Being an MMA referee is one of the toughest jobs around. You’re one of only three people locked inside of a cage, yet nobody is there to see you.
In fact, you’ve done your job if you’re able to remain invisible for most of the fight.
Referees will never get the limelight for performing well. On the flipside, they get put under the microscope for making the wrong call.
Herb Dean (pictured), who is the four-time defending “Referee of the Year” at the MMA Awards and has been dubbed “the best in the business” by UFC president Dana White, has had a roller coaster 2014 campaign thus far.
At UFC 169 in February, Dean was reffing the main event between bantamweight champ Renan Barao and Urijah Faber.
Barao dropped Faber with an overhand right in the opening round and starting laying the lumber on the canvas. Although Barao was giving him the business, it appeared as though Faber was blocking most of the strikes.
“The California Kid” even gave Dean the thumbs up to show he was not in danger and was weathering the storm. Apparently, Dean thought the thumbs up meant Faber was done so he stopped the attack.
White admitted at the post-fight press conference that Dean “made a mistake” in halting the action.
Three weeks later at UFC 170, Dean was the center of controversy again when he worked bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey’s fight with Sara McMann. Rousey briefly floored McMann with a knee to the midsection, and although McMann almost immediately started getting to her feet, Dean called the fight.
A day after while appearing on “The MMA Hour,” Dean defended his decision.
“She took the shot, and as far as with her posture, when she falls, she turns away from her opponent, hands out and holds her injury – not blocking, but holds,” Dean explained. “There’s a difference. Ronda is on the other side of her, shots are going to be coming from the sides. I could see if she had protected her body, but she held, which means that she’s in a lot of pain. Usually when I see fighters hold something, often, something’s broken. She’s in no position to be defending herself.”
Which leads us to Saturday at UFC Fight Night 40. Erick Silva dropped Matt Brown with a vicious kick to the midsection, Brown grabbed his stomach and Silva started laying heavy lumber.
Replace Silva with Rousey and Brown with McMann and shouldn’t last night’s bout been called a TKO win for Silva?
Instead, Dean didn’t pull the trigger and Brown rallied to take the period – a frame in which White called “one of the best first rounds, ever.”
Brown went on to win the shootout in the third stanza.
It’s a very fine line to tote – err on the side of caution or let the attack proceed for the possibility of a dramatic comeback?
White praised Dean after the fight for not jumping the gun when Brown crumbled to the canvas.
“It’s really tough not to respect what he did here tonight,” White said. “Thank God Herb Dean was reffing that fight. A lot of other guys might have blown that fight. Herb Dean, again, does such a great job.
“He gives guys an opportunity to fight. He lets the fight happen. He doesn’t get in the way. He’s not a menace to the fight. He is, by far and away, the best referee in the business.”
I’m not claiming Dean did a bad job in stopping Rousey’s fight, nor am I saying he should have stepped in to protect Brown. I’m merely looking for consistency, one way or the other.
If there’s no uniformity, it creates confusion for fighters and fans. Furthermore, how can writers like myself who hide behind a computer critique future controversial stoppages if there’s no clear guideline?