Questionable stoppages aren’t new to MMA. Most recently at UFC Fight Island 7, veteran referee Herb Dean took criticisms for his supposed failure to step in and stop the Max Holloway-Calvin Kattar fight in round four.
A referee’s job is never easy, filled with “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” moments. But when it comes to stoppages, there apparently is a philosophy that these officials follow.
Referee Mark Smith spoke about some of those philosophies during a recent episode of the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. Regarding submissions, the line is clearly drawn.
“I’ll tell guys in the rule meeting on the back, ‘I’m not gonna stop unless you go out,’” Smith told Rogan. “You can have someone in a fully compromised position. Who was that, the Chiesa fight? He was fully compromised, but how good could it be? How long can he hold it? Can he turn his chin to the side and get out?
“I tell them at this level, ‘For a choke, I’m not gonna stop it unless a fighter goes out.’ If it’s any kind of other submission, I gotta see a dislocation, a separation, or it has to break. Or, if you scream… and there’s a difference between a scream and a grunt to get out of something. If you scream, that’s a verbal submission and we’re gonna stop it.”
As for stopping a barrage of strikes, Smith says that’s when things can get tricky.
“You don’t want the fight to go too long to risk long-term injury for the fighter,” Smith explained. “So there’s that philosophy of maybe stopping a fight one punch too early vs. one punch too late. Your goal is to stop it right on time. But it takes a lot of hard work to get to that point.
“Depending upon the history of the fighter, their ability to come back, you’ve got to make that subjective determination right away. When is the time to stop that fight? But man, it’s the worst feeling in the world if you think you get to that point you let it go too long. Or if you mistakenly stop it too early.”
Smith also defined the meaning of intelligent defense, another topic of debate.
“It comes down to intelligent defense and not just holding your hands up. That needs to translate into doing something offensive,” he said. “And if you could tell that a guy is listening to your verbal commands, and he’s doing something to fight back, as long as he’s showing some good cognitive skills and showing something offensive where he’s not looking at long-term injury, there’s a possibility of (the referee) letting that fight go.
“But if it’s starting to stem on a 10-7 round where the fighter’s just getting destroyed and they’re gonna get hurt, now it’s our responsibility to step in with fighter safety.”
Smith is a regular fixture in UFC fights, but three of his biggest assignments happened at UFC 256 in December: Cub Swanson’s second-round knockout win over Daniel Pineda in the prelims, Kevin Holland’s off-the-back KO of Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, and Charles Oliveira’s dominant win over Tony Ferguson.
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