, you can see that I opened my hands back up and shifted my body as best as I could in mid-air. You have to realize I’m in mid-air at this point.
“And then it just happened so fast, I still didn’t land on him. I think I may have touched him, but in my honest opinion, I think that I did not touch him. I launched straight, but I went to the side. If I didn’t try to avoid him, if I still went straight, I would have made way more impact and it could have been way more damaging. Immediately after I landed that strike, I put my hands up to the ref to show him that I backed off and it’s just really hard to see that in real time. But it goes even faster when you’re the one flying through the air trying to avoid contact at the last minute.”
Hayer, 32, is not convinced. He told MMA Fighting that he saw the unorthodox strike as “very blatant” and that while there was no bad blood between the two of them before or after the fight, he saw the move as indicative of Batra’s character.
“At the end of the day it’s a martial art. It’s a sport,” Hayer said. “We obviously exchanged some words leading up to the fight. We talked, we promoted the fight. At the end of the day, I’ve been doing this a long time, he caught me, he won the fight, I’m not denying any of that. But I think 10 times out of 10 he does the exact same thing.
“We saw the video. He put his hands down, he relaxed, the referee moved in and he chose to jump on me. His emotions got the best of him and it shows how young he is, how much he has to learn still.”
For his part, Hayer is just as unsatisfied with the title being handed to him via disqualification, and he does not consider himself to be the BFL welterweight champion. The Surrey, British Columbia, native plans to vacate the belt and then take some time to plan his next move, which he does not expect to be an immediate rematch with Batra. However, he said he is open to fighting Batra again in the future, possibly with the two competing as professionals next time.
Told of Hayer’s comments, Batra said he agreed they could fight again in the future, and wanted his opponent to know that he didn’t intend any unnecessary harm.
“I just want people to understand that when promoting a fight, I might come off a little cocky or with a chip on my shoulder or whatever,” said Batra. “But deep down I’m humble, honest, driven, and a hungry competitor.”
“There was no cheap shots,” he continued. “If he thinks that it was a cheap shot, I give him my utmost apology, I’m very sorry that feels that way. I would have not done that if the referee had stopped the fight a second or two earlier. … No matter how the fight got promoted, I have the utmost respect for you for even stepping foot in the octagon.”