Home Science Education UFC 170: Referee Controversy and the Need to Standardize

UFC 170: Referee Controversy and the Need to Standardize


Ronda Rousey vs. Sarah McMann resulted in controversy, and in times of controversy, there’s no shortage of personalities standing behind their utterances. There’s a significant number of fans frustrated at the referee, complaining how the main events were not enduring enough.

To rebuttal the controversy and complains, there seems to be two popular arguments: #1) Foresight of the Unknown: referee only prevented the inevitable punishment and stoppage #2) Ad Hominem Fallacy: “Those who are complaining about the stoppage has obviously never taken a liver shot.”

These arguments seem to single-handedly dismiss the controversy… except they don’t. Neither argument are particularly strong, nor do they really attack the core issue at hand.

The problem with argument #1 is that we do not have foresight of the future. We simply cannot assume that once a fighter is dropped, the fight becomes all of a sudden insurmountable. Yes, comebacks are not frequent, but they aren’t extremely rare either. It is an uphill battle, but an uphill battle that’s been fought time and again.

It’s easy to see dominance or effective techniques and assume that the rest of the bout will consist of only that — except that’s not the nature of combat sports. The nature of the sport is about the grind, and a large part of it is about overcoming punishment — Sara McMann appeared to be on her way to doing just that.

But it’s literally impossible to know what would’ve happened if the fight had gone a few seconds longer: McMann was hurt but she also showed signals that she was not out. At the same time, McMann could’ve been finished quickly — and while the “probability” certainly favor the “will finish outcome”, what may have followed is now forever an unknown.

Liver Shot Argument:

Liver shots are hell — they are painful and paralyzing — weakness spreads throughout the body and the body shuts down. But like a knockdown or knockout, there are varying degrees of pain and shutdown. Not all knockdowns are made equal — some never get up and some get up right away. By the same token, not all liver shots are the same — some are recoverable and some aren’t.

In the case of McMann vs Rousey — it’s clear that McMann was hurt — but she was not in complete paralysis that a “shutdown” liver shot would deliver to the body. To look at some examples of possible comebacks: refer to Scott Smith vs. Pete Sell… or more recently…

Overeem’s brutal barrage on Travis Browne.

Now compare it to this to Rousey vs. McMann:

McMann is dropped from a shot to the liver. She momentarily covers the stomach with the left-hand and uses the right base herself. As Herb Dean went in to stop, McMann got up on one knee.
The liver shot definitely hurt. But it was not insurmountable and completely paralyzing — if it was, McMann would likely not get up on one knee and then stay uncurl.

The Core Issue: Lack of Standardization

The bout did not satiated the fans, nor did it have an absolutely justified conclusion. The stoppage is debatable, and Herb Dean has been inconsistent.

Mike Pyle vs. TJ Waldburger, refereed by Herb Dean just fights before.
UFC 169 Renan Barao vs. Urijah Faber

For these three fights, Herb Dean is inconsistent. But to be more fair, reffing a fight is extremely difficult — it’s based solely on intuition and subjectivity, which we know by now is quite fallible (every referee has made several “bad calls” before).

While every fight scenario is unique, these fights still send an inconsistent message. But rather than bashing the referee, I reckon that there needs to be a system to prevent this from happening — a set of protocol of some sort.

There’s a clear problem with giving a referee full power to end a fight without an actual protocol. One such problem is that it results in inconsistency and it leaves plenty more room for human error. On the line are athletes’ dreams and careers, and at times majority viewers left dissatisfied — these things are not trivial.

Elite fighters labour unceasingly, and they have a brief sojourn of a career: the least that ought to happen is justice and respect given to them by a standard.