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Referee Stoppages: The Toughest Call in Sports

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(David Becker-Associated Press)

The squabbles about “Big” John McCarthy’s stoppage of Henderson vs. Dos Anjos in UFC Fight Night 49 adds to an extensive list of contested and controversial stoppages in MMA. Between fans, fighters, and UFC president Dana White, everyone is willing to give more than their two cents about when and where a fight should or shouldn’t have been stopped. Contest stoppages in mixed martial arts competition bares a weight and responsibility on referees unlike any other sports official. There’s no turning back after an officiator steps in, so when is the right time to call the contest?

Rules On the Books

cagepotatao.com-Photo via Getty
(cagepotatao.com-Photo via Getty)

According to the UFC.com, here is the organization’s standing on contest stoppages.

“The referee is the sole arbiter of a contest and is the only individual authorized to stop a contest. The referee may take advice from the ringside physician and/or the Commission with respect to the decision to stop a contest.The referee and the ringside physician are the only individuals authorized to enter the ring/fighting area at any time during competition other than the rest periods and subsequent to the contest ending.”

It’s one thing if a fighter limps back to his corner and can hardly keep his composure. That would be the best-case scenario for a referee to examine the fighter, consult the physician, and give him at least a minute to make a well-thought-out decision about whether or not a fighter can physically continue in the contest. However, in most cases, MMA officials have to balance two very difficult responsibilities during the fight and be ready to make a split-second decision.

#1 Ensure that both fighters are able to compete to the best of their abilities.

This is the one that gets people riled the most. If you’re a die-hard fan of the losing competitor taking a barrage of fists and fury, of course you hate their loss at a stoppage of contest. “He was getting up! He just needed another second!” In the world of mixed martial arts, a lot can happen in just another second.

#2 Protect competitors’ safety.

“Just another second” means everything in combat sports. If you don’t believe that, let your best friend punch you on the ground while you’re defenseless for “just another second.” Probably doesn’t feel that great right? Now imagine your friend is a 200 lb. MMA fighter giving you a rhinoplasty with sledgehammer elbows and fists. An official jumping in to stop “just another second” is crucial.

Jumping In

(Andre Gadia-GSPN.com)
(Andre Gadia-GSPN.com)

The next step has got to be the gutsiest move required out of any officiator because they have to physically stop the fight. A basketball referee might get clipped, football officiators run the risk of being run down, but MMA officials take the cake when it comes to the biggest balls. I don’t care how hard your day at work was, unless you had to use your body to defend a downed athlete on the other side of an adrenaline-pumped fighter beating down with his fists, then your day really wasn’t that bad. Talk about running into a house on fire.

The Toughest Call In Sports

(Josh Hedges-Zuffa LLC)
(Josh Hedges-Zuffa LLC)

As with most professional sports, officiating is a thankless job. Someone is always going to give you hell for a stoppage that was “totally unnecessary” and that their favorite fighter was “just about to get up.” Officials are human too, this isn’t to say that they haven’t or won’t make mistakes when deciding a stoppage of contest. But if your favorite fighter is eating punches while semi-conscious on the ground, be glad there was a stoppage. Nobody likes to see their favorites take a beating loss, but the right stoppage will leave them much more healthy and able to go back to the drawing board. There’s nothing wrong with voicing your opinion about a referee stoppage, but express it with consideration, respect for officials and the difficulty of their job. Unless of course, you want to suit up and jump in the cage yourself.

  • Edward Stamos

    I know this artical is MMA but I can relate. I used to ref basket ball and trust me when I say “no one likes the ref”. Stop to early or you stop to late. One thing I believe the UFC needs is instant replay, some fights are lost on illegal shots & for Pete sake UFC ban the push kicks aka elliptical kicks