Many witnessed what happened during that one cold night in the City of Pines back on February 19, 2011.
It has been on many When Referees Fight Back shows in the States, and has gained legendary status here in the Philippines.
That moment saw revered mixed martial arts referee and official Joey Lepiten figure in a skirmish against Iranian fighter Seyed Razi Jabbari.
Nine years later, Lepiten finally broke his silence over the incident, recalling what happened during last Sunday’s episode of The Hit List, presented by SMART Sports.
During URCC Baguio 3, Jabbari faced hometown favorite Honorio Banario. And the foreigner did not bring anyone in his corner for the bout.
“Nung time na ‘yun… Si Jabbari kasi nung time na ‘yun, parang medyo weird siya noon eh, kasi pumunta siya sa Baguio, siya lang mag-isa — wala siyang corner,” recalled Lepiten, who was just five years into officiating back the. “So ginawa ng mga Lakay, binigyan siya ng corner para may kasama sa ring. Tapos ewan ko ano nangyari sa kanya, basta magulo isip niya noon eh.”
The bout itself did not last long. Banario soundly defeated Jabbari due to technical submission (ground and pound) just a minute and 35 seconds into the bout.
Seconds before that, it seemed that Jabbari was already tapping, but when pressed, Lepiten would deny it.
“So ‘yung fight night na, parang nag-tap siya. Si Jabbari kasi magrereklamo ‘yan after, sasabihin niya I didn’t tap, I didn’t tap, so ako sige i-sure natin. Sabi ko, ‘Are you tapping?’ Sabi niya, ‘No!’ So ayun, sinapak-sapak siya ulit. Eventually tinigil ko na rin. So ‘yung pagtayo niya, ang gulo niya ‘di ba? Paikot-ikot kung anong gusto niya gawin, so nung a-announce na kinuha ko na ‘yung kamay niya, kinuha ‘yung kamay ni Honorio. So ‘yan, magkatabi na sila. Normally kasi ang ginagawa ko pagka after the fight, ‘yung winner iaano ko sila as sign of sportsmanship, mag-shake hands sila or hug. So pag-ano ko kay Honorio eh ‘di okay na. Hihilahin ko na ‘tong si Jabbari pero nag-resist siya. Tinanggal niya ‘yung kamay niya,” recounted Lepiten.
“So ayun, parang ‘di ko nagustuhan ‘yung ginawa niya.”
What came after was a blur.
After Banario was declared the victor, Jabarri got in the face off Lepiten and threw a short punch. Lepiten, with all his composure, body clinched the hulking Iranian and threw him to the ground.
“Basta may sinabi siya sa akin eh. Minura niya kasi ako eh, sabi niya sa akin, ‘Fuck off!’ ,parang ganon yung sinabi sa akin. Or medyo mainit na kasi magulo na ‘yung time na’ yun eh. So ginawa ko sa kanya, ‘You get out!’ Tapos ginawa niya, siyempre magkalapit kaming ganyan, tinulak niya ako. Paglapit ko, tumama,” he continued.
“Take down ‘yun,” quipped the show’s other guest Franco Rulloda.
“May part na rin na gusto ko siya i-restrain kasi magulo na nga, tapos ayun nga, na-takedown ko siya, tapos… Pero hindi ko alam, parang ‘yung pag-takedown ko noon, parang may sapak pa ‘ko noon eh. Pagtulak ko noon, nasapak ko pa siya eh,” Lepiten rebutted.
URCC owner Alvin Aguilar, himself a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belt like Lepiten, stormed to the ring and slapped a rear naked choke on Jabarri.
Aguilar had to intervene because he did not want Lepiten to cause any more damage in the eyes of the Games and Amusement Board officials present in the event.
But Lepiten made sure to take one more shot at Jabarri.
“Eventually ‘yun dumating si Alvin, sabi niya sa akin… May binulong siya muna sa akin eh. Sabi sa akin parang, ‘Joey, referee ka! Alis ka diyan!’ Bago ako umalis sabi ko muna sa kanya, parang ‘Oh paisa lang’. Tsaka ako humiwalay.”
Rulloda himself had an incident similar to Lepiten during one of the URCC shows in Davao during the early part of the decade.
“I had a similar incident before pa, this was URCC Davao. I was the only referee available for that event and then so I refereed all the fights.
“Halfway through, siyempre pagod na ako, mainit na ‘yung ulo ko. There was one fight wherein bad blood talaga sila, they really hated each other, they got in a bar fight — that’s why they fought in the URCC. The guy got into a rear naked choke, the guy tapped, and then the guy who was performing the choke did not let go. As in ayaw niyang bitawan, nakatingin pa siya sa crowd, sumisigaw siya,” recalled Rulloda.
During that bout, one fighter would not let go of the rear naked choke, drawing Rulloda’s ire.
Not wanting to see more damage done to the already-down fighter, Rulloda, also a BJJ practitioner, slapped a wrist lock for the victor to let go of the hold.
In his frustration, he threatened the fighter. “Sabi ko, as in minura ko siya. Sabi ko, ‘Tangina ka! Sabi ko stop na diba? Pagdating sa backstage bubugbugin kita!'”
One problem, though, his lapel was on and it was connected in the venue’s sound system.
“Nakalimutan ko naka-on ‘yung lapel ko, so rinig na rinig nung crowd. Tangina ‘yung crowd nagpalakpakan. Pagtingin ko kay Alvin, nakadilat ‘yung mata ni Alvin!
“Afterwards I had to explain myself to GAB kasi us referees, I have to apologize and explain to Alvin,” he said.
Up until this day, though, the two officials regret those types of moments that saw their patience ran out.
And if those incidents were to happen again, they would take a much cooler approach.
“Mas pigil na kami kasi malakas ang internet ngayon eh. Siguro medyo kahit papaano, i-restrain talaga. Siguro i-handle ‘yung situation, kung pwede ihiwalay ko siya. Pero syempre ‘pag nasapak ka, tiis pa rin konti hanggang kaya tiisin,” said Lepiten.