Melquizael Costa

Melquizael Costa on being choked for extra 90 seconds: “I saw death so close”

This past Saturday night in Baura Brazil, Melquizael Costa faced off against Rafael Barbosa for the Demolidor Fight lightweight championship in the organization’s main event.

The fight itself was breathtaking as well as exciting, but towards the end of the bout, tragedy nearly transpired.

In the third and final round of the championship contest, Barbosa locked on a vicious anaconda choke the moment he and Costa went to the mat.

Barbosa claims he informed referee Emerson Pereira Saez 20 seconds later that Costa was unconscious. Saez was clearly standing right next to the combatants in those 90 seconds while refusing to check up on Costa, to see if he was still conscious in the fight.

Moments after Barbosa released the submission, he angrily shouted “I told you” to the stubborn referee as Costa layed prone an unconscious on the canvas.

Footage of the horrifying incident was released on the internet yesterday, and went viral.

Costa, who now thankfully has recovered from Saturday’s life threatening predicament, went on MMA Fighting to discuss the entire situation leading up to the infamous moment.

“I saw in the video that I went out and my eyes were open,” Costa said. “You might think I’m awake, but I was already out. I moved a couple of times, but I was having seizures. My corner and his corner yelled that I was out, but the referee said he would only stop the fight if I was out. And I was! Every referee touches the fighter to see if they are out, but he never touched me. My opponent stopped the fight. Otherwise, I would be dead.”

“When his opponent let him go, (Costa) fell on the ground and looked like he was dead,” said Costa’s manager Adriano Vilela, who was in his corner that night. “I had never seen something like that in my life. It took 10 minutes for him to come back to normal. He was breathing slowly, still out. He opened his eyes after five minutes, but still couldn’t respond to us or move his legs or arms. I thought he was going to die. … His opponent was desperately yelling that he was out, and if he hadn’t stopped the fight on his own, the referee would left him there forever. That was absurd.”

Saez also speaking with MMA Fighting on yesterday evening, said that he was the one to end the bout, as Barbosa  confirmed he had relinquished the choke when told to by the referee.

“He was in the anaconda choke, and I didn’t notice he was having a seizure,” Saez said. “He had his eyes open and didn’t present any symptom of loss of conscience. I thought he was trying to escape. He was calm, breathing, and I didn’t notice his leg shaking. His arm, the one that wasn’t trapped in the choke, was pushing his opponent’s belly the entire time. There were four people in a corner a meter away from me, and no one noticed it, or they would have yelled. No one noticed anything, and me neither.

“Everything happens too fast in there, it’s different than looking at the video later. You have to make a quick decision in there, and at the same time, I thought if I stop this early and he’s in the fight, it will be controversial. I let it go a little bit longer, and when I realized his eyes and his expression were changing, I stopped the fight. That’s exactly what happened. I didn’t notice him having a seizure. If I had noticed that, I would have stopped it earlier to protect the athlete.

“Watching the video now, I only see one abnormal thing, which is his leg shaking a little bit. Maybe he went out with his eyes open, but these are situations that happen in there and you don’t notice. Unfortunately, these are decisions that have to be made in a split second and I didn’t notice his leg shaking. I saw him moving, but I thought he was doing a hip escape.”

“Upset with the situation,” Saez confirmed to MMA Fighting that he will no longer work as a MMA referee. Saez first announced the decision to Combate.

“My family and I think it’s time to retire,” Saez said. “I’ve done my best. I wish (Costa) and his opponent the best. They are young, and I hope they can build their dreams.”

Despite referee Saez’s frustration, Barbosa admitted that Saez did screw up majorly in that fight, and said the fact that Costa’s eyes were open while he was momentarily unconscious was very misleading.

“My initial reaction was to let the referee know as soon as I felt that he went out,” Barbosa told MMA Fighting. “I saw that he didn’t stop the fight because his eyes were open. At that moment, I understand the referee not stopping the fight. I stopped squeezing hard because I felt in his body that he was out, but the referee wouldn’t stop it.”

“I know that the referee is wrong, but [Costa’s] team wouldn’t say much either,” Barbosa continued. “He was out, and his team kept telling him to get up, to defend. They thought he was still awake. I don’t think the referee is completely wrong here.”

All in all, Barbosa did actually win the fight and was crowned the organization’s new lightweight champion and improved his record to 7-1, though it was a good victory for Barbosa, the thought of his opponent lying on the mat an not moving took awhile for him to get over but he could eventually celebrate his accomplishment.

“At first, I was very upset with the referee because I told him [Costa was out], and then I was worried about him,” Barbosa said. “We didn’t celebrate. What went through my head? Anger. And then I couldn’t stop thinking about it on Sunday, about how [Costa] was, but then I saw he was fine.”

Long time veteran referee John McCarthy furiously voiced his opinion on the matter, an had some extremely harsh words for the controversial brazilian official.

John McCarthy

To make matters worse, when Saez was asked why he never touched Costa’s arms or legs during those 90 seconds to know if he was or wasn’t conscious, the Saez claimed asking the fighter if he was okay was enough.

“I stayed close to them and talked to the athlete and he had his eyes open, was pushing his opponent’s belly,” Saez said. “I told his opponent not to let go because he was in the fight. ‘If you let it go and the fight continues, you can’t complain later. Continue with that because he’s not out.’ I wasn’t negligent. Unfortunately, I was criticized for that. I was upset for the athlete, worried about him, but everything happens too fast in there. 90 seconds, 50 seconds, but you have to make decisions. I was worried about separating them and the fight continuing. It has happened to me in the past, unfortunately.

“I spoke with the athlete and he made a signal, pushing his opponent, and I saw it was cool. He made a movement with his hand in the belly, so that’s why I made that decision. … If I could go back in time, watching the tape — because I don’t have that vision in the moment of the fight — if I had seen his leg shaking, I would have stopped it earlier. But I missed that. It’s like in soccer, some times you only see something on the tape. We make mistakes, too. If God makes mistakes, any human being is subject to mistakes. But I never intended to hurt any athlete. I would never hurt anyone’s careers and dreams.”

Costa and his family had watched the contest live online, in which Costa says the stream had shut off shortly after the bout was done.

“My wife is still in shock,” Costa said. “My wife and friends were watching the fight online and they cut the stream when that happened, and everyone was in shock because they didn’t know what happened. I saw death so close. My opponent let me go, otherwise I would be dead if I had to wait for the referee. It was horrible. It was agonizing for me when I came back because I couldn’t breathe.”

Demolidor Fight promoter Jeferson Pavanelo told MMA Fighting he’d hired the CNMMA (National MMA Confederation) as overseers for the event, and that it was their task to acquire judges and referees.

According to Pavanelo, he was told by the CNMMA hours before the event began, that Confederation’s main team of referee’s wouldn’t be able to work the night’s event for various reasons, and would send another group of officials whom they trusted instead.

Pavanelo doesn’t rule working with the CNMMA for future events out, only if they send top quality officials, the Confederation opted not to respond to the request for comments.

“I will analyze the entire situation because the repercussion has been big,” Pavanelo said. “If they bring the team that usually does events for me, cool. Everybody has problems, everybody makes mistakes, but a serious mistake like that … everybody saw him doing nothing there, not even touching the athlete or asking if he was okay. [Barbosa] saying [Costa] was out and he did nothing.”

In spite of the awful encounter he experienced, Costa had taken some time out to bring some inspiration for a young who was in attendance at the event live to witness Costa in action, upon arriving to the gym that day, a lady had introduced her 10 year old son to Costa who’s dealing with a case of vitiligo, which just so happens be a condition that Costa himself has dealt with his entire life.

“I met him before the fight and told my master I would dedicate the win to him, but the fight didn’t go as expected,” Costa said. “Still, when they were taking me to the ambulance on a stretcher, I asked my master to call the kid there. I told him to never be ashamed of who he is, that he is a warrior. I told him that was not my day, but we would bounce back.