Media POV: How much leeway should be given before stopping a title fight?

(Photo by Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo by Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

In the main event at last night’s UFC 170 event, Ronda Rousey defended her UFC women’s bantamweight championship against Sara McMann.

It took just over one-minute for Rousey to finish McMann and it didn’t come without some controversy. Surprise, surprise… A UFC main event with controversy. Both McMann and Rousey were trading on the feet, but after McMann landed some heavy punches, Rousey decided to clinch. Up against the cage, “Rowdy” landed a brutal knee to the liver that dropped McMann and almost immediately referee Herb Dean stepped in to stop the fight.

Many fans took to Twitter and said the fight was stopped too soon — this was after complaints about Dean’s refereeing in the Mike Pyle vs. T.J. Waldburger bout. Pyle had Waldburger mounted and was landing clean shots, one after the other before Dean stepped in.

As one of the best officials in the sport today, there were some serious mistakes made on his part during UFC 170 this past Saturday night.

I caught up with some of the best in the business when it comes to the media and asked them the question, ‘How much leeway should be given before stopping a title fight?’


James Lynch (Sportsnet): For a title fight there should be more leeway in my opinion just because of what’s at stake for both fighters. However at the same time fighter safety is important, we saw what happened last night with T.J. Waldburger. Regardless fighters need to do their absolute best in protecting themselves and showing they are active.

Kirik Jenness (The UG): Referees operate on an impossibly thin tightrope, balancing safety and a man or woman’s livelihood, in a sport that is inherently dangerous. A fight is stopped when there is both danger and the lack of an intelligent defense. There is no explicit or even a universally acknowledged implicit rule that in a title fight you allow a higher degree of danger or lower threshold for an intelligent defense. However, competitors in a title fight possess extraordinary skill and durability, with the highest payout on the line, so it can readily appear as if there is one.

Brian D’Souza (Author of ‘Pound for Pound: The Modern Gladiators of Mixed Martial Arts’): In a title fight, the referee has to give more leeway to the combatants. At least that was the argument given when Shane Carwin was smashing Brock Lesnar in the first round of their fight. Rocky represents the fighter’s viewpoint best, “You stop this fight, I’ll kill ya!”

A title fight is extremely difficult to get, unless your name is Chael Sonnen or Urijah Faber. The referee must act accordingly for the safety of the fighters, but if fighters really wanted to be safe, they’d be watching from outside the cage.

Front Row Brian (@FrontRowBrian): As much leeway as possible. However, the referee is the only person in the world at that moment who is personally responsible for the fighter’s well being. The referee has to live with the results. I don’t like poorly times stoppages but will take an early one over a late one every time.

Ian Bain (MMA Opinion): For me, it should be the same as any fight. I know a title has this mystique of earning something special but letting someone go on longer because their is good there makes no sense in a sport where you are pushing safety first from the referee.

Zeus (MiddleEasy): All refs should take one from Pride FC ref Yuji Shimada and scream ‘GIVE UP!?’ in a Japanese accent while a fighter is getting punched or is on the mat. If they don’t respond, fight is over. If they respond no, fight goes on. If it’s yes, fight is over, then whisper to the fighter ‘You know, God hates quitters…’

Dwight Wakabayashi (MMA Canada): The ref should always communicate with a verbal warning and then a second warning that they are going to stop it if the fighter does not improve position. Always caution on the side of letting the fight continue because it is how these fighters want it to be. There should be lots of leeway, many of the so called late stoppages have not caused permanent damage to anyone so give the fighter lots of leeway.

Shawn W. Smith (Freelance Writer): Above all else, and this is often forgotten among MMA fans, the referee’s job is to protect the fighters. I did think last night’s stoppage was slightly premature as Rousey’s punches were not landing, but I also have faith that Herb Dean knows what he is doing. If he’s seen enough, more often than not I’m okay with it. I’m not sure any leeway should be given if it’s a title as opposed to any other fight.

Stephie Daniels (MMA Sentinel): Ya know, a lot of people want to give Herb Dean shit, but we’re on the outside of a TV bubble looking in. Herb is right there, can hear the sounds, see the expressions and has a bird’s eye view of what’s going down. While I agree with his stoppage, it’s based on those points only. The fan in me would have given Sara a couple more seconds since it was a title fight.

Bear Frazer (Fight! Magazine): It’s really difficult to say because I don’t get the honor and privilege to study the contest from the referee’s vantage point, nor do I hear the sounds and see the expressions of said fighter in trouble. However, if a mixed martial artist is crumpling deeper and deeper onto the canvass and turtling up without any indication of improving one’s position or moving forward, like attempting to stand up or properly defending him or herself for example, then the fight should be called. Fighter safety is important, but in this line of work, you will get hurt and a chance to persevere should be given. This is what you signed up for. It isn’t playtime at the Chuckie Cheese ball pit. Having said that, do I feel the Rousey vs. McMann fight was stopped prematurely? A little bit, sure. But had it continue, it probably wouldn’t have gone on for many seconds longer.

Justin Faux (MMA Kanvas): Herb Dean is one of the best referees in the game, no question, but he made a bad call. These are professional prize fighters battling for a major championship, perhaps McMann wouldn’t have made a comeback, but she deserved the chance to try.

Adam Martin (MMA Oddsbreaker): I don’t think having a title on the line changes whether or not a referee should stop a fight earlier or later. If a fighter fails to intelligently defend themselves after sustaining a knockdown, the referee has the right to stop the contest, because after all, the ref is in there to protect the fighters first and foremost.

Mookie Alexander (Bloody Elbow): That’s a tough question. We have various examples of early stoppages in title fights and one very notable one (Carwin/Lesnar) of a fight that continued but could’ve been stopped sooner. As far as how much leeway, I’d say only as far as you’re able to intelligently defend yourself, but even that’s ambiguous and inconsistently applied. Champions are definitely given more leeway (see: Edgar, Lesnar) than challengers (see: Faber, McMann). I think fights should be stopped at the moment of reasonable doubt, if that makes sense.

Zeus King (MMA Opinion): I believe there should be a very definitive end to a title fight if its a stoppage. Just because a fighter is in a bad spot and getting pounded on doesn’t mean they’re out. Faber gave a thumb’s up to Herb Dean against Barao and he still stopped it. Winners want to win convincingly, too, they don’t want a bad stoppage tarnishing their legacy.

John Pollock (The Fight Network): You’re always at the mercy of human error and subjective interpretation with regards to how much danger a fighter is in. What I think needs to be addressed in the wide variance when it comes to allowing a fight to continue and prematurely ending one. A fighter walks into a cage not knowing if the official is going to have significant restraint in ending a fight (ie: Alistair Overeem vs. Travis Browne) or be quick to step in if one fighter isn’t adjusting his position (Renan Barao vs. Urijah Faber) the most recent example. I don’t see title fights needing different criteria but a consistency across the board or at least the attempt to have more consistency at least gives fighters a knowledge of what is grounds for a fight to be stopped and what referees are looking for.

Erik Fontanez (MMA Weekly): Leeway? I’d say it’s somewhere between the Rousey-McMann stoppage and the Pyle-Waldburger stoppage. The rule is pretty clear In reading that if a fighter isn’t intelligently defending himself/herself, the referee should put a stop to the fight. The real question is if Sara was defending herself well enough to where she looked OK and could continue the fight. And after that knee, she looked like she had a moment where she didn’t want to fight anymore.

Brian Hemminger (MMA Oddsbreaker): It’s situation. Could Sara McMann have taken more punishment last night? Probably. Was she completely done anyways? In my opinion, yes. A perfectly placed liver shot completely paralyzes you. Ronda landed a beautiful knee and it folded McMann in two. I’m always one for fighter safety. McMann seemed done to me and if it’s extremely controversial, then they can always rematch. You can’t rematch if someone goes to the hospital because they got hurt horribly from a late stoppage. Better early than late IMO and whether or not the title is on the line shouldn’t matter.

Brad Gustafson (Fight Parrot): This is a tough question to answer, especially from the outside looking in. Herb’s job was to protect McMann and a good referee will always be more worried about fighter safety than media backlash. At the end of the day, an early stoppage is always better than a late stoppage. I know McMann will be back, and she’ll sit Herb down before the fight to let him know she’s prepared to fight through liver shots, armbars, a nuclear holocaust, whatever comes her way.

Carlin Bardsley (In the Cage With Bards): It’s in the rules. when a fighter is no longer intelligently defending themselves, the referee should stop the fight. The referee should stick to that application and not worry about “leeway”.

Jason Kelly (MMA Diehards): Whether it be a title fight, preliminary match, men’s or women’s bout, the referee has one job detail that does not change.

As of late the referee widely considered as the best in the business, Herb Dean, has made errors in two significant UFC matches. First, at UFC 169, Dean intervened in Round 1 of the bantamweight championship bout between champ Renan Barao and Urijah Faber, leaving “The California Kid” and the majority of onlookers puzzled after he lost via TKO. Secondly, at UFC 170, Dean jumped in the middle of women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and Sara McMann after “Rowdy” collapsed the Olympic wrestling silver medalist with a knee to her liver.

Without a structure that clearly states when to stop a fight, which is nearly impossible to instill in MMA, there are going to be mistakes made. The referee must step in when he or she believes a combatant is not defending themselves or trying to improve their disadvantageous position. There is not a set limit of strikes or specific position that indicates a competitor has lost, therefore, the referee must rely on instinct and observation.

In the case of McMann, she dropped to the canvas with one hand on her liver and the other on the floor, while Rousey was moving forward to dish out more blows. Dean does not have the benefit of knowing whether McMann was going to be down for one second or one minute, and with neither hand protecting her head, she is exhibiting non-intelligent defense. Would she have been able to withstand Rousey’s onslaught and get back to her feet? Perhaps. Based on the way her body buckled and she hit the floor, does Dean know that McMann will be able to get up in within seconds? No.

Title fight or not, the referee is there for the safety of the fighter. And that must remain consistent no matter what the significance of the bout is.


So there you have it. How much leeway do you feel should be given in a title fight? Should it differ from a regular bout? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Share this article

Jeremy Brand started up this lovechild called back in 2009. It began as a hobby project and has turned into much more. In his spare time, you can find Jeremy on the mats, as he is a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *