Dominick Cruz is doing everything possible to ensure he never has to cross paths with referee Keith Peterson again.
The former UFC bantamweight champion’s ire stems from his most recent fight against Henry Cejudo this past May when he suffered a second-round TKO loss. The end came after Cruz ate a knee strike from Cejudo that dropped him to the ground and the former Olympic gold medalist followed with a flurry of punches, which then led to the stoppage.
Cruz, who on Saturday at UFC 259 returns against Casey Kenney, argued against the decision made by Peterson in the cage, but he also lobbed accusations against the veteran official that maybe he shouldn’t have been working that night in the first place.
“The guy smelled like alcohol and cigarettes, so who knows what he was doing?” Cruz said about Peterson during the UFC 249 post-fight show. “I wish they drug tested them.”
Peterson did not comment publicly about Cruz’s post-fight statement; referees are discouraged by many athletic commissions from speaking to the media.
On Wednesday ahead of his return to action, Cruz revealed that he requested Peterson not serve as the referee in this fight – or any of his fights moving forward – though ultimately he’s not sure that will be honored.
“I would hope that they wouldn’t do that,” Cruz said during UFC 259 media day. “Marc Ratner reached out and said that he could make sure that the commission doesn’t put him out there to ref my match. I don’t really feel safe with him as a referee. But you can’t control the commission. The commission runs itself. It’s an outside entity on purpose. If they decide to do that, I don’t know why they would do that, but they might. What can you do?
“On the night of, I don’t think I could do anything of it if they decided to do that. I think I would just be in that position.”
The Nevada Athletic Commission will oversee the card on Saturday night, but referee assignments aren’t typically handed out until the day of the event. The commission will assign referees to title fights ahead of time during a monthly meeting, which is where athletes are invited to speak up about potential conflicts of interest.
Former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar famously had problems with the way Steve Mazzagatti officiated one of his early fights with Frank Mir, and he requested a different referee handle his title bout against Randy Couture at UFC 91. Former UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones also sought to have veteran referee John McCarthy excluded from one of his fights.
When it comes to Cruz’s situation, he explained that his issues with Peterson went beyond just a questionable stoppage in the fight with Cejudo.
“Listen, I didn’t come up with this by accident,” Cruz said. “I came up with this because in the back before the fight where nobody’s there, I had a conversation with this man and said, ‘Let me go out on the shield,’ and when you stop a fight with one second left, you’re not doing your job right when I’m defending myself. The referees in the back go through the rules with you and they’re saying, ‘Don’t hit a downed opponent, don’t eye gouge, don’t hit 12 to 6 with elbows,’ [and] they’re going through the whole spiel. I had to stop him in the middle of that and say, ‘Hey Keith, can you re-go over that, I can’t really understand you,’ and I had to grab him and get my face and look him in the eyes and say, ‘Hey, I need you for this fight.’ He could not look me in the eyes.
“I don’t know what his deal was that night. It might be just that night. I don’t know. But that’s all I’m talking about is that night. I had a real issue. I’ve never had to do that with any referee in the history of fighting, ever. I’ve been doing this for 16 years. I’ve never felt that energy from a referee other than him. So as a result, I don’t feel safe with that man. That’s all I can say. Everybody else, cool, let’s go.”
In a perfect world, Cruz wishes fighters had a little more control over the referees selected, especially given the judgment calls that can sometimes mean the difference between victory and defeat.
“I would love it, even a guy like [Floyd] Mayweather in his fights gets to choose his referee. I would love it if one day we get that option,” Cruz said. “They’ve got three or four referees per night. Why not give us an option to choose who we want to ref our fight? Even if me and the fighter agree on it.
“But maybe that’s the next change in the future. There’s been a lot of changes in this sport, who knows.”
When it comes to his matchup against Kenney on Saturday night at UFC 259, Cruz isn’t interested in selecting the referee working his fight as much as he’s concerned about the one person he wants nowhere near the octagon while he’s competing.
“Honest to god, I don’t care,” Cruz said. “As long as it’s not Keith Peterson.”