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Marc Goddard explains why he won’t referee UFC champion Leon Edwards’ fights

Marc Goddard is staying out of the cage when it comes to the UFC welterweight champion.

During an appearance on Mike Perry’s Overdogs Podcast, the veteran referee was asked several questions about the ins and outs of officiating, including how much existing relationships with fighters complicate his profession. Goddard cited Leon Edwards as one specific example of a fighter whose bouts he will never oversee, for personal reasons.

“Leon Edwards,” Goddard said. “You’ve never saw me referee Leon Edwards in the UFC and you never will. Why? Because I was Leon Edwards’ first coach in MMA. Way, way, way back when, when he was just an amateur. But again, the common sense element for me, like I said, even though the link is so—Who knew then when Leon first walked into that gym as a raw amateur, a raw novice, with no experience. Now look at him. UFC welterweight champion of the world.

“But you’ve never saw me referee him and you never will because we’ll just keep it out of the way. I just don’t want any hassle and I don’t want to be put in a predicament where I’m making a call that could go against him, so it’s both ways.”

Goddard has been involved in MMA for over 20 years, but is most famous for being the third man in the cage for numerous high-profile fights in the UFC and other major promotions. He has also earned a reputation for his transparency when it comes to discussing his in-cage decisions.

One call that drew scrutiny from fans and criticism from the losing fighter was when Goddard waved off the bout in the fifth-round of Israel Adesanya’s first middleweight title clash with Alex Pereira at UFC 281 in November 2022. Adesanya appeared to be on his way to successfully defending his title on points, but a powerful flurry from Pereira prompted Goddard to step in for the save two minutes into the final frame.

When Adesanya and Pereira met in a rematch at UFC 287 five months later, Goddard made sure he wasn’t assigned. Adesanya went on to avenge his loss via a clean second-round knockout.

“I specifically requested not to do that fight,” Goddard said. “The reason I requested not to do the fight was because I was thinking about Izzy. I’ve reffed him since, I’ve referee’d his fight with Sean Strickland, but I actually removed myself because what I didn’t want to do was for Izzy to have me walking to the dressing room. I was thinking of a fighter then, this is his night, it’s all about him, and I didn’t want to walk into that dressing room and for him to have any form of negative connotation or something like that.

“So I decided it was sort of the right thing to do and the fairest thing to do by him was just stay out of the fight, give it to another ref, and I requested from the commission not to do it.”

For better or worse, Goddard is one of the more famous and most talked-about referees in the business, and he prides himself on always working to keep his mistakes to a minimum.

When it comes to any potential conflicts of interest, he’s sure to prioritize professionalism above all else.

“On a personal front, I have beef with no one,” Goddard said. “I’m an old head in this game. I’m 50 years old, I’ve been doing this a long time, it goes back to what we were saying before. Unfortunately, fighting is an emotional business and I understand that. Coming with emotional business is that at certain points things will not go a fighter’s way. Now that could be down to an official or an error of judgment, but obviously that’s the last thing on our minds. So from a personal point of view—Put it this way, when I retire from reffing and I write a book of memoirs, my best tweets are all the unsent ones. I’ll save them as drafts.

“Look, it comes from the heart what I do in this sport. I’ve grew up in it, I’ve competed, I’ve toured, I’m an active martial artist always first and foremost, and the last thing on Earth is for me to have any form or resilience or-nothing fills me with more dread if I’m assigned to work a certain event, sometimes common sense and experience tells you that if there as a past indiscretion with a fighter or something that they weren’t happy with, there’s always other refs there so I’ll just say, ‘I’m not going to do that fight.’ You can declare beforehand that there could be a clash of interest, stuff like that. It just comes down to the individual. Without being too long-winded about it, common sense and experience count for a lot, and I’m just there to look after these people. I love what I do immensely and yes, I don’t want any hassle.”

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