Exclusive: Referee Kim Winslow Discusses Critics, Sexism, Homemade Bread, and Her Worst Cage Experience

kim winslow

After making history in June 2009 as the first female MMA referee to oversee a UFC fight, Kim Winslow drew controversy earlier this month for her handling of the Muhammad Lawal vs. Lorenz Larkin match at Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Jardine. Last week, CagePotato had the chance to chat with Winslow, who spoke to us about her life inside and outside of the cage, her pioneering role in MMA, and how she responds to criticism of her job performance. Read on for the full Q & A…

CagePotato: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Tell us a little bit about how you first were introduced to MMA, and when you knew you wanted to be an MMA referee.

Kim Winslow: I introduced myself to martial arts in 1992 by studying my first art form, Tae Kwon Do. I then saw the first UFC event in 1993 and was instantly enthralled. I had to watch every one of them and could hardly wait for the next one to come out. As the sport evolved so did my training in MMA, and I switched to more modern art forms and trained in Muay Thai, BJJ, kickboxing, boxing, grappling, street fighting, Krav Maga, some judo, and lately Capoeira for fun.

CP: What experience or training is required before a commission will license you?

 KW: Every state has different requirements and it is your responsibility to find out what they are and meet them when you apply. Refs are required to renew their license every year in each state, and in some states twice a year.

CP: Back in 2009 at the Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale, you made history by becoming the first woman to ever ref a fight in the UFC. How difficult was it to break into the industry and how does it feel to be a UFC pioneer?

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KW: I had already been in the industry for years! I was working my way up just like everybody else! Difficult is just a matter of perception and I don’t have any comparisons, just my own experience. I am very goal-oriented and when I have a sport that I love very much I don’t take no for an answer. If someone says no I simply find another way. If I get criticism I use it to improve. My bosses have always been good about giving me constructive criticism. I always feel good when I accomplish a goal but then I always set a new one to replace it.

CP: Refs get thrown under the bus all too frequently. Joe Rogan recently called out Mario Yamasaki, criticizing his decision to stop a fight. How would you have responded to Joe and what are the Athletic Commissions telling referees to do if this ever happens again?

KW: Athletic Commissions don’t tell us what to do in those situations. We are expected to handle it as professionals and we know it’s part of the job. I don’t critique other referees or calls that they make so I will not comment on what happened with Mario. I will say that we are human and we make mistakes and we simply try to minimize them as much as possible.

CP: After allowing King Mo to land 15 unanswered shots to Lorenz Larkin, he called you out and suggested that you and Cyborg should fight while he refs. Have you ever considered being a fighter?

KW: I did consider it but I am too old to start as a fighter and I have always been too concerned for my opponent’s safety to go down that road. I am capable of fighting, I just don’t have the desire to hurt someone without due cause. I have already been in enough fights in my lifetime and don’t wish to continue it as an adult.

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CP: How do you respond to people who think you suck at your job?

KW: First, I don’t read what they are saying so I don’t know what you’re talking about. I do know that the people I am supposed to make sure are happy with my performance are! They have the opinions that count to me. I knew going in that no matter what I do there is always going to be this element that will never like what I do and always find something wrong with it. You take my performance and juxtapose someone else’s body in there and I wonder if the reaction would be the same. Something tells me it wouldn’t.

CP: What was the scariest thing to ever happen to you or a fighter while you were in the cage?

KW: I have never been afraid for myself in the cage. Once, I was watching a fight that happened without a sanctioning body, and both fighters were covered in blood from head to toe and the ref would not stop the fight. One fighter had a really bad cut that was arterial and every time his heart pumped it would send out a spurt of blood onto the canvas. As the fight continued he was getting weaker and weaker. There was no doctor but there were, thank God, REMSA in attendance. The fight ended with the fighter collapsing and the ref never even checked on the downed fighter but went and hugged the winner. I was truly afraid I was going to see a death that night.

CP: One of our writers, Rex, wants to know who makes the sammiches in your house?

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KW: Okay – I will humor you on this one! I cook very well and I make homemade bread, as well as many other meals from scratch. I enjoy cooking as it relaxes me and is much better for you than fast food or pre-packaged junk.

CP: Was there ever a time when you raised the wrong fighter’s hand after the winner was announced?

KW: I am human and I believe I have done that one time in my career. In many small shows they do not announce the corner of the fighter just the name. There are soooo many fighters that it is hard to remember who all of them are. I try to double check before each bout who is in which corner but it’s easy to mix them up or forget. There is more to it then just raising a hand sometimes.

CP: What is the biggest mistake a referee can make?

KW: To me that is impacting the fight to a point where the outcome is different then it should have been through an error.

CP: Do you think the UFC will ever have a women’s division?

KW: Sorry – I agree with Dana on this one. Until they have enough women that are trained to fill different weight divisions and you don’t have the same few women fighting each other over and over, then no.

CP: What’s the most sexist thing a fan has ever yelled at you during or after a fight?

KW: I tune out the crowd completely so I don’t hear anything while I’m in the cage. If someone is going to say something sexist or rude to me after the fight, I ignore him or her and move on.