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Interview With Cecil Peoples

While I was on the plane for my last trip to Mt. Pleasant, Mi, I was trying to figure out who to do my next interview with. I ended up sitting next to Cecil Peoples on the plane, and it was a no brainer. When we got to the hotel, Cecil met me in the lobby of the Soaring Eagle Hotel, and I got some insight on one of the more interesting people in the MMA community. Controversy would follow the next night during the Matt Jaggers and Joe Voisin Bantamweight Title fight, and I was also able to get Cecil’s explanation of the events right after the show.

TML: Give me some information on your background in Martial Arts.
I moved out here from Alabama when I got out of high school in 1966, and being the new kid on the block, I ended up fighting quite a bit. So my alternatives were to carry a knife or learn how to fight. I had told a friend of mine that I just met when I came out here, that I wanted to take Judo, and he said, you don’t want to take Judo, you want to take Karate. All the guys from Pocoima take it from this guy named Bill in North Hollywood. One day my dad came home from work and we were going to go to North Hollywood looking for Bill, and lo and behold, I see him on tv on a show like an early version of American Bandstand. Bill was doing a Karate demonstration on the show, and he gave out his address. So I wrote it down, and went down to where he was. When we were coming in to his place, he was just getting back from the tv show. That was in March of 1967.

ML: How did you get from there to where you are now, teaching Karate?
I stayed with him from the time I started until I went into the Navy. I was drafted, so I joined the Navy and I was in Vietnam for two years. Then I came home in 1970 and went right back to Karate and made black belt in 1971. I was already a brown belt when I left for the Navy. I stayed at his school until July 1, 1975. Then I opened my own school and I kept that until 1995.

ML: Did you go from that right into judging and refing?
No. I started kickboxing in 1973. It was new at the time and it was called Full Contact Karate, so I tried doing that. At the time, we didn’t have that many promoters, because it was so new, nobody knew how to promote, so if you got to fight once a year, you were doing good. I did that until 1975, when I opened my school. It’s kind of hard to train and run a school and stuff like that. I had eight fights at that point and I won six of them. They had a league that was called PKA (Professional Karate Association). They had a Kickboxing events all over the country and they were flying a referee in from Ohio to all of the events and it got a little expensive, so I asked him to teach me how to referee.

So, he and I got together and watched videos, and he showed what I needed to do, and I’ve been doing it ever since. This was long before the California State Athletic Commission got involved with Kickboxing or Full Contact Karate. It was years later that they became involved in it.

ML: Did you enjoy teaching or refereeing more?
They’re both gratifying. I’ve been teaching and reefing all along, and neither is better than the other. I did it, and I enjoyed it and I was very good at it right off the bat. I did it until the area I was in got too bad. Too many gangs, too many break-ins, bad economy, so I closed the school down and went and taught for a friend of mine. I stayed there until about three years ago, when I left and started reefing and judging full time. But I still teach Karate at The House Of Champions in Van Nuys, Ca. I teach one or two classes a day.

ML: How many shows do you ref or judge in a month?
It could be three a week. Sometimes, more than that. In one week, I did a show at San Manuel San Manuel on a Thursday night, then went and jumped on a plane at midnight and flew to Miami to do Chuck Norris’ World Combat League, then jumped on a plane the next day and worked for King Of The Cage in Tulsa, OK on Saturday, and flew back to California and drove up to Porterville to work another show on Sunday. You can do one a week, or as many as four or five a week.

ML: What’s the toughest part about reefing and judging?
The toughest part about reefing? First thing you gotta understand is that it’s an ungrateful job, and somebody’s gonna dislike you no matter what. The winner thinks you’re a great guy, the loser thinks you did something wrong. The toughest part for me, is knowing when to stand them up, knowing the perfect time to stop the fight. In this sport, you can have someone beat to a pulp, and nobody gives a crap. But if you stop it too soon, they’re ready to lynch you, you know, the fighters, the trainers, the crowd. But you do what you do for the fighters safety.

ML: What is the most controversial stoppage that you’ve had?
The most controversial stoppage I had was in Las Vegas for the UFC, with Pete Sell and Nate Quarry. Quarry hit Sell and he went out and I know he went out. And he went boom, and his head hit the floor, and Quarry went on and hit him while he was down and he was trying to get up. And so I ran in and stopped the fight, but I held him, because Quarry was still trying to hit him, and I kept trying to pull him off and he wouldn’t come up. Finally, I pulled him off and by that time, Pete Sell had woke up. But I know, and he knows, because he told me later. But I know he was out. He got hit and went down and then he hit his head, and Quarry hit him again and he went out. And I know he did, and he admitted it to me, but he’ll never admit it to anyone else that he got knocked out.

And I’ve had that happen several times. It happened recently in the Palace Fighting Championships, where one guy got hit and he went out, and he got hit again, and woke up. It happens in boxing all the time. But at that moment he was out, so the ref stopped the fight. He was saying “I’m OK, I’m OK”, but he wasn’t at that moment. You just try to do the best you can for the fighters safety.

ML: Do you know how many fights you have refereed?
In kickboxing, over 5000 rounds. In MMA, I did over 200 fights in 2005, and probably got that many in 2006. I did less in 2007 because the CSAC took over and started assigning officials. So I got assigned less, but I still did more with King Of The Cage, GC and PFC. So, overall MMA, probably around 700. And that’s nowhere what Herb Dean does. He’s up in the thousands. I judge more in Nevada, and ref more in California.

ML: Do you think you’ve taken more heat as a referee or as a judge?
Probably a judge, because you are never going to be right, you’ll never be right. No matter if the guy gets the piss beat out of him, somebody’s always gonna say… “well, he’s ok”, or “He hit the other guy harder”. And it seems in MMA, what a lot of people don’t understand, is that it’s Mixed Martial Arts, not a grappling tournament. So all of the grappling people are going to complain “he tried a kimura, he tried a triangle choke”. Yeah, but at the same time he got the crap beat out of him. Jiu Jitsu people are only looking at what happened in the Jiu Jitsu, stand up people are only looking at what happened in the stand up. Some one is always unhappy with the decision.

Vitor Belfort fought Tito Ortiz and it was a clear victory for Vitor in the second round, and it was clear Tito won the third round. The controversy was the first round. So, where you sit, sometimes determines how you call the fight, because if the fighters back is to me, and I can’t see if he is making full contact or if he’s just swinging. I have to make a determination on that. But if I see a fighter getting pounded like Tito was pounding Vitor Belfort in the last 40 seconds of the fight, just elbowed mercilessly. So, myself and a friend of mine gave the fight to Tito and Jeff Mullin gave it to Vitor, and there was all kind of controversy over that.

So many people like Vitor Belfort, and they’re looking at the old Vitor Belfort that came up in the early UFC and beat the piss out of Tank Abbot and other fighters. I think people kep hoping to see the old Vitor Belfort, but he’s not the old Vitor Belfort. I think the sport has passed him up, like Royce Gracie, when Matt Hughes beat him up pretty bad, and it was sad watching that. But the sport moves on, whether you do or not, the sport moves on. And I think Tito and the sport passed Vitor up. People just don’t understand, it’s not just a Jiu Jitsu tournament, and they keep looking at it as if it is a Jiu Jitsu tournament. It’s mixed, that’s why it’s called Mixed Martial Arts. One discipline doesn’t have any more value over the other.

And that’s what you get a lot of the time. So, if you can’t take the heat, you don’t belong in the sport, because they will come down on you.

ML: What are some of your most memorable moments in the cage?
I was refereeing Javie Vasquez one time in King Of The Cage, and I stood them up way too soon. Now I know more and I have way more experience and I understand that I stood them up too soon, and as I stood them up, Javie looked at me and he went “Damn Cecil, come on, let me get my submission going” And it was like a bolt of lightning hit me and I was like, damn, he’s right. And what a wake up call that was.

You can referee some guys at the smaller shows where the guys have no clue about grappling. They come out and just swing and swing, and they get on the floor and wouldn’t know an arm bar from an ice cream bar. Those kind of guys, you can just pretty much just stand up, because it isn’t going to go anywhere. But you get some guys that you know that are very good on the ground like Javie Vasquez, and Charlie Valencia that when they go down on the ground, you have to give them a chance to work that submission. This is why you have five minute rounds, so that they have time to work that submission.

I went to Globe, AZ and Charlie Valencia was fighting Urijah Faber, and the first thing that came into my mind was Javie’s voice. These are two guys that are great on the ground, let them go. So I just let them do their thing and I just moved around and waited and waited and waited. Sometimes, the action gets stale, but you know with Urijah and Charlie in there, it’s eventually going to get going. And there was never a dull moment, and eventually, Urijah got him and tapped him out.

ML: How about funny things that happened in the cage?
I went to Porterville to do a show for Gladiator Challenge, and a guy rode up with us that was a friend of Herb’s, and a good guy too. He rode up with me and something happened and one of the fighters couldn’t fight or didn’t show up or something, and Herb’s friend said I’ll do it. So, he goes out there to fight and not 10 seconds into the fight, he gets cracked. He get’s cracked, and he goes right out. I go running over there and push the other guy away, but when Herb’s friend woke up, he thought he was still fighting, and he took me down. So he ends up in my guard and I’m pushing him away, and Herb had to jump over the fence, and Tyson ran into the cage and had get him to stop. When he came to, he came over and apologized, mostly I think because I was his ride home, ha ha.

There was one guy recently that just got mauled at the show at the Playboy Mansion, and he was totally out, so I stopped the fight. After he came to, he asked what is going on and I told him, I had to stop the fight, and he said “no, I’m fine”. So I said, “Well you weren’t 30 seconds ago”. Then he says, “Wait, did we start the fight?”

ML: Thank you for your time Cecil. Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?
First of all, I’d like to Thank Terry and Ted for letting me do this. Terry’s always stuck with me, and I’ll always have a warm spot in my heart for Terry and King Of The Cage. I’d also like to thank Herb Dean and Larry Landless.

Now, let’s run down the controversy that happened the following night during the Jaggers/Voisin fight from my view point at cage side. Towards the end of the third round Jaggers was mounted on Voisin’s back and was raining down punches on Voisin’s head, some of which were landing on the back of Joe’s head. Cecil was warning Matt about punching to the back of the head, Joe tapped out, the bell rang, and Jaggers’ corner came running into the cage to celebrate the win. Cecil told everyone to leave the cage and restarted the fight, but nobody knew why, as we all saw Joe tapout, but controversy now loomed.

After the fight, I caught up with Cecil for his explanation of what happened. While Jaggers had Voisin mounted from the back, he was landing several punches to Voisin’s head and Cecil moved in close to warn Jaggers about punching to the back of the head. While he was looking at Matt and warning him, he did not see Joe tap, due to his position in the cage, which was basically standing over both fighters. The timekeeper saw Joe tap and saw Cecil make a gesture with his hand, which he mistook as Cecil stopping the fight, so he rang the bell with twelve seconds left in the third round. However, Cecil was not stopping the fight, and thought it was the end of the round, not the end of the fight, which is why he made everybody leave the cage. His explanation was that, since he did not see the submission, the fight was not over. The timekeeper can not stop the fight for a submission, only the ref can. Nobody admitted that a tap had been made, so Cecil restarted the fight, which in my opinion, was the correct call to make.

I was very impressed at how professionally Matt Jaggers handled the situation. After having victory and the championship snatched from his hands, he went to his corner and let the referee and everyone else decide what was going on and kept his focus on the fight. Jaggers continued to dominate and went on to win the Bantamweight Championship by Unanimous Decision.

So I’d like to say, thank you to Cecil for taking the time to do the interview with me and congratulations to Matt Jaggers on becoming the new, King Of The Cage Bantamweight Champion! Don’t forget to catch Matt Jaggers in action on June 13th in Mt. Pleasant, MI and the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort, as he defends his title against #1 ranked Lazar Stojadinovic. See you there fight fans!!!

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