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Referee who stopped Kim Couture fight late failed COMMAND judge course

E. Spencer Kyte of's Keyboard Kimura blog has written an excellent post about how the Calgary Combative Sports Commission isn't disciplining referee Len Koivisto.  Koivisto was the referee for the Kim Couture vs Sheila Bird fight a few weeks ago where Couture went limp in a head scissors submission several seconds before he stepped in to stop the fight.  Even then, he slowly lifted her arm to check for limpness, almost has if he were a pro wrestling referee ("almost" because a pro wrestling referee would've done it three times, and I guess that he didn't do that is a silver lining around this cloud), before he stopped the fight.  You can see a video of the fight on YouTube.

The CCSC released the following statement about their investigation into Koivisto's job in the fight:

After an in-depth investigation, the Calgary Combative Sports Commission members rendered a decision to support the official, Mr. Len Koivisto. No further action or investigations into the officiating of Mr. Koivisto will be required by the Commission. Mr. Koivisto has been involved in the combative sports industry for close to 40 years, the last 23 in various officiating capacities. He is a well respected boxing referee (nationally and internationally) and has officiated MMA (nationally) for several years in various jurisdictions in close to 400 matches without incident. He has always taken his ring official's duties very seriously and conducts himself with a great deal of professionalism.

See, he's old and experienced, so he did nothing wrong and they don't have to explain themselves!  Hooray!

It gets worse.  In Kyle's post at Keyboard Kimura, he dropped this bomb:

I'm not saying Mr. Koivisto should never referee again, but there has to be some middle ground here. To get through this incident without so much as mandatory retraining is ridiculous to me.

Here's a novel idea: have Mr. Koivisto take and pass a certification course like COMMAND.

If he's such an accomplished official with track record of success in the sport, he shouldn't have any problem achieving the lofty standards required to pass "Big" John McCarthy's course. Doing so would satisfy those who believe he has no business officiating mixed martial arts events - a population I'm a part of - and give the CCSC footing in their support of Mr. Koivisto moving forward.

Here's the twist... the sad, unfortunate, you're-really-dropping-the-ball-here-CCSC-twist: Mr. Koivisto has taken the COMMAND course before and he failed miserably; and this was the COMMAND Judges Certification course. As a graduate of that same program, I can tell you that it's daunting. I can also tell you that having passed the Judges course in no way qualifies me to referee a mixed martial arts bout, so how does a history as a boxing official and a failing grade on the easier of the two COMMAND courses justify Mr. Koivisto being the third person in the ring for MMA events?

Yes, not only did Koivisto fail one of John McCarthy's COMMAND certification courses, it wasn't even the referee course that he failed, but the much less difficult one for judges.  Between his embarrassing and incredibly dangerous performance in the Couture-Bird fight and this bit of information, he has no business refereeing MMA fights, and if I was a fighter, I'd refuse to let him officiate my fights.  Based on this fight, Len Koivisto makes Steve Mazzagatti look like Herb Dean.  Mazagatti is a terrible referee who has endangered way too many fighters, but he's still never come close to doing anything this bad.

This is the second time that one of the Canadian commissions (not generalizing or grouping as much as comparing, for what it's worth, as Canada as a whole is awesome) has so utterly failed at fighter safety recently.  Between rounds of the Georges St Pierre vs Jake Shields fight at UFC 129 in Toronto, St. Pierre loudly said on camera that he couldn't see and cornerman/coach Greg Jackson loudly replied that it didn't matter that he couldn't see.  Even though there are inspectors in the corners to watch out for things like this and a fighter under examination by the fight doctor always loses by stoppage when he says he can't see, nobody stepped in to check St. Pierre's eye.

When I contacted the Ontario Athletics Commission, the representative who replied was incredibly dismissive and eventually claimed that both the referee and doctor could see that St. Pierre's eye was injured but didn't step in because they felt that he he could properly defend himself.  Funny how they did that without ever checking his eye.

Thankfully, both St. Pierre and Couture appear to be doing fine, but the system failed them.

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