Being a quarterback or a pitcher or a goalie, whatever, is not the toughest job in sports. That honor absolutely has to belong to mixed martial arts (MMA) referees.
Men like Herb Dean are charged with protecting the health and well-being of fighters when they can no longer protect themselves. And that's where it gets tricky. Because, oftentimes, that's an extremely difficult distinction to make.
Such was the case this past Saturday night (July 30, 2011) in Hoffman Estates, Illinois in the main event of the Strikeforce event at the Sears Centre Arena. Fedor Emelianenko and Dan Henderson went blow for blow with "Hendo" landing a big right hand that appeared to put "The Last Emperor" to sleep.
But only for a couple seconds ... at most.
However, that was a long enough time for Dean, who was officiating the bout, to call a halt to the action. Fedor felt as though he could have went on, and fans agreed when they saw the wily Russian roll over and seemingly begin to intelligently defend himself.
Such a grey area and so difficult to determine, especially at real time speed. But since then, Dean has had the chance to watch many replays of the final sequence. Did he change his mind on his decision making process in that oh so important moment?
Here's what he had to say during an appearance today on the MMA Hour:
"I saw Dan hit Fedor with a shot, Fedor fell down flat on his face, face down, his palms were facing up and I saw Dan continuing to punch. He hit him with, I believe, three punches, and I didn't see Fedor doing any movement. It seemed to me he was unconscious. I came in to stop the fight. When I made my decision to stop the fight, Fedor was face down, unconscious. When I touched Dan, Fedor was still face down. Once I touch him the fight is over. Fedor was unconscious and unable to defend himself."
With Dean's words fresh in your brain, you can click here to redetermine if you agree with his stance on the matter.
What Herb does make clear is an interesting point that has seemingly been totally overlooked. Once he steps in to touch Henderson and stop the fight, any movement or occurrence directly after is moot. It doesn't matter because the fight is officially over.
Therefore, if Fedor rolls over even a split second after the referee touches "Hendo," that still doesn't mean the stoppage should not have occurred. It only means he needed to roll over a split second before he did.
Maybe then it wouldn't have mattered.
Again, there is a very fine line MMA referees have to walk. They want to give fighters every chance they can to recover and continue their battle, as there is so much on the line each time they step inside the cage.
But they must also always remember that safety comes first and that is ultimately the function of the referee and why he is in the cage in the first place.
There has also been a small uproar regarding the two shots to the back of the head that Henderson landed, which appeared to be illegal. Here's what Dean had to say about that:
"I saw punches that may have been close. But I wouldn't have called those fouls because the way the action was moving, I couldn't say that he intentionally targeted that area."
That's a fascinating justification and one that I'm sure many will disagree with. But, when pressed for action in the heat of the moment, certainly one can understand why those punches landed the way they did.
And if Henderson didn't mean to blast Fedor in the back of the head -- and essentially had little control over it based on Emelianenko's positioning -- then all is fair.
Or is it?
I'll let you Maniacs decide that. Do you agree with Dean's call and now his reasoning for said call? Or do you think the man UFC President Dana White refers to as the best referee of all time made a big mistake here?