There are some topics in mixed martial arts (MMA) that will always spark debate. One that has recently been discussed is the idea of fighter safety and a corner's responsibility. There is no right or wrong answer as the very nature of the sport is that we find enjoyment in two athletes beating the hell out of each other.
It's easy to say "think of the fighter's well being" while also begging and hoping for a drawn out war with near knockouts and faces masked in crimson. And lately, there have been many examples. Fans were clamoring for a Mauricio Rua vs. Dan Henderson rematch despite the fact that the first bout likely took years off both men's lives.
And then there were the fights at UFC 166. The first was Diego Sanchez and Gilbert Melendez. Sanchez -- forever the warrior -- refused to yield or backdown, even after Melendez dominated him on the feet and left his face bloodied. He stood in the pocket and traded punches, despite losing most of those exchanges.
In the third, it got a bit uncomfortable to watch. Sure, I enjoy displays of heart as much as the next person, but the bout was never really all that competitive. And Sanchez took a lot of unnecessary damage in what was going to be a clear losing effort.
The other was the main event between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos. Being fully honest, I was legitimately uncomfortable with this fight after the first round. Dos Santos and Velasquez are the two best Heavyweight fighters in the world and will likely fight each other again, but it will be at a huge cost.
Velasquez doesn't possess one-punch knockout power in his hands like dos Santos. His way of finishing opponents has always been by throwing a never ending barrage of punches. And that's exactly what happened. For almost five full rounds, Velasquez pummeled Dos Santos.
Again, it forced many to ask why dos Santos' corner refused to protect their fighter. It was compounded by the fact that he later admitted to not knowing what round it was aka short term memory loss.
Yesterday (Sat., Oct. 26, 2013), at Phones4u Arena in Manchester, England, Jessica Andrade tossed Rosi Sexton a beating at UFC Fight Night 30. It was not a competitive bout and in the second round it got really tough to watch. In that round, according to Fight Metric, Andrade landed 91 significant strikes.
When the horn sounded, Sexton wandered the Octagon looking for her corner. The doctors inspected her swollen face and deemed her fit to continue. Her corner told her that she'd have to finish Andrade if she wanted to win. Joe Rogan pleaded for the fight to stop.
And Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White echoed those sentiments at the post-fight press conference (watch it here). White finds himself in an interesting position. On one hand he needs for fights to be exciting for fans to tune in and watch. On the other, he understands there needs to be a point when those fights are stopped (via MMAJunkie):
"I agree 100 percent that fight should have been stopped. It's a fight like that that made me not like women's MMA, actually. I saw a very one-sided, mismatched fight (previously). It's one of those fights that looked good on paper, and then in reality it was a horrible, one-sided mismatch. And it should have been stopped. I said what we should do is bring the ref out in the hallway and let someone punch him in the face for 15 minutes, and nobody jump in to help him, just to see what it feels like."
White isn't wrong.
A corner serves two purposes on fight night. The first is giving instruction so that their fighter can make adjustments or continue to do whatever has been working. That's the side of cornering that fans see.
But, their real responsibility is ensuring that their fighter is safe. This means preventing them from taking unnecessary damage and being honest when a fighter is too tough or dumb for their own good.
I understand that fighting is as much about ego as it is about the competition. I'm not naive to think that the men and women who grace the Octagon are doing it for some greater reason. And a fighter doesn't want to return to their gym being the one who quits on the stool.
But, with more and more signs that maybe MMA is leading to some long term disabilities, it may be time for a re-evaluation of responsibilities.