Ignorant critics are just part of the job for veteran referee Yves Lavigne.
As a member of the Canadian karate team, Lavigne (Twitter: @YvesLavignemma) competed at the highest levels. After retiring from karate he trained in the sweet science of boxing. Not being a competitor anymore, the French-Canadian began judging kickboxing matches in his native province of Quebec after being offered a position from a friend in the athletic commission.
Combat sports were a major interest in Lavigne’s life, and when he first witnessed a 170-pound Brazilian defeat combatants that were much larger in size, he knew it was something special.
“When I saw the first UFC,” Lavigne explained to Amy Barton and John Petit on Punch Drunk Radio on the MMA DieHards Radio Network. “You know the little guy with the pajamas beating everybody? His name was Royce Gracie. I didn’t understand what he was doing because I was coming from a striking background. I’m like, ‘Kick the guy, punch him. How come he’s winning?’ I was yelling at the TV. I didn’t really didn’t understand, but I loved what I was watching.”
Lavigne told the commissioner of the athletic commission in Quebec that MMA is the future, but the idea was shunned. To their surprise, Lavigne was correct in his predictions and the sport was legalized in Quebec in 1996.
Issues with unsanctioned bouts on Indian reserves were a problem at the time, so Lavigne assisted in structuring the sport and established rules, guidelines and precautionary measures in Quebec. This also led to his career as an MMA referee.
“I worked with the government in Quebec to legalize the sport,” Lavigne said. “In 1997 or ’98 we had the first legal sanctioned mixed martial arts in Quebec, and I was one of the refs. When we finished the process and came up with the rules we needed a ref and judge. They all looked at me and I said, ‘Ok, I’ll be the ref.’ It started like that.”
Now, a familiar face in the Octagon, Lavigne is watched under a microscope by people all over the world. Though, Lavigne is one of the best at his job, he is still human and makes errors from time to time.
Refereeing is the most underappreciated job in MMA. Gratitude is infrequently handed out, yet criticism is readily available.
“When everything goes right, it’s like you’re not there and they don’t even notice you,” Lavigne said. “When something goes wrong everybody is on you.”
To hear the barking from the fans is something Lavigne can tolerate, but when people who claim to be in the know slander the referee, he questions their understanding of the sport.
“When you have supposedly knowledgeable people who criticize your job or put a bad joke about you on the internet,” Lavigne said. “Sometimes it’s so specific. By the comment they (write) you find out they don’t know what there are talking about. It’s like sometimes a journalist or people that are supposed to know don’t know the rules we have to obey. They don’t know that the unified rules are not unified in all of the states. Sometimes we have to deal with different rules, and we get criticized because we are applying those rules. That kind of makes me mad sometimes, but its part of the job.”