Early Referee Stoppages...A small price to pay to ensure fighter safety
Recently I was in Las Vegas, cageside watching the Ronda Rousey vs Sarah Mcmann fight at UFC 170. Rousey showed total domination for about 2 minutes, after a well placed knee to McMann's midsection dropped her to the ground. The fight was subsequently stopped. Only several weeks prior, Urijah Faber was taking a barrage of punches from bantamweight champ Renan Barao when he turtled up (with an apparent hand placed up by his head) and the fight was stopped.
Both fights have sparked considerable outrage from fans and media alike, who felt robbed of what could have been so to speak. One blogger states that in the case of the Rousey vs Mcmann fight, the early stoppage robbed both fighters of their moment. Both women were Olympians and Mcmann was not supposed to be dropped so early, was the sentiment. Urijah Faber, is a perennial fan favorite, and the California Kid has shown up to the dance (ie. a title fight) far too many times to walk away empty handed.
Interestingly, the referee in question Herb Dean, has long been considered "the best in the business" by none other than UFC boss Dana White who subsequently referred to his latest stoppage as "mistake".
In my opinion, both stoppages were reasonable and valid.
You may or may not agree with me. But let's look at it from the other side...what if they were completely bad stoppages? Well there are obvious consequences - two fighters would have been unfairly been denied the opportunity to compete fairly, with significant implications on career, wages, etc. We the fans who pay for pay-per-views (and in my case a 6th row seat) were denied our desire to see a back and forth proverbial barn burner, a war like we were used to seeing with Jones vs Gustaffson or Hendo vs Shogun (the first one).
But is this a fair justification for villainizing a referee who looks to protect the fighters health? No. And we really should accept his judgement in the heat of battle for what it is, with the fighters best intentions in mind. I really don't want to see Urijah Faber slurring his speech at age 40 or suffering early dementia in his 60's because he took one shot too many. MMA uses 4oz gloves, and the punches thus produce far more impact than standard 16oz boxing gloves. On fight night, there is no headgear like in training camp. And yes, while I do enjoy watching knockouts, there is nothing I deplore more than late stoppages or seeing a fighter take more punishment than necessary. The punches that occur when a fighter has already started to lose consciousness are perhaps the most brutal of all. Concussions are often taken for granted, yet can be the source of misery with daily headaches for months in some cases. Herb Dean, I actually learned from listening to one of his interviews, is actually friends with Urijah. While a friend might secretly root for another to win, a real professional referee who does his job right, puts safety first. That's exactly what Dean did.
As the world of MMA continues to grow and evolve, we are treated to more and more fights, more atheleticism, and more flashy techniques and knockouts. But we should never lose sight of danger involved with such a brutal fight. Boo the judges all you want - some of them literally don't know what a submission is. But for every early stoppage you watch, imagine for a second being the losing fighter's family member. Sometimes the stoppage will be premature...but we really don't know the right answer as only the fighter truly knows what he/she could or couldn't have done.