Marc Goddard didn’t have the luxury of slow-motion instant replay over the weekend. He didn’t have the benefit of going back when his decision was already made.
In hindsight, though, after watching his stoppage in the UFC 234 fight between Jimmy Crute and Sam Alvey again, the referee admits he might have done things differently if he had another chance.
Crute rocked Alvey badly and dropped him in the first round with a right hand at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia. Crute then walked away like the fight was over, but Goddard had not called it. Alvey was able to recover a bit, but shortly after ended up in a terrible position — turtled up with Crute raining down hard blows.
Some of those blows did not get through and land, but some did. Some hit Alvey’s arms. Goddard stepped in, though, after 16 thrown punches in that sequence and called off the fight, believing Alvey was done. Alvey immediately popped up and furiously argued the stoppage. Alvey, who is known for his sunny demeanor, was so angry he stormed out of the Octagon immediately after the result was read by announcer Bruce Buffer.
“Yes, I know that Sam obviously jumped straight back up, obviously demonstrating to me and telling me he’s OK,” Goddard said. “But at that point the fight is called. And you know what? Going back and looking at it again, if I could run it back again, yeah I would have taken a half step back. I would have let another two shots or three shots play out. And I’m gonna put it down to a mistake. I’m big and ugly enough to do that.”
In a vacuum, Goddard said he would not have stopped the fight based on the ground-and-pound sequence alone. It was how bad Alvey was rocked earlier and the facedown position he was in at the eventual end that made him pull the trigger. Alvey was giving a thumbs up sign, but Goddard said he didn’t see it, because he was focusing on where the punches were going.
“It wasn’t one, two or three shots I’m jumping in and stopping,” Goddard said. “It was 16. Sixteen shots. And at that point, I’m taking into assessment, I think he’s hurt and not recovered from the original knockdown. I think he’s hurt, I see his head on the mat, I see the shots coming in and I make my call.
“At the same time, as I’m doing that, people are saying, ‘Didn’t you see Sam’s thumb up?’ No, I didn’t. Wholly and honestly, I didn’t see his thumb up, because his arm is outstretched and my focus, my vision is on where these shots are trying to land.”
UFC president Dana White criticized Goddard’s stoppage in the UFC 234 post-fight press conference, saying the ref did a “really, really bad job.” White said he also took issue with how Goddard acted on the initial knockdown, leading Crute to think the fight was over.
Regarding the comments, Goddard said he believes White has “seen a thousand fights” and is entitled to his opinion. On the Alvey knockdown, Goddard said he did what he always does — try to get to the pertinent position as quickly as possible.
“When Sam gets dropped, I run in and my focus, my peripheral vision then becomes tunneled,” Goddard said. “My eye sight is honed in on one person and that one person is Sam Alvey. What I’m looking for as I run is if Sam can give me a glimmer, show me something that tells me he’s still there. Something that’s gonna allow me to let the fight to continue. He does, he gets back up, he’s clearly wobbled.
“Of course I’m running in to stop it, because that’s my job. I don’t want Sam to take an unnecessary follow up if he doesn’t have to. My mind is going 100 miles an hour as I’m running in. I’ll assess it in real time and then I’ll back off, because I know I’m gonna give Sam that chance. He gets that chance to stay in the fight.”
Moments after he gets back up, Alvey goes for a takedown and Crute easily rolls him over and reverses position. Goddard saw that as another sign that Alvey was still out of it.
“He rolls over like it was nothing, like he was a baby,” Goddard said. “And I know that in normal times, Sam wouldn’t do that. Obviously, he’s still disorientated, etc. And he’s still trying to get a grip of what’s going on. I recognize that, I’m letting the fight go.”
With all that in mind, Goddard watched Crute throw more than a dozen shots with Alvey doing little to effectively defend. While he wishes he would have taken a half step back and continued his assessment, Goddard said the last thing he wanted to do was have Alvey take major damage.
“Let’s say I let it play out and then the last two shots that came through put him completely facedown, unconscious,” Goddard said. “What do you think they’ll be saying about me?”
To compound the situation, Goddard was the referee for Alvey’s previous fight, against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira last September in Brazil. Nogueira won by TKO and Alvey was also unhappy with the timing of that stoppage by Goddard.
Before UFC 234, though, Goddard said Alvey was professional and cordial backstage in the traditional rules meeting. Goddard said he holds no ill will toward “Smile’n Sam.” In fact, he wishes all of this played out differently.
“I approach my job and all the fights the same,” Goddard said. “And I’m sorry to Sam, I really am. I feel bad. But all I want people to try and do is understand where my mental aspect came from. Had I stopped the fight from the ground and pound alone, people would be rightly jumping all over me. But I’m not. It was the fact of what happened before that.”
Goddard has been refereeing for 15 years and in 11 of those he’s gotten assignments to work UFC. He’s experienced and regarded as one of the best referees in MMA. Goddard said he wants to make it clear that these are not situations he takes lightly.
“I’m just doing what I do,” Goddard said. “This sport is ingrained in me. Not just the mind, I’m operating from the heart as well. It means a lot to me. I want these guys to have their trust and faith in me. I don’t know. Sometimes it’s like the old adage — you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”