Good refereeing in any sport, in general, and mixed martial arts (MMA), in particular, is as much about knowing when to insert yourself into the fight as when not to, whether it's initiating a stand up, enforcing the rules or stopping a bout.
And on that score, Herb Dean's performance Saturday night (Feb. 23, 2013) at UFC 157, which took place at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., was a reminder of why he is a reassuring presence for any experienced fight-watcher. Dean's ability to make sound judgments in the midst of the split-second action makes him a reliable a commodity in the game as any, and better than most.
UFC 157 was a stellar reminder of that, as Dean executed precise judgment in properly saving Josh Koscheck from further punishment against Robbie Lawler, while letting a raucous Dennis Bermudez vs. Matt Grice bout play out through an incredible series of momentum swings in what is a solid candidate for "Fight of the Year."
Dean's intervention in the Robbie Lawler vs. Josh Koscheck bout was perfectly timed, especially considering the huge thunder "Kos" was likely to absorb if Dean had hesitated. If a fighter cannot protest a stoppage within a second or two of it occurring, that's a legitimate intervention, and Koscheck was obviously checked out.
After initially thinking this intervention might have been a tad quick -- it's always a good idea to wait for the replay prior to concluding such things -- as usual, Dean was right and potential naysayers were wrong. Koscheck was done, so much so that he could do little more than gaze murkily into the beyond, while Dean intervened.
At times, and in this column, I've been critical of quick-trigger referees, especially when such stoppages occur and the fighter on the short end of the stick immediately protests. In many cases, the fighter's justified, as a clean knockout leaves no question. But, we're not the ones who have to risk the threat of walking on our heels when these peoples' careers are over ... they do. And the rare intersection of preventing them from taking more punishment than absolutely necessary and protecting the sense of closure the sport demands is a pretty small bullseye.
Dean nailed it here.
His officiating in the electrifying "Prelims" bout between Matt Grice and Dennis Bermudez -- an all-out war -- was outstanding, too, in terms of how he allowed them a capacity to work while being intuitively cognizant of the ebb and flow of the bout.
The duo put on a spirited war, and Grice absorbed such frightful punishment in the third round that I don't think too many people would have been miffed if Dean had intervened while Grice was standing, yet virtually stumbling around sans consciousness, after eating a seemingly endless barrage of strikes. Standing technical knockouts are very rare in MMA, but he would've had a good case, as Grice was little more than a zombie.
Yet Dean made the right call yet again.
Like anyone else, Dean isn't perfect and cannot be so every time out. But, over the long haul, his experience as a fighter and years of solid performances make him the best guy in the sport for my money.
I've always appreciated how he keeps a keen eye on things, as well as his complete refusal to be swayed by the crowd mob mentality when people boo extended action on the ground, which is always a tendency for refs to play to, especially in off-brand states where inexperienced in-ring officials find themselves on big stages with fickle fans.
Or, fighters lobbying for referee warnings when they get what they believe to be a foul blow.
Dean calls it like he sees it and doesn't let himself be lobbied without making an observation of each action on its merits. Those are great qualities for a ref to have, and his mastery of these protects the integrity of the sport, allowing it to proceed at its highest level, while protecting fighters in the manner they deserve.
UFC 157 was just another fine example for Dean.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst