The most important men in the cage or ring for a fighter are his cornermen.
They're the ones who tell him what he's doing right and wrong. They close his cuts and bring down his swelling. They're the eyes and ears he's too busy fighting to use, as big a factor in the fight as his fists and feet.
And most importantly, they're the ones to tell a fighter when he's had enough.
Jared Hamman's fight against Michael Kuiper last Saturday (Aug. 11, 2012) at UFC 150 was a lot of things: An impressive display of heart and resilience from Hamman, an impressive bounceback after a disappointing debut from Kuiper, and a competitive fight that slowly turned into a snuff film.
But, more than anything, it was one of the worst examples of cornering in recent memory.After a Kuiper takedown damaged Hamman's leg, which was then further wrecked by a picture-perfect leg kick, Hamman's chances of winning the fight evaporated entirely. His punches, which were already incapable of even slowing down Kuiper, lost all power, and it was painfully obvious that his takedowns couldn't penetrate the Dutchman's Judo. He got blasted repeatedly by "Judo's" punches, which had put six men to sleep in his mixed martial arts (MMA) career, and could not get away.
Instead of stopping the fight after the first round, Trevor Wittman sent his charge back out. Hamman got completely dominated, his punches completely ineffectual as he was repeatedly dropped and finally put down by a massive uppercut. It marked the second consecutive fight in which he was knocked out in ugly fashion.
More than anything else, the fight reminded me of a 2010 boxing match between Yuri Foreman and Miguel Cotto. Foreman, a man with only eight knockouts in 28 wins, had essentially no chance of stopping the iron-chinned Puerto Rican and had to rely on effective movement to overcome the power disparity.
When his previously-damaged knee gave way in the seventh round, that chance evaporated. His corner, aware that Foreman could not win, threw in the towel in the eighth. Both corners entered the ring, assuming the fight had ended.
Then referee Arthur Mercante, Jr. (who had let boxer Beethoven Scotland get beaten into a coma from which he died six days later) shooed everyone out and asked Foreman himself if he wanted to continue. He said, "Yes."
Cotto dutifully beat the everloving hell out of an immobile Foreman until the latter went down on a body shot in the ninth.
Aside from demonstrating why Arthur Mercante Jr. needs to be thrown down a giant hole filled with dingos, this fight demonstrated the need for cornermen who value their fighter's health above all else. Foreman, like a true fighter, would not quit, no matter how infinitesimal his shot at victory. Hamman argued after the fact that him continuing was "his call," which to me indicates a corner that does not know its job.
To me, one of the most laudable moments in the history of combat sports took place after the fourteenth round of the Thrilla in Manilla. With both Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier nearly dead on their feet, Frazier's trainer, Eddie Futch, stopped the fight despite Joe's protests.
Futch knew Frasier would never quit on his own. He knew Frazier would hate him for stopping it, but he did it anyway, because his job was to protect his fighter, from himself if necessary. This is something that, unfortunately, too many trainers simply don't understand.
Losing a fight hurts your rankings. Losing a fight badly hurts your life.