Why Referees Stop Fights

Liddell and Jackson started out at a methodical pace. Each fighter circled, cut angles, felt the other out, waiting to see who was going to make the first move or mistake. Suddenly, two minutes into the fight, Chuck threw a wild left hook to Jackson’s body. Rampage rolled with the punch, and landed a crushing right precisely on the chin of “The Iceman,” folding him to the floor. “Rampage” Jackson followed to the canvas, and landed three devastating rights from side-mount. Chuck didn’t know what was going on, and Rampage was howling in the center of the Octagon. “Big” John Mc- Carthy stopped the fight; the ending series of events had lasted only three seconds.

Referees in boxing, kickboxing, or just about any other combat sport have it easy when it comes to stopping a fight, compared to mixed martial arts. The rules in boxing and kickboxing allow time for a referee to make an informed decision about a fighter being able to continue. Boxing referees are able to count to ten. If a fighter happens to get up, a referee can evaluate the fighter’s condition, ask the fighter to put his hands up, and send him back into competition.

“In mixed martial arts, we obviously don’t have that luxury,” the veteran referee of the Octagon, Big John McCarthy says, “we have to make split-second decisions.” John made the decision that Chuck was out, and the fight was over.

“What you ought to do is have the education and knowledge of what the fighters are doing and what they are trying to do. It will help slow down the fight,” Big John explains.

Many referees in the sport today train as well as officiate. Understanding the complex nature of grappling and submissions, along with set-ups and transitions, helps an official see a much clearer picture.

A solid MMA education doesn’t end with grappling and submissions. Understanding the stand-up/clinching aspect of the game is equally as important. Knowing when a fighter is at a clear advantage from the clinch position can help put the referee in the right spot to see just how much damage a fighter has taken, to know who is in control of the fight, and possibly how much more a fighter can handle. A referee who is well educated in the stand up aspect of the sport is able to see who is more likely to score a knockout or knockdown, simply by observing technique.

Flash knockdowns are another big part of the sport. A fl ash knockdown is when a fighter is stunned for a moment, but comes back to his senses rather quickly, usually in less than a second. Due to the four ounce gloves worn by the fighters, this is a regular occurrence in MMA.

But just because a fighter gets dropped doesn’t mean he is out, and referees must be wary of prematurely stopping fights. A great example of a referee using his judgment to let a fight continue would be in the Herring/Nogueria 3 match. “Nog” was completely rocked by a vicious head kick that sent him to the canvas. Herring backed off, the referee made a decision that Nog wasn’t out of the fight, and Nog recovered to go on and win the decision.

Cam McHargue, a referee of over 450 fights throughout the Southeast and Midwest says it is necessary to be familiar with the fighters themselves and their individual recovery times in judging whether or not to stop a fight. . “If I am reffing a fight where the fighter has a history of quick recoveries, I tend to give a larger [recovery] window.”

In such situations, the referee’s decision comes down to the fighter’s ability to intelligently defend himself. Big John explained that he tells every fighter he will be officiating what they have to do in case they get caught with a punch. “If you continue on with what you’re doing, if you start to become damaged and your opponent’s shots are getting through and they are rattling your skull, you’re going to hear me tell you, ‘move get out.’ Understand that if I say those words and you do nothing different, I am going to be stopping the fight because you are not intelligently defending.”

Of course, there are times where a fighter taps, or is clearly knocked out. Those types of endings are much easier on a referee, although they still have to react quickly. In the blink of an eye a fight could end, so they have to be ready at all times.


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