Posted 01/18/2014 by Marlene Taborda in Michelle in Charge

2013: The Ref’s Year in Review

Referee Michelle Drake Image courtesy Midwest Fight Series

Referee Michelle Drake
Image courtesy Midwest Fight Series

Phew… Thank goodness last year is over! It was a rough one. As your friend, I’m sincerely hoping yours wasn’t as tough as mine. A divorce, 1100 mile move, and loss of my best friend (FUCK CANCER), riddled my life with pain, heartbreak and more tears cried than ever before.

The decision to divorce led me to Indianapolis where I’ve gained a lot of experience and life lessons. I’ve had the chance to referee some kick ass fighters and meet a lot of cool people. The longer I stay here and meet new folk and get to know the older ones, I’m finding I really like it up here—the Midwest is serving me well.

Even with my busy-as-fuck schedule, I’ve had time to sit back and reflect on all I’ve gone through and learned this year. While I won’t bore you with all the epiphanies I’ve had, I will highlight the ones that pertain to my work in the cage.

MMA is my passion. I love this sport more than any other and… I’m a die-hard basketball and football aficionado!! The more I learn about MMA and study techniques, the more I realize I need to learn more and am thus driven to study harder. The raw, pure skill, athleticism and heart it takes the fighters to do what they do is inspiring, to say the least. I’d be doing a great disservice to the sport if I didn’t have the same passion, heart and desire to be the best referee for each of the fighters’ sake. They put their lives into our hands and it’s our duty (and honor) to know what the hell we’re doing in there. Quite frankly, any official who doesn’t work or train hard to be the best should be removed from their post as the fighters’ protectors. But I digress.

Coming into 2013 I was at a point in my career where I doubted myself. I doubted my timing. I doubted my abilities of competency. I put too much pressure on myself. I liken my doubts to this: As a white belt in any martial art you’re timid at first; but you learn techniques and your confidence level rises. Then you start sparing and learning more techniques and you become very proud of yourself. You start to move through a couple belts and are scoring points and tapping people out. You’ve probably won a competition or two. Then one day, you turn around and realize YOU DON’T KNOW SHIT! You’re hesitant to spar; you’re the first one to volunteer to stand in the back because you don’t want anyone watching you; you come up with reasons and excuses to take it easy or not show up even! You’re only a blue belt but it’s at this time you discover you have so much further to go and you cannot stop learning and training irrespective of how good you think you are or have been told. You wonder if you’ll ever become a black belt and how the fuck you’re going to achieve such a feat.

I felt like that blue belt for half of 2013. I KNEW I was a good referee. I KNEW my fighters were safe and were in good hands with me in the cage. I KNEW my skills were on par. My head KNEW everything was ok…my heart was scared. I turned around one day and had the realization I could know more. I realized that in the grand scheme of things, I didn’t know shit!  Damn blue belt mind-set! I needed help – advice from someone I trusted and knew where I was coming from. I spoke with a couple close friends and mentors and got some really good advice and devised a plan to move forward and find my confidence again.

Since doing so, here’s what I learned: my place is in the cage; I’m at my calmest and most peaceful in the cage; while I’m not the best or even good at many things, I’m the best I am at anything, in the cage; my heart beats better in the cage; my mind thinks clearer in the cage; my breathing levels out in the cage. The cage is my church. The cage is my religion. The cage is my sanctuary. I am strong in there. I am confident in there. I am my best me in there.

I am looking forward to 2014 and all its opportunities. It holds many promises for me and I’m ready, willing and able to grab each of them and ride ‘em hard to the end (do NOT insert joke <here>, you disgusting McGustingson!). I’ve added to my professional resume by becoming an inspector, timekeeper and boxing judge and am anxious to stay busy and learn as much as I can this year!

Huge thanks to my friend and mentor Kim Winslow for helping me through that rough patch.  Her advice and perspective as a female ref is invaluable to me and my quest to keep this sport safe and see it thrive.  Also to my dear friend Rob Madrigal for giving it to me straight and putting things into perspective so beautifully and honestly. Without your love, honesty and desire to make this sport better, Kim and Rob, I wouldn’t be the ref I am today.

As always, I’m so deeply honored to have worked with the best refs, judges and commissioners in the business last year: Carsyn Gaines, Sean Brockmole, Travis Vandergriff, Jason Herman, Winston Matthews, Kelvin Caldwell, Jay Hunsacker, Christian Keen, Joanna Holland and Andy Means. Of course the promoters get my love too as do all the coaches, fans and most importantly, the fighters who’ve trusted their careers to me.

To you, the reader and my friend, I thank you for taking the time to read my drivel and I invite any and all comments, feedback, critiques and compliments…. ESPECIALLY compliments!

Your friend in the cage,





Marlene Taborda