'I could've died': Gianni Vazquez recounts the terrifying night a referee refused to stop the fight (2023)

Nolan King

April 26, 2023 9:00 pm ET

Gianni Vazquez remembers the lights turning on and off, but his memory admittedly is distorted.

“To be honest, I cannot remember everything perfectly – how it happened,” Vazquez told MMA Junkie days after Fury FC 76.

The sounds are more vivid memories than the sights for Vazquez, who recalls a familiar voice screaming for referee Frank Collazo to stop the fight.

“I heard clearly the voice of Alex Morono,” Vazquez said. “I’m always watching the sport and Fury FC fights or whatever, so I recognized his voice right away. He’s like, ‘Hey, Frank, what are you doing? Stop it. Stop.’ So then I kind of wake up and I see a little bit with my eyes, the referee. His face is on my face almost. Then I kind of passed out again.”

With an arena full of screaming fans, promotion officials and coaches, Collazo was undeterred as Edgar Chairez continued to choke an unconscious Vazquez, waiting for the feeling of a tap.

When the tap never came, Chairez switched to an armbar, which freed up blood and oxygen to reunite with Vazquez’s brain.

“I started feeling a lot of pain on my arm, so I wake up,” Vazquez said. “My body kind of feels like a noodle. It didn’t react. So I started tapping with my leg. I started tapping with my feet. Then, I was kind of coming in and out, so I kind of went back to sleep a little bit, like one second or two seconds, probably. Then, I wake up and I started feeling more and more pain in my arm. Little by little, I tried to fight with my hand to tap with the hand and they stopped it.”

The struggle was longer than Vazquez’s mind can account for. The switch in and out of consciousness makes the whole thing a little fuzzy. It wasn’t until he got to the hospital after the fight and rewatched his bout that he realized the magnitude of the situation – and how lucky he was to not be worse off.

“I saw the video and was like, ‘Oh, goddamn. That was a long time this f*cking guy didn’t stop the fight.’ I guess it was a pretty long time when I was out there,” Vazquez said.

The reaction was mirrored by dozens of fighters, coaches and reporters, as well as thousands of viewers around the world, who voiced outrage on social media when the video surfaced.

Vazquez suffered tears in his elbow and shoulder and is frightened by the repeated oxygen cutoff to his brain. He has tried to keep his emotions in check since the incident, but the injuries he says he sustained have made it difficult to put the night behind him.

“I do a lot of personal training,” Vazquez said. “I have to hold mitts for people. I have to teach classes. I do personal training of boxing, some jiu-jitsu stuff, some wrestling stuff. I have my good friend from Represent. They’re one of my biggest supporters. They do stuff and I come here and help them out. … They’re super nice and my biggest supporters, so I’m going to be here with one arm working. But I’m working Monday through Sunday. I don’t have days off from working. So right now, it’s frustrating for me, because I’m not going to work in I don’t know how long.”

Ridiculous scene at Fury FC. Edgar Cháirez puts Gianni Vazquez to sleep with a triangle, and the ref simply doesn't stop it. Cháirez ends up armbarring an unconscious Vazquez who wakes up in the submission. #Furyfc76 pic.twitter.com/AgcwI2i3ss

— caposa (@Grabaka_Hitman) March 25, 2023

Since the incident occurred, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) has yet to publicly sanction Collazo for the mishap, though it did acknowledge to MMA Junkie that it was aware of the incident.

Collazo has not refereed a boxing, MMA or muay thai event in Texas since the incident, but did serve as a judge the day after the incident for UFC on ESPN 43 in San Antonio.

According to Vazquez, no one from the commission took accountability on fight night – or since the incident. Outside of an inspector scolding Vazquez’s coach Colin Oyama for attempting to stop the fight and a brief message weeks later that the commission would be discussing the matter, Vazquez hasn’t heard anything else from TDLR.

“I was just really surprised, like, ‘Goddamn, man.’ It’s literally like nothing happened,” Vazquez said. “It’s another day, another guy, and another job to do. That’s how I felt. That’s what they see, how they see. It’s just so many fighters. I guess I was just one more. That’s why they put the guy back to work without giving any investigation or any type of punishment or some stuff like that. It’s just like, ‘Man, we’re going to keep working. We’ve got another event and other people. I guess the guy didn’t die, so let’s get back to work.'”

Does Vazquez have ill will toward Collazo, the man he thinks is responsible for fairly significant injuries and that many around the world are criticizing for a dangerous mistake?


“I don’t judge him,” Vazquez said. “I don’t have any bad feelings about him, either. It’s just that we’re all humans and we all make mistakes. But what I believe is that he shouldn’t make this mistake again. What that means is that I don’t want him to be a referee anymore because I don’t want no one to take the chance of him making another mistake and him hurting another person. I don’t know the referee. I don’t know his life. But he will probably have another job, a regular job besides a referee. I hope it doesn’t affect him too much if he stops being a referee because it will affect other guys more if he keeps refereeing.”

While fighters often are required to sign waivers of understanding their health is at risk and they could be severely injured in a combat sport, a court may see negligent officiating as outside the legally binding boundaries.

With that in mind, Vazquez did not rule out legal action.

“I think I would like to do it,” Vazquez said. “First of all, because I don’t want anyone to deal with this stuff any more. … I don’t want it to happen to one guy and then (him) probably die. I don’t want this to happen to another person and (them) probably end up with brain damage. How many times do we see in boxing they get hit in the back of the head and then the referee don’t do nothing, the guy finishes the fight, and he’s OK. Then, after four days, five days, he dies. I don’t want this to be the case in MMA.

“… I think the right thing is to make someone realize what happened wasn’t right, then make him pay for it. It wasn’t right, man. Like I said, I’m not asking for nothing crazy. I’m just asking to get justice from this and to prevent other athletes from having these, too.”

More than financial reparations, Vazquez wants accountability and to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. If a mistake isn’t recognized, Vazquez sees openings for it to repeat.

“Man, I could’ve died because the referee didn’t recognize,” Vazquez said. “This is crazy to me because, like I said, he had his face on my face. He was like this, looking at my face. So thank God I’m here – alive, with an injury. I don’t want no one to deal with this stuff I deal (with). I don’t want no one to pass for the same situation. It’s just tough it happened to me. But at the same time, it’s just good it happened to me and not other people.”

Watch the full interview with Vazquez below:

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