[July 2, 2012 – Interview by Pattee Mak]
Back on May 20, 2012, I was formally introduced to Steve Rita at an mma tournament promoted by Premier FC in Holyoke, Massachusetts. While being introduced Steve stood behind a table full of mma gloves. I was waiting for the pitch for me to purchase some gloves but none came. At first he was the man behind the gloves and I thought wow what an interesting job he must have to go to these events and meet people from all over the place who are interested in the sport of mma. As the show started Steve the salesman turned into Steve the Judge.
A few weeks later while attending another mma event I again bumped into Steve but this time his role was a bit different. He was in the cage refereeing the fights. While he was in the cage, I was informed by various people that Steve has been one of the most active officials working with different promoters for the last 12 plus years. His devotion to the sport impressed me and thus my interview was born.
Pattee Mak: Good Morning! Let’s start with your career as a referee and as a judge. How and at what age did you become a referee/Judge?
Steve Rita: Umm good question. I was about 34 years old. I had a friend of mine that was a mma promoter and he needed a referee while he was putting together his first show. He was inexperienced and I had refereed other grabbling tournaments so I had some experience as a ref. So he asked me if I’d be willing to referee an mma show. They were unsanctioned shows back then. Open hand strikes, no gloves. Back then we volunteered. We didn’t get paid. About 5 or 6 years later I became a Judge. I do more refereeing than Judging. I started to judge because they didn’t have enough of judges so we would switch off between the other referee and then later on we were licensed by the state. At the time there were no sanctioning body.
Pattee Mak: Do you prefer to referee or judge?
Steve Rita: Referee.
Pattee Mak: Why is that?
Steve Rita: It’s a lot more fun being in involved in the cage, close to the action. Hearing the crowd go crazy. It’s the next best thing to being in a fight without getting hurt.
Pattee Mak: Have you ever been hit?
Steve Rita: Once, once… while in the cage refereeing. Once in 12 years.
Pattee Mak: And…
Steve Rita: Two guys were fighting on top of the other. One guy was in the other person’s guard, so than there was a lack of action. I went in to stand him up. The guy on top started throwing punches and he caught me but I didn’t get hurt.
Pattee Mak: Do you keep track of the total number of fights that you refereed and/or judged? And if so, what is the total?
Steve Rita: Well now I do. For the first 6 years or so I didn’t. I have an estimated over 1000 fights for refereeing. Judging I judged on or off during 20 events. It’s definitely more fun being in the ring.
Pattee Mak: I know it’s difficult to discuss or state an opinion on another referee’s and/or Judge’s call. But have you ever been a spectator at an event and just couldn’t believe the outcome of one’s call?
Steve Rita: Yes on occasion there has been some calls that have been questionable. But sometimes the referee is in a different position because of the angles and they may not have seen a particular move. But it is not always the referees fault because sometimes it is because a fighter does not understanding the rules or the crowd not understanding the rules or why the ref made a particular decision. If a referee does make a mistake you try and review it with them, discuss it so it doesn’t happen in the future.
Pattee Mak: During any particular fight have you ever witnessed a fighter trying to get disqualified or faking an injury because they weren’t winning?
Steve Rita: Yes. I definitely had that happen. I had one fighter put himself in a choke so he could tap out. He grabbed his opponent’s arm and put it around his own neck so he could get choked out. I had another guy fake a shoulder injury in between rounds complaining of a dislocated shoulder. Come to find out later it was a fake injury.
Pattee Mak: Were these pro or am fights?
Steve Rita: Good question, but I don’t remember. Maybe amateurs.
Pattee Mak: What was the most memorable fight you refereed and judged?
Steve Rita: I had one fight last summer at the Armory in Dorchester. I wish I remember the fighters. The entire first 2 rounds they didn’t throw a punch or throw a kick. They only bobbed and weaved. It was so bizarre but entertaining. I said cut the sh*t you need to start fighting. If you saw the video of these two guys fighting you’d laugh you’re a** off. Just by the way they were moving. 2nd round they did the same thing and 3rd round they started fighting. Whoever won the 3rd round won the fight.
Pattee Mak: Has there ever been a time where any of the fights you refereed or judged had any type of controversy?
Steve Rita: Yes. I had and every referee has had a few of those. LOL. I don’t want to bring up any names or rumors.
Pattee Mak: Ok you can tell me later off the record.
Pattee Mak: At times you are going to have to hear negative reactions to a call you’ve made. How often does the loosing corner or fans voice their opinion to you either by yelling or face-to-face?
Steve Rita: The loosing fighter is always looking for an excuse as to why he lost. To them they are always looking to blame someone other than themselves. I explain to the loosing corner why I made the decision, whether it’s the fighter screaming in pain or not intelligently defending himself. Taking to many unanswered strikes.
Pattee Mak: Are the safety measures today different from where they were back when you started?
Steve Rita: There are a few more rules than before. There are more medical requirements that weren’t in place. Now you have to have eye exams, cat scans, etc. But before when it was unsanctioned we didn’t do any of that.
Pattee Mak: Currently you are a referee for the State of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine and a Judge in the State of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Are you thinking about applying in other states or countries as well? And if so, is it easy or difficult to apply?
Steve Rita: It’s easy to apply. I welcome the opportunity to referee in other states. It is my long-term goal to be recognized as one of the top referee like Herb Dean.
Pattee Mak: For those who are interested in becoming a referee or a judge, where should someone start first?
Steve Rita: They need to take an mma referee’s training course and a mma judge’s course. Usually a Judge’s course before a referee’s course. But before they think of that they should have some sort of background in the arts. Then they need to shadow a referee for at least two years so they can learn what it’s like to be a referee and know the different styles of fighting. Especially if you are judging you need to be a balanced judge in all aspects of fighting.
Pattee Mak: While they are shadowing another referee, do they get in the cage also?
Steve Rita: No they do it from the outside. They should start out doing sparing sessions at their local gyms, then amateur matches then work your way up. Do some fake matches to see how they do.
Pattee Mak: Does a referee and Judge get paid during an am or pro fight?
Steve Rita: They get paid for both. Once they are certified but if they are shadowing they don’t get paid.
Pattee Mak: Besides being a referee and a judge you supply the gloves to many promoters. How did this come about?
Steve Rita: It came about because we noticed there was a need for all the fighters to have the same gloves. At the time a lot of the promoters weren’t spending the money on gloves. So the fighters were bringing their own gloves. Some had more padding and wear and tear. So I came up with unifying the gloves and the rest is history. It gives the promoter one less thing to think about. I coordinate out back, organize them and run the fighters to the cage. It’s all part of coordinating the gloves.
Pattee Mak: Lets name some names. Out of all the matches that your gloves were used, who has been some of the top ranked fighters that wore your gloves?
Steve Rita: Ummm… well recently the 2 biggest were Tim Silva used a pair and Dan Severn that I supplied the gloves for. And a lot up and coming and coming stars locally.
Pattee Mak: How do you feel about mma being sanctioned only in certain parts of the country?
Steve Rita: I don’t think there is enough talent all over the country to do it. Probably not as many fighters around to fill up fight cards but it’ll grow eventually.
Pattee Mak: What is your background in the sport of mma?
Steve Rita: I have a black belt in karate and a third degree black belt in small circle Jujitsu. I have a total of about 30 plus years. I was trained under the world-renowned father of Small Circle Jujitsu, Professor Wally Jay.
Pattee Mak: What would you like to tell someone who was thinking about becoming a referee or a Judge?
Steve Rita: There are very few people that can actually do it. Fighters have tried but they don’t like it in the ring. Can’t make quick decisions they need to. Not comfortable being in front of a crowd. Ya need a certain type of person to do it. If someone has the passion and love of the sport it’ll be great. But if they are trying to make money or be on tv then it isn’t for them.
Pattee Mak: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. It was a pleasure meeting you the other day and I’m looking forward to seeing you again.
For suggestions, questions or comments, please feel free to comment below or locate me on facebook under “Pattee Mak” or follow me on twitter @PatteeMak. If you wish to contact Steve Rita you can locate him on facebook under “Steve Rita”.
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