My rule of thumb for judging when a fight's been stopped too early? If the loser can complain to the referee within a flat second or two, he deserved the right to go limp.
But hey, it's entirely unscientific. But in applying this maxim retroactively to your own "quick stoppages," that still stick in your craw over the years, it's a pretty good rule of thumb.
Being a fight referee is like being the company safety coordinator. Very few people notice your job until you fail to do it correctly. Then, at that point, everyone seems to notice.
However, let's give credit where credit is due, because last night's (Oct. 13, 2012) UFC 153 card in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil -- in addition to being a pretty entertaining one -- had some outstanding refereeing, namely by Marc Goddard and Mario Yamasaki.
One of the most common panic points for referees making mistakes is when they decide to stop a bout. And the most vexing riddle is that of the mounted fighter who is absorbing punches, covering up and eminently unable to escape. Too often in recent years, we've seen the extended display of this position become a sort of shortcut to a clear-cut victory, and the fast track to controversy. That's because while it's hard to escape a mount when you're getting punches in the face, it's almost as hard to cleanly hit an opponent with both arms covering his face, swerving side to side.
It's often an ugly-if-inconclusive standoff, and the cleaner a guy gets hit, the more willing refs are to jump in an end matters, often to the point where the losing fighter immediately complains and the whole affair seems to have ended prematurely. In these situations, everybody loses.
That's the reason Goddard's performance last night in Jon Fitch's masterful decision win over Erick Silva should be considered the gold standard in how to officiate a one-sided ground and pound scenario. By the third round, Fitch had clearly worn down the dangerous Silva, and spent virtually the entire stanza smacking Silva.
But, Silva would not break.
He obviously had little chance to escape from mount, but he deserved the right to be finished cleanly, and Fitch, for all his rain of leather and astonishing work rate, simply could not do it. That's the final moat between losing a rough decision and getting your ticket punched in a knockout loss, and while it's clichéd to say "we'd rather stop a fight too soon than too late," fighters are there to be finished.
Yamasaki also did an excellent job handling virtually the same scenario in bout between Glover Teixeira vs. Fabio Maldonado.
Teixeira landed two rounds of horrifically one-sided ground and pound, but Maldonado simply wouldn't give -- and his out-of-nowhere left hook in the first round made it obvious that he was dangerous as long as he was conscious. This bout came to a proper and honorable end after the second, where the ringside physician wisely stopped the bout. Maldonado showed an amazing chin and heart but basically couldn't stand up so well as he wobbled back to his corner.
In both cases, the fans were treated to excellent bouts where the losers were allowed to provide as many thrills through sheer will as the winners did. Good refereeing opens the gateway to that kind of display.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst