Everyday I’m Reffin’ It
by Michelle D. Drake, special guest contributor, September 1st, 2012
As a MMA referee, it’s always an honor to climb into the cage (sometimes modified boxing ring) with two fighters knowing that I’m set and ready to officiate their bout. The courage it takes those guys and gals to make that walk down the aisle, to the cage steps is daunting. I don’t even know if I could make the drive from my house to the venue if I were scheduled to fight! I don’t take what I do lightly. It’s a very serious undertaking and its importance isn’t lost on me.
Needless to say when I was asked to serve as one of the referees for the new promotion Invicta FC, I was elated; especially because it was an all female fighting organization run by women, featuring women but suited for the masses. As a female in this male-dominated sport, I appreciate the hard work and dedication other females go through to make a name for themselves and to provide for their families.
The first Invicta FC event was in April of this year. Leading up to that weekend I was nervous as all get-out. I had full understanding of the magnitude of this event as well as the large audience it would attract and bring in. I knew this would serve as either my moment to shine or be humiliated. But more than that, I knew I had a very important job to do and in order to have all fighters walk out of the cage on their own, I had to be on the top of my game.
Shannon Knapp, founder and co-owner of Invicta FC called me in mid-April to discuss my experience as a referee and get a feel for my personality. She gave me the history of Invicta as well as her background. She told me she wasn’t entirely comfortable with my lack of experience (only having a just shy of two year’s worth of MMA officiating under my belt) but she was willing to give me a chance and let me know she was going to ask Troye Blackmon, Executive Director for Kansas Athletic Commission, to let me serve as referee. It made me feel good when she said that in order for someone to get experience, they must be given a shot. I couldn’t agree more!
When it was confirmed by Troye that I got the assignment, I started down the long, windy “what-if” road. What if no one likes me (is that possible)? What if I piss off “the powers that be” somehow (highly probable)? What if our personalities clash (not like it’s never happened)? What if I make a bad call (never have yet)? What if I miss a foul (I’m sure it’s happened)? What if I miss a tap (never have yet)? What if I get punched while stopping a fight (have several times as well as kicked)? What if my zipper is down without my knowledge (happens ALL the time to me)? What if, what if, what if, what if?
Needless to say I had “what if’ed” myself crazy to the point I came full circle and the day of the Invicta event, I was calm and collected. As it turns out Shannon is crazy-cool, as well as her partner Janet. While they were always running around like mad women on a mission, they both gave me full attention when I needed it and were patient with my questions as well as explained everything to me that needed an explanation. They both are very genuine ladies with an obvious love for MMA and furthering women’s role in MMA.
My co-refs, Greg Franklin (Rich ‘Ace’Franklin’s brother), Chuck Wolfe and myself, were instructed to go through the rule’s meeting before the weigh-ins were to take place. As rule’s meetings go, it was not extraordinary: Just the run-down of fouls, expectations and other information fighters and their coaches need to know from us. The weigh-ins took place with four fighters not able to make weight. All was done, pictures were taken, questions asked and answered and hands were shaken. Time to rest. The next day was fight day.
We were shuttled to the venue by Invicta’s driver, Mike, in a 16 passenger van along with a few of the fighters and their ‘seconds.’ In general and especially on fight-day, I like to keep a little distance between fighters and myself (not physical, but metaphorical distance). That way no one can say I show favoritism or had a conversation with anyone about an outcome of a fight or anything else that gives an appearance of impropriety. I’m pretty picky about that. After getting lost in Kansas City and seeing more of the town than I thought I ever wanted to see, we finally made it to our venue, Memorial Hall.
Memorial Hall in Kansas City is an older, circular building with hard-wood floors and old-time single-pane windows. It’s quite beautiful actually. It has that musky, old book smell to it. Inside the main part of the building was where the magic of the evening was set up to take place. The cage was exactly in the center of the circular hall and it was adorned with lights, banners and boom mics. We met with the camera men and got our angles and positioning, then with our doctor’s to go over procedure then we took care of “administrative” tasks the referees handle before each event. I won’t bore you with those details as they’re not glamorous nor fun to talk about! We each got our bout assignments, met with “our” fighters (the fighters we’re reffing that night) and began the night!
All fights went off without a hitch. All calls made by my co-refs and I were clean and well-timed. The only controversy of the night was the draw scored by the judges. But I understand there will be a re-match of that fight. At the end of the night I hung around and tried to get a feel of how “the powers that be” liked me and if they would consider asking me back to officiate again. Of course, much like waiting for someone to say yes to a date with without you ever asking never happens, I never heard if they’d ask me back! So I left, paycheck and (some) pride in hand and the benefit of knowing all my girls had walked out of the cage without serious injury; at the very least I knew I did a great job.
So I waited. For two months, I waited and waited!! I waited to hear from Troye if he was going to use me again. I didn’t want to just come out and ask him because asking for assignments is quite taboo and rather gauche. One morning last week I woke up to a notification from Twitter that Shannon had mentioned me in a tweet stating that I was coming back to work at Invicta FC 2!!!! OH HAPPY DAY! After getting confirmation from Troye that I was in fact working the event, I blasted my twollerers (my word, you can not have it!) to let them know I was asked to referee again, then I posted it all over my Facebook. My friends and fans had to know that I was selected again, but more importantly I was so deeply honored to have been entrusted with these female fighters that I just couldn’t hold back my excitement.
On July 28, 2012 in Kansas City,Kansas, I will make that walk I love to make down that aisle, up the steps and into the cage. I’ll only be able to do it because I’ll know I’m not the one that’s fighting that night! My job is to keep those ladies safe and ensure they don’t break the rules on my watch. They can break their opponents face all they want, but not the rules!
Hope to see you there… Give me a shout if you see me!
Your friend in the cage,