Referee Herb Dean understands the reason mixed martial arts (MMA) fans might be upset with his recent performances.
At UFC 169 in Newark, N.J., this past February, Dean seemingly stopped the main event too soon, peeling Renan Barao off an overmatched Urijah Faber to remain the undisputed Bantamweight champion. However, "The California Kid" seemed fine at the time of the stoppage, even giving Dean a "thumbs up" during Barao's onslaught.
It was a "sign" that Dean might have missed in the heat of battle, but the punishment Faber absorbed moments prior to the turtle position was impossible to ignore.
Dean explained (via "The MMA Hour"):
"One thing that I do have to say is I believe that Faber had something left, and it's unfortunate that he didn't. I want fighters to be able to leave everything out there on the table. As far as how I came to that decision, he had already taken three shots, he had been hurt badly. When Barao was doing his thing where he was trying to look up at me, he actually was taking his posture off Urijah a little bit. So I moved in to check in on Urijah, you know, like OK, he's kind of taking his posture off of him, and he's not responding to that. And what I did, a tool that's been very helpful to me over the years, I tell the fighters to fight back, show me something, and based on that response, is how I made my decision.... He attempted to show me that he was fine by raising a thumb. My position was a good position, but I was not in a correct position to see his thumb. I did not see that thumb. I can't expect him to know exactly where I am at all times."
At UFC 169's post-fight press conference, company president Dana White told media he thought Dean was the best referee in the business, but had made a mistake that night.
Flip to UFC 170 one month later, and Dean was again scrutinized after he called a stop to the women's bantamweight championship bout between Ronda Rousey and Sara McMann because of a body shot. Dean rushed in to stop the fight, with McMann jumping back to her feet shortly after Dean waived off the match.
Dean doesn't waver from the call:
"Absolutely. She took the shot, and as far as with her posture, when she falls, she turns away from her opponent, hands out and holds her injury -- not blocking, but holds. There's a difference. Ronda is on the other side of her, shots are going to be coming from the sides. I could see if she had protected her body, but she held, which means that she's in a lot of pain. Usually when I see fighters hold something, often, something's broken. She's in no position to be defending herself."
The veteran referee -- who is arguably the most reliable official in the sport -- was appreciative of the support all these years. And he revealed that he is well aware of the cost of being in the spotlight.
"I think that it's part of my job, that I am going to be criticized. I think that I was very lucky to be the darling of mixed martial arts officials ... it felt kind of strange. But, I know that part of my job is to make decisions that a lot of times, people aren't going to be happy with."
Dean even refuted that his body language, which went viral after the UFC 170 main event concluded, suggested he was disappointed with himself. Indeed, the former MMA fighter brushed off those notions:
"No, I was definitely sure about the call."
Dean has remained quiet since the back-to-back questionable calls -- he has not refereed a high-profile fight since the two occurrences. When he does return to action, expect to see him continue to receive important assignments.
He's still arguably the most reliable official in the sport.