Natasha Brits removed as EFC referee
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CAPE TOWN – Extreme Fighting Championship referee Natasha Brits and Mixed Martial Arts South Africa have acknowledged the horrible mistake made this past weekend at EFC 88 in Johannesburg.
Officiating the flyweight fight between professional debutants, Julio Plaatjies (1-0) and Teboho Ntene (0-1), the South African referee – also debuting in her first professional bout – failed to call a stop to the fight at the right time after Teboho appeared to be choked unconscious after being caught in an extended rear-naked choke.
A lapse in judgement of this nature could have an horrendous impact on a fighter’s health, considering the compromised position the athlete’s body is in and situations such as these are never taken lightly from all corners of the combat sports world.
“I went back and reviewed the fight as I always do. I see where I missed the mark. It was never my intention to put the fighter at risk. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to Mr Ntene and everyone involved. My main responsibility as a referee is to keep the fighters safe. I am willing to accept criticism and adjust,” said Natasha – who became the second female referee to officiate in the EFC following in the footsteps of Chyrene Strauss who made history at EFC 87.
Following the incident, an investigation was launched by MMASA before the panel came to the following conclusion.
“After scrutinising the bout and also conducting an interview with Mr Plaatjies – to obtain any information that might not be clear from the footage or audio – all panel members independently indicated the correct time of stoppage to be 3:18 (remaining). The panel therefore unanimously agreed that this was a late stoppage,” said MMASA vice president and official head on the night, Ferdi Basson.
“Mr Plaatjies indicated that he felt Mr Ntene’s body lost muscle tension, and at the same time he could see the referee was attempting to see Mr Ntene’s face. He proceeded to turn onto his side to make Mr Ntene’s face visible, also indicating verbally to the referee that Mr Ntene is unconscious. That is when the referee moved forward to pick up Mr Ntene’s arm. Mr Plaatjies then loosened the grip on the rear-naked choke. When he felt Mr Ntene fight back, he then tightened the grip again, and proceeded to flatten him out waiting for the referee to call an end to the match.”
The battle continued as Julio rode Teboho’s back before the latter’s legs and toes started to stiffen up which was an even more concerning sign.
Six seconds before the last two minutes of the round, the commentators raised concerns that Teboho’s eyes were possibly rolling to the back of his head before repeatedly suggesting that the man may well be unconscious to viewers watching across the world.
Laying on his stomach, with his face now almost in direct contact with the canvas, Teboho continued to stiffen up and with two minutes and 55 seconds remaining, referee Natasha again checked his arm before then realising that the athlete was unconscious, declaring the fight over via rear-naked choke with two minutes and 45 seconds remaining in the first round.
The incident drew worldwide criticism on social media from both fighters, fans, officials and referees all baying for action to be taken. Even world-renowned referee and MMA personality, John McCarthy had very strong words for Natasha on his podcast, demanding that she not be close to a cage again.
“Mrs Brits has significant experience, but to ensure that she is up to standard, she will have to pass a locally presented officials’ course, and only then return to officiating. At first, this will be limited to judging for at least five amateur events, and then after a review, will she then be able return to amateur refereeing. Once she then meets the above-mentioned criteria she will be considered for the professional division,” said Ferdi.
Prior to stepping up to the professional circuit, Natasha has been plying her trade on the amateur scene covering eleven Alpha Mixed Martial Arts events, three Extreme Warriors Championship events, the Gauteng Fighting Championship, RAW, ADCC trials, the National Championships and Klerksdorp’s Fight Nights.
Some local EFC athletes were even shocked at what transpired, noting Natasha’s experience.
“The worst thing is, she has been refereeing amateur fights for years,” said one fighter who chose to remain anonymous.
"I know for sure that she had no malicious intent. My issue is a lot more with MMASA who has not trained her properly over her many years involved in the sport."
MMASA also admitted that – despite Natasha’s many years of experience on the local amateur scene – it was their mistake to allow her to ref on the professional circuit prior to her gaining the valuable and vital knowledge needed.
“Normally it would be a requirement to have international amateur experience before entering the professional league, but due to the (Covid-19) pandemic restrictions Mrs Brits did not have the opportunity to officiate at any international event in either 2020 or 2021. It was then decided to waive this requirement as an exception. In hindsight, this may have been a mistake and no further exceptions will be made to this requirement,” added Ferdi.
Below – as per MMASA – is the minimum criteria for amateur officials to officiate professional bouts.
• Minimum of 50 amateur bouts, with at least five of these beingtitle bouts.
• A minimum of five international level amateur bouts, e.g. world championships, continental championships, etc.
• Having successfully completed an internationally accredited MMA official’s course.
It was confirmed by Ferdi that Natasha was not internationally certified and that she had been only locally certified with a ton of experience to boot (more than 50 amateur fights, which included more than five title fights).
Ferdi confirmed that International Mixed Martial Arts Federation’s Marc Goddard – who is responsible for conducting and approving international courses and certification – is yet to come to SA.
“We have arranged a course before, we normally try and do it every second year, as it is quite expensive, and we do it in conjunction with the African Open tournament. With Covid none of this happened,” said Ferdi.
After reaching out to EFC flyweight, Teboho, the young man confirmed that he is doing fine.
“I'm all good my king, thanks for asking,” said Teboho.
“I feel good and no permanent damage was done,” he confirmed when asked if there were any concerns from his doctor.
The EFC is yet to deliver a statement on the matter, but Independent Media understands that matchmaker and vice president, Graeme Cartmell is reviewing the incident.