‘He could’ve lost his life’: Fury FC chief Eric Garcia calls for regulatory accountability after horrific end to fight

Eric Garcia has seen a lot in his 14 years as a fight promoter. There have been issues with early stoppages and bad scorecards, sure. But what Garcia saw at his own event, Fury FC 76 in San Antonio, was on a different level.

Referee Frank Collazo is a regular for events in southern parts of Texas, Garcia said. Up until Friday, Garcia said everything was as it should be.

“I’ve really never had an issue with him,” Garcia recently told MMA Junkie. “I’ve never had a problem with him. He’s a super nice guy. He’s easy to talk to. He’s normally in there doing his job.”

However, as Garcia watched his main-event title fight Friday play out between Edgar Chairez and Gianni Vazquez, that was not the case. Garcia said he was just as stunned as anyone with the officiating (or lack thereof) from Collazo, who acted in a way that UFC president Dana White referred to as something that “doesn’t get any worse than that.”

Vazquez was choked unconscious with a triangle, but Collazo did not stop the fight. Chairez continued to squeeze, but eventually switched to an armbar. Vazquez laid there motionless for several moments before waking up with his arm torqued, and he eventually tapped, at which point a stoppage finally came.

“From where I was sitting, it looked like (Vazquez) started to go out,” Garcia said. “I could see him moving a little bit, so I’m like, ‘Maybe he’s not out.’ Then you kind of see him collapse. You know he’s out. So now I’m like, ‘OK, what’s going on?’ I’ve got Brandon Moreno sitting behind me. I’ve got Sean Shelby sitting behind me. (Manager) Jason House is sitting behind me. I’ve got my ring announcer right next to me. I’ve got my matchmaker Rich Burmaster on the camera stand shooting pictures.

“I stand up and I start screaming, like, ‘Hey, the fight is over. It’s over. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop the fight.’ Nothing. Brandon is screaming. Rich is on the camera stand screaming saying, ‘Hey, it’s over, stop it,’ trying to get Frank’s attention. Nothing. At that point, I run from the table I’m sitting at, and I try to run over to where the cage door is, because I was going to try to get up the stairs and say, ‘Hey, it’s over.’ By that time, Gianni had came to and he tapped, and Frank stopped the fight.”

Fury FC promoter Eric Garcia (middle) squares off Fury FC 76 main event fighters Edgar Chairez (left) and Gianni Vazquez (right) prior to their fight.

Left in the dark

With the fight on UFC Fight Pass, it didn’t take long for the sequence to go viral and spark tremendous outrage from the MMA community. Multiple clips posted on social media of the incident surpassed 1 million views. From the moment it happened, Garcia said he’s been left with more questions than answers.

“I was like, ‘Frank, what the f*ck happened? What’s going on? This kid was asleep,'” Garcia said of the moment he got in the cage post-fight. “He’s like, ‘He wasn’t asleep.’ I said, ‘He was out, man. He went out.’ He’s like, ‘He wasn’t out. I had my eyes on him the whole time. He wasn’t out.’ I don’t know what he saw, but it certainly wasn’t what we saw.”

The answer in the cage, according to Garcia, is really the only one he’s gotten since Fury FC captured perhaps the most amount of national headlines in the promotion’s history – for the wrong reasons. Outside of a statement Garcia describes as similar to the one the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation issued Saturday to MMA Junkie, he said he’s largely been left in the dark as to what, if any, accountability processes are underway from the state’s athletic commission.

“I just hope there are some sort of repercussions that the state can put in place that says, ‘Hey, if you’re the referee involved, there are going to be some repercussions for this. You’re going to have to sit out for a certain amount of time. You’re going to have to go through these training courses again. You’re going to have to do something that shows you’re capable of not letting it happen again,'” Garcia said. “He could’ve lost his life, and what would’ve happened then?”

Seemingly every time a major MMA event occurs in Texas, a regulatory issue is spotlighted, whether it’s refereeing or judging. Often times local officials are used for major events, as was the case for UFC on ESPN 43 in San Antonio. One day after Fury FC 76, Collazo (despite Friday’s incident) and fellow official Joel Ojeda were judges in rotation.

This, in particular, is an example of what Garcia thinks needs to be reviewed.

“I don’t know what the protocol is for that,” Garcia said. “Should that have happened? What’s the protocol from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation when something happens with one of their officials the night before? Should the officials work two days in a row? Will they be on the up-and-up after being up, watching five hours of fights the night before? Are they going to be as sharp as they would’ve been had they not had to work the day before? There’s a lot of things that are questionable.”

That’s … not how it works?

Referee Frank Collazo (left) raises the hand of Fury FC 76 main event winner Edgar Chairez (right).

Texas has built an international reputation as the state of commission controversy when high-level MMA shows roll across its borders, from questionable judging, to wins overturned due to marijuana, and beyond.

For Garcia, he’s had working problems throughout the years, but last Friday’s incident seemingly shined a light on how the TDLR’s accountability and communication leaves something to be desired.

“I see complaints open up and things happen, and then I never hear anything else about it,” Garcia said. “It’s going to have to be something that they stay on, and people are going to have to demand answers. Otherwise, it’s going to be swept under the rug. I don’t think it should be. I think it’s definitely a concern.”

Additionally, Garcia offered a differing take from a claim the TDLR made in it’s official statement, in which it said the commission works with promoters to choose each card’s official. Garcia disputes this, though he said he wishes the system was as TDLR described.

“In 14 years, I’ve never been able to say, ‘These are the referees that I want. These are the judges that I want. These are the timekeepers that I want,'” Garcia said. “I find out who is reffing my event the day before the show at weigh-ins when they hand me the payroll sheet that says, ‘Hey, these are the guys you’re paying tomorrow.’ I’ve never been in the selection process or been able to say, ‘Hey, I’d like to have this referee or that referee.’ I would think that they do that so there is no bias or anything, so they don’t think the promotion is fixing fights and working with certain referees. So I’d assume there’s a reason for that. I don’t know why they mentioned that or why they said that. That’s untrue.

“There have been times where I’ve seen referees on the sheet and told them, ‘Hey, this isn’t the best referee. I really don’t want this guy reffing the main event’ or yadda, yadda. Their response sometimes is, ‘Well, it’s too late. These are the guys that are assigned. These are the guys that are in rotation. These are the guys that are going to ref.’ If they’re saying that, did the UFC get to pick those judges? Or did those judges get assigned? I’d like to know from that end, if the UFC was allowed to have the guys who judged the main event, if those were their choices. Or did the state just assign them?”

Concern for the fighter

Image via Fury FC (Richard Burmaster)

Garcia doesn’t know what will happen with the commission or Collazo, nor  can he predict if any protocols will change because of the Fury FC 76 incident.

While he tries to put himself in the shoes of Collazo and commissioners, Garcia also attempts to view things through the lens of the person he thinks is most affected. Vazquez suffered ligament damage and a potential fracture as a result of the final armbar. How this will affect him long term has not yet been determined.

“I just hope Gianni has a speedy recovery,” Garcia said. “I’m going to stay in contact with him and his team and make sure they get everything that they need from us to make sure he doesn’t have any issues moving forward with medical bills or anything like that. It’s really unfortunate he got the sh*ttiest end of the stick. No matter what people say about Frank Collazo, Gianni is the one who got the worst part.

“You can dog the ref. You can dog the promotion. You can dog TDLR. For us, all those words and everything will go away, but Gianni got physically injured. I don’t know where his mental state is. If that was me, I’d hate to keep seeing myself on a video getting my arm ripped off. At the end of the day, he’s the concern right now.”

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie