By Jared S. Hopkins, Chicago Tribune –
CHICAGO — The UFC might draw its largest television audience Saturday in Chicago when Rashad Evans faces Phil Davis.
Before that, Rob Madrigal will face his biggest audience, too, in at least one preliminary bout.
But the Illinois Athletic Commission’s selection of Madrigal, the only Chicago referee assigned to the show at the United Center, is drawing fire from some who say he lacks the pro experience for a big event.
In a pro career that began less than two years ago, Madrigal has officiated 13 fights.
Tim Lueckenhoff, president of the Association of Boxing Commissions, said using someone with Madrigal’s pro experience in the UFC is “definitely, definitely” a safety risk.
“You can’t allow that,” said Leukenhoff, who heads Missouri’s Office of Athletics. “You want to give guys experience but you don’t want to give experience on a world stage.”
Madrigal received his Indiana referee license Sept. 23, 2010 and worked 11 bouts there, according to public records.
In Illinois, he became licensed last Nov. 14, state records show. He refereed two bouts at an event in Hoffman Estates on Dec. 20, according to mixedmartialarts.com, which tracks pro results.
Marc Ratner, the UFC vice president of regulatory affairs, said he trusts the commission.
“I do not go in anywhere and tell the commission what to do,” said Ratner, the former head of the Nevada Athletic Commission. “He’ll get some exposure and I look forward to meeting him.”
Ratner said world-renowned referees “Big” John McCarthy and Herb Dean will handle the three main fights, including Evans-Davis, televised nationally on Fox. The prelims will be televised on Fuel.
Since pro MMA became legalized in Illinois, the commission has used about a dozen local referees, some of whom now have worked hundreds or thousands of pro bouts.
A commission spokeswoman said the agency does not comment on assignments.
UFC’s level of talent is so high that its bottom card is stronger than any other pro show, longtime MMA referee Rob Hinds said.
“The fighters, they deserve the most competent, the most experienced, the most knowledgeable officials out at that level. This is not where you get learning experience,” said Hinds, who previously has worked UFC events.
In response to a phone call, Madrigal emailed the Chicago Tribune a description of his training background, which includes several MMA training certifications. He also co-owns a sanctioning body. He received his judge’s license in 2010 in Illinois and has worked as a judge.
“I understand that there are going to be quite a few people upset that they did not get this assignment as I feel extremely fortunate, but before you write a story on why I was selected please check my qualifications first,” Madrigal wrote.
Training is important, but it is not as crucial as the experience inside the ring with pros, said Leukenhoff, whose membership includes state and tribal commissions in the United States and Canada.
“I know he has done a lot of amateur (refereeing) but there’s no comparison when you have a crowd screaming at you and TV cameras on you,” he said. “Hopefully he’ll be successful but you want to ease into that.”