Embattled South Korean MMA promotion Battlefield FC recently took another hit, as the promotion’s original referees refused to appear for its Saturday, July 25 Battlefield FC 2 event.
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According to a Facebook post from Steven Perceval, an MMA referee who has officiated numerous bouts in the UFC and beyond, he and the remaining officials originally slated to work at Battlefield FC 2 in Macau, China, decided not to work the event as a result of “bad organisation and broken promises by the promotion.”
Speaking with The Body Lock, Perceval relayed that Battlefield FC had contacted him in order to bring in a team of “trained, experienced officials” for its second-ever event, which took place Saturday.
Battlefield FC’s inaugural event took place in 2017. The card featured a host of notable names, including PFL star Sarah Kaufman and UFC flyweight Jessica-Rose Clark. While the event took place seemingly without a hitch, things would quickly go downhill for the debuting promotion.
According to reports at the time, Battlefield failed to pay its fighters following the conclusion of the event. It was not until over a year later that, finally, Battlefield paid the debts it owed to the fighters from the promotion’s debut.
Perceval said that he knew of these developments, and believed that they were a cause for precautionary measures.
“I was aware of the problems the first Battlefield FC encountered, and that they took between 6-12 months to pay the fighters. The fact that they did eventually pay the fighters told me that the promoter does have integrity. The fact that they wanted me to supply a full team of officials also told me that they wanted to rectify the problems from their first event,” wrote Perceval.
The organization re-launched in 2019, attracting notable MMA veterans such as former Bellator lightweight champion Will Brooks, UFC veterans Gleison Tibau and Bryan Caraway, and others.
However, it appears as though the promotion’s re-launch did not address some of its inaugural event’s failings – sources tell The Body Lock that Battlefield has failed to pay its fighters yet again.
Perceval, speaking prior to this development, considered the possibility.
“Because of the payment problems from the first event, I wanted to try and minimise the risk for the officials payment, so I formed an agreement for the promotion and myself to abide by. This worked at first but then organisational problems started to creep in, and as the event grew closer more problem (sic) occurred. I became increasingly more concerned that the agreement would not be adhered to and expressed my concerns to the promoter.”
According to Perceval, his team of officials grew disgruntled with Battlefield and, apparently justly, feared non-payment.
“In the end we did not receive flights till the day before departure even though I was constantly requesting them from the promotion. The officials lost confidence in the promotion and did not want to do the event in fear they would not be paid,” said Perceval.
“The day of departure I requested full payment be put into my account so the officials knew [their] payment was secured, the promoter agreed and told me it would be done quickly.”
When the promotion failed to do so, however, Perceval made the decision to pull his team from officiating the event.
“At the point of checking in for the flights the payment had not still not been paid into my account, so fully aware of the payment issues from the first event, I decided to pull my officials from the event. It was a difficult decision but I did not want to board the flight only to find the payment was not in my account when arriving in Macau.”
Battlefield FC was able to secure officials for their event, which took place Saturday. However, the show was not without controversy.
In the main event, Will Brooks took on Gleison Tibau on short notice after his scheduled opponent, Abel Trujillo, was pulled from the card following his arrest on charges of obscenity and sexual exploitation.
With just under two minutes remaining in the first round, Tibau pressed Brooks into the cage and searched for a standing guillotine choke. Tibau appeared to begin applying pressure with the choke, and Brooks seemed to relax and prepare his defense of the submission.
The referee, however, had seen enough, calling the fight to the surprise of Tibau, Brooks, the commentary team, and fans watching the Battlefield FC 2 event.
Following the stoppage, Tibau stopped and looked at the official before raising his arms in victory, while Brooks stood with his eyes wide, mouth agape, and hands up in confusion.
The shocked commentary team exclaimed, “Oh my goodness. What, what, what, what? The referee called it?”
The controversial stoppage was bashed on social media, with media, fighters, and fans alike weighing in on the referee’s decision.
Will Brooks got absolutely railroaded by incompetent officiating. This is just awful. https://t.co/K6GXx2XZtV
— Luke Thomas (@lthomasnews) July 27, 2019
Both guys are my friends, so from a completely unbiased perspective..this is one of the worst stoppages in MMA history. https://t.co/zHtZYariAW
— TheCreepyWeasel. (@WeaselSteve) July 27, 2019
Brooks himself has addressed the stoppage, tweeting that he doesn’t “agree with the ref but it doesn’t matter. If I do what I’m supposed to this situation doesn’t happen.”
I don't agree with the ref but it doesn't matter. If I do what I'm supposed to this situation doesn't happen.
I believe that I'm still a very special talent in MMA. So, I'll keep at it until I get it right.
All praise and glory to God during the good and bad. https://t.co/2J0oIH9uxz
— Will Brooks (@ILLxWillBrooks) July 27, 2019
Prior to the Battlefield FC 2 event, Perceval voiced his concerns about what the fighters would be subject to in terms of officiating, stating, “I feel for the fighters because instead of receiving a group of highly qualified and experienced officials they will receive who knows what.”
In light of the controversial finish in the Tibau vs. Brooks fight, additional scrutiny may be placed on the refereeing that occurred at Battlefield FC 2. The referee of that fight – and the entirety of the event – were brought in on a day’s notice.
According to Dennis Verges, a cornerman present at the event, the referee’s who called the Brooks stoppage knowledge of the rules was lacking, at best.
— Dennis R. Verges (@DRVerges) July 28, 2019
After watching Tibau’s finish of Brooks, Perceval echoed those concerns and weighed in with his professional opinion.
“I don’t know the referee, more importantly I don’t know who he received training from or whether he has any qualifications or experience,” wrote Perceval.
“I wanted to comment about this situation because anyone can referee a straight forward fight but when it comes to a situation like this a good referee will know what to do, the steps to take. In my opinion all officials should be trained by a reputable person or organisation, before receiving experience in the cage or ring and ideally working alongside other highly experienced officials so they can get crucial feedback of their performance.”
Perceval analyzed the finish, as well, but noted that he does not enjoy critiquing a colleague’s decision-making.
“As a referee I do not like to criticise other referees in the media because they may already be feeling bad and questioning their decision. I know what it is like to be in the cage under pressure of stopping g a fight at that perfect moment. In this situation I will explain my actions if I was refereeing this fight,” wrote Perceval.
“I also explain if in a situation like Will Brooks or if I can’t see the fighter eyes I will grab the fighter’s arm, to check for consciousness. I make it very clear, if the arm flops (no resistance) then I am stopping the fight, if they are conscious and feel me grab their arm they need to give me some resistance and I will let the fight continue.
“This is done so the fighter is aware of what they need to do in a situation like this. Watching the replay Will Brooks arms look like he is going out, his arms are slowly going limp, this is when I would quickly check by grabbing one of his arms, before stopping the fight. Some fighters in this situation if comfortable will give you a thumbs up to let you know they are ok to continue.
“I had almost an identical situation to this in a UFC, the fighter’s eyes were open but he looked like he was going limp, I quickly checked his arm (as described) and immediately stopped the fight as I knew he was unconscious. My decision was clear after I checked his arm,” Perceval concluded.
Battlefield FC did not immediately respond for comment.
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.