Like many mixed martial artists James Thompson is open and honest when discussing his career. The unassuming nature of fighters is one of MMA’s greatest qualities, and is a refreshing change from the clichés and platitudes churned out by an infinite number of pretentious athletes participating in more established sports.
In the wake of several dubious refereeing decisions over the past few weeks, ‘The Colossus’ was as candid as ever as he highlighted what he believes is a lack of consistency with officiating of the sport.
The British heavyweight was defeated by Kevin ‘Kimbo Slice’ Ferguson at last month’s EliteXC show amid all manner of controversy, and is still bitterly disappointed with the outcome.
“A win would have been a big boost,” says the 29-year-old. “It would have put my career back on track and given me the ‘W’ – I really want to get back in the win column. All the hard work I put into the fight would have paid off. I feel gutted that I lost the fight in the manner I did, but it’s nice that 99 per cent of people are on the same page as me with how they feel about it. I’m gutted but it’s bitter sweet because it was a good all-round performance by myself, and I haven’t come out of it too bad.”
Having taken the fight to the ground in round two, Thompson moved to a dominant side-control position where he was promptly stood up by referee Dan Miragliotta to the bewilderment of many. Taking Kimbo down again later in the round, Thompson pinned the former street-fighter against the cage and began delivering strikes to his head. This time Miragliotta warned ‘The Colossus’ that he had to keep working or the fight would again be stood up, apparently neglecting the precarious position Kimbo found himself in.
Then there was, of course, the now infamous conclusion to the contest that left Thompson believing he had been robbed and many viewers querying not only the timing of the stoppage, but the legitimacy of the fight.
“I think Kimbo was given every chance to survive and carry on the fight, but I wasn’t given that chance,” he explains. “As soon as he landed a couple of shots – and even though the referee said my ear popping had nothing to do with the stoppage – I think he saw the blood and thought ‘that will do’.
While the fallout from the fight has generally focused on Miragliotta’s decision-making and EliteXC’s handling of the situation, the effect a win would have had on Thompson’s career has been largely overlooked.
The PRIDE veteran has had his fair share of ups and downs, and he concedes that he was essentially hand-picked by EliteXC promoter Gary Shaw to act as a sacrificial lamb for the ultra-popular Kimbo. Desperate to kick-start his career, Thompson refused to read the script, however, and used the underdog tag as a motivational tool, producing a strategic performance that surprised and impressed those who had become familiar with his habitually reckless style.
“I think they (EliteXC) thought my biggest weakness would play into Kimbo’s biggest strength, and they thought it would be a pretty easy victory for him,” says Thompson. “I’ve watched the fight on tape and there are some things I’m pleased with and some I’m not, but on the whole it wasn’t too much of a bad performance under very pressurized circumstances.”
On a night that was clearly designed to supply new fans with exciting stand-up fights and knock-out finishes, Thompson declined playing into Kimbo’s strengths and repeatedly put the brawler on his back. Although this proved a successful approach, it evidently did not endear the Brit to EliteXC vice president Jared Shaw, who was said to have been screaming at Miragliotta to stand the fight up during the second round. Thompson – who has two fights remaining on his EliteXC contract – believes such behavior is a ‘conflict of interests’, but says he is unconcerned by Shaw’s apparent displeasure.
“I’m not bothered what they (EliteXC) think – it’s MMA not a boxing match. If I choose to go for a flying armbar or whatever, it’s up to me. If it works I get the credit, if it doesn’t I look like an arse. So whether they’re happy or not because I decided to take it down doesn’t bother me really,” Thompson says.
Defeat is always a bitter pill to swallow, especially for a fighter who has suffered his disappointments, yet continues to work hard in the gym. With a record 6.51 million viewers watching on CBS, Thompson could have been just minutes away from recording arguably the most important victory of his career when it was cruelly snatched away from his grasp by a referee’s call.
‘The Colossus’ appreciates that officiating is a thankless task. It is no exaggeration to say that when the cage door closes a referee has the fighters’ lives in his hands. Stopping a fight is a subjective decision and no referee wants to see a fighter injured because they allowed the action to go too long.
While choosing to err on the side of caution when stopping fights is entirely understandable, it is in the best interests of the sport, the fighters and indeed the officials to allow a fight to come to a definitive conclusion, with the fighters themselves determining the outcome rather than the referee. Of course, this is not always possible as referees are often required to use their judgment to stop fights and sometimes they get it wrong. Thompson believes the problem lies with the consistency – or should that be the inconsistency – of stoppages.
“If referees are making consistently bad decisions they shouldn’t be doing their job,” he says. “Stopping a fight is always a judgment call, that’s why being a referee is hard – you’ve always got to make these judgments. I just thought I wasn’t given the chance really. The fight followed a certain pattern. I took some shots from Kimbo in the first and second rounds, but eventually I reversed things and took the fight to the ground, winning both rounds. I believe round three would have gone the same way; eventually I would have taken him down, but we’ll never know.”
Adding to the heavyweight’s frustrations was Miragliotta’s decision to halt the Brandon Vera vs. Fabricio Werdum fight just a week later at UFC 85.
“Whether a referee makes a bad decision or not is not really the point,” Thompson reasons. “The point is he stopped a fight where the guy (Vera) took a few shots from mount but with my fight he didn’t stop it when I had side control and was dropping elbows. There’s no consistency there and that’s what I’ve got a real problem