ByElias Cepeda, writer at
Elias Cepeda

Strawweight contender Celine Haga choked her opponent Amy Caldwell Montenegro out Saturday night at Invicta FC 21, but still lost the fight by decision. Right about now you may be wondering how in the world that is possible.

Well, as you’ll see below, the bout’s referee didn’t realize that Montenegro had gone out from Haga’s rear naked choke in the closing seconds of the fight. So, when the final horn sounded, he separated the women as if the fight should just then have ended and go to the judges.

It should not have. Haga choked Montenegro out, cold, before the the clock ran out.

Some fighters, like Montenegro and former UFC champion Holly Holm, are so game that they keep fighting chokes long after they should have tapped-out. That’s what the referee is for - to protect fighters from themselves.

The referee didn’t recognize that Montenegro was out before the clock ran down to zero, and so absurdly sent it to the judges who then scored the fight for Montenegro. Yeah, we know…

Let’s leave aside how nutty it is for judges to have to operate within a 10-point must system awkwardly adopted from boxing that could box them into scoring a fight in favor of an athlete who ended the contest unconscious because they already submitted round-by-round scores for the first two periods. Haga may now want to consider consulting with an attorney to see what her options are to petition the sanctioning body to change the result.

The event took place in Missouri and so we consulted their MMA rules to see what possible remedy Haga may have in challenging the fight result as it currently stands. Haga has 10 days to appeal the result to the Missouri athletic commission and ask for it to be overturned, but Missouri’s guidelines are not clear as to the criteria they could use to overturn a decision.

State athletic commissions have historically been reluctant to overturn decisions but as combat sports legal journalist and attorney Erik Magraken correctly explained in his blog, “the most common circumstances for changing the outcome of a bout across other jurisdictions are when the following occur:

1. The Commission determines that there was collusion affecting the result of the contest or exhibition;

2. The compilation of the scorecards of the judges discloses an error which shows that the decision was given to the wrong unarmed combatant; or

3. As the result of an error in interpreting a provision of this chapter, the referee has rendered an incorrect decision.”

The third point may seem like Haga’s only useful possible direction to take an appeal - basically arguing that the result should be changed because the referee messed up in not recognizing that she’d choked out her opponent and therefore won. According to Magraken’s analysis, Haga could reasonably argue that the referee could have used rule 20 CSR 2040-8. 110 which states that a fight referee may “stop or terminate a bout [where] the referee determines that (1) of the contestants is at substantial risk of serious harm or injury and despite such harm or injury cannot or will not submit.”

This happens all the time in fights. It’s where pretty much all TKO and technical submissions come from. A fighter is in trouble or unconscious, and so the referee recognizes this and then steps in to stop the fight.

In fact, that's exactly how Haga won her previous fight against Karla Benitiz (below). Haga locked on an arm-triangle choke on Benitiz from the side mount and squeezed.

Benitiz refused to tap out and went unconscious. The referee recognized this and stopped the fight.

Haga is a nasty submission specialist known for choking out opponents. Saturday's referee should have been ready for exactly what ended up happening.

It seems to us that Haga has plenty of rational ground to stand on in an appeal, but states rarely overturn results which is its own cultural and institutional psychology factor that needs to be considered. Even if the state doesn’t believe their existing rules could give a Haga appeal basis, however, Magraken says that Chapter 8 of Missouri’s MMA rules, 20 CSR 2040-8. 180 Section 11 reads that “in the event a situation occurs at the contest and there are no regulations in place to cover the situation, the inspector of the event shall make a decision on the matter. The inspector’s ruling shall be final.”

So, Haga’s got some different directions she could go should she decide to appeal the ruling. We certainly hope she does.

Montenegro fought very well and certainly deserves a world of awed admiration for not tapping out, even when defeat was assured, but Haga won that fight. The record should reflect that.

Haga has worked hard to drastically remake her career. She lost 11 out of her first 12 fights.

Most would have given up on their MMA dreams at that point or long before. Haga did not, however.

Instead, she’s gone on to win nine out of her next 12, even counting Saturday’s bogus loss. Before Saturday, she’d officially won four-straight.

Haga deserves to be sitting on a five-fight winning streak, now. Hopefully the right thing happens in the next week or so.


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