If you're around mixed martial arts (MMA) for any amount of time you'll undoubtedly hear some promoter, likely Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White, tell you how safe the sport has become. That's due mostly to the fact that it's now heavily regulated.
The problem? Incompetence runs rampant in both the commissions that regulate organizations like the UFC, and the officials assigned to work the shows.
That brings us to last night's (Sat., May 24, 2014) UFC 173: "Barao vs. Dillashaw" pay-per-view (PPV) that took place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the Jamie Varner vs. James Krause fight (see the highlights here) that kicked off the main card.
During said bout, Varner, at some point early on, injured his leg. This was obvious to literally everyone watching because there were no less than three separate occasions that he attempted to utilize it normally and clearly demonstrated he could not.
He fell without being touched at least three times.
Seeing this, did the referee, Jason Herzog, step in to call a halt to the action so he could have the doctor check on Varner to make sure he was physically fit to continue performing? Nope. He let it ride, because TOUGHNESS and JUST BLEED, I guess.
Varner would ultimately make it to the end of the first round before the action was stopped because he couldn't even get up to make it to his corner without assistance.
Dana White, typically as hard on referees as anyone in this space, decided not to go after Herzog. Instead, he talked about how tough Varner was for gutting it out through the entire first round (via MMA Fighting).
"Usually they'll quit, guys will tap out and say ‘ahhh, I broke my ankle. There was no quit in that kid. That's one of those situations where, he kept going. That's a tough one. By the end of that round he's like, ‘that's it, I'm done.' He fought that whole round. The corner didn't throw in the towel, the ref didn't stop the fight, but he wasn't complaining, either. You'll see guys, lesser things happen and guys try to stop. Varner is all heart and that's a tough one. "
Varner's toughness in this situation is without question. I've severely injured both my ankles, so I can imagine how awful it surely was for him to attempt to do his job with faulty equipment.
I cannot, however, understand why everyone, White included, seems to be okay with making this a non-issue.
Varner is told to protect himself at all times. He did his job by continuing to fight despite the fact that he was badly injured. Could he have tapped out and ended things prematurely? Sure, but he's an athlete, and a fighter nonetheless; he's not stopping unless he's made to, and sometimes, clearly, not even then.
That's when it becomes the referee's job to see the fighter's inability to do something as simple as stand properly and call a halt to the action to bring the cageside doctors in for a quick check up. If nothing's wrong, no harm done, they'll simply restart the bout. If something is wrong, as there clearly was here, you're saving a guy from injuring himself even further, which is likely exactly what Varner did.
Two fractured bones and torn ligaments! I have to see a specialist next week. Thanks for the support!— Jamie Varner (@jamievarner) May 25, 2014
Even if he didn't make it worse by continuing to fight, he never should have been allowed to.