Barao vs. Faber 2: Why a Referee's Job Is Thankless

Nathan McCarterFeatured ColumnistFebruary 2, 2014

Feb 1, 2014; Newark, NJ, USA; Renan Barao (red gloves) celebrates beating Urijah Faber (blue gloves) during UFC 169 at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

UFC 169 pulled in the most decisions for a single event at 10 and ended with a bit of controversy as well. All things considered, it was not the UFC's greatest showing.

The main event was a rematch for the UFC Bantamweight Championship. Renan Barao defended his title against Urijah Faber with a first-round TKO performance. The controversy revolves around the stoppage of that fight.

Faber was holding onto Barao's leg and blocking hammerfists to the side of his head when referee Herb Dean stepped in. The crowd booed, social media was angry, and UFC president Dana White didn't agree with the stoppage either.

With all of that said, Dean's stoppage was justified.

That is not the popular opinion, but one has to step back and look at the fight again.

Barao had already dropped Faber previously in the round. The fight was firmly in his control, and Barao went for the finish. Faber recovered and stayed in the fight to that point. Barao continued to pour it on.

Then he dropped Faber again. This time Faber was flat on his stomach briefly. Barao pounced for the finish, and that is when Faber grabbed a leg to try and recover.

Dean asked Faber to show him something. Faber gave a thumbs-up, but Dean stopped the bout anyway. The thumbs-up is why many disputed the stoppage, but that is not a 100 percent surefire way to show you are intelligently defending yourself.

All it shows is that you are still conscious.

The thumbs-up is best saved for submission defense. In that instance, a fighter is not taking hammerfists to the side of the head, partially blocked or not.

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 30:  Mixed martial arts fighter and referee Herb Dean holds the Referee of the Year award at the Fighters Only World Mixed Martial Arts Awards 2011 at The Pearl concert theater at the Palms Casino Resort November 30, 2011 in Las V
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The referee's job is thankless. Stop a fight too early, and everyone is upset; stop a fight too late, and you are an irresponsible official.

In this case, it was a no-win for Dean. The way that the fight played out had some saying Faber was taking too much punishment, while others said he had recovered and deserved to continue battling.

Realistically, Dean could have stopped the bout the moment Faber was flat on his stomach after Barao dropped him for a second time.

The accumulation of damage that he suffered in such a short span justified the stoppage. Fans and fighters alike want to see fighters get more time in title fights, but after someone is dropped to the canvas twice, the referee is likely to have a shorter threshold before stopping the bout.

These decisions are made in the blink of an eye in real time. It is why no two fights are the same. If Dean had been in a different position, he may held back from stopping the fight. Perhaps he immediately regretted the decision.

In the immortal words of Gus Johnson, “These things happen in MMA.”

This is not a case of a judge's bad decision. Dean had to make this call on the spot. Sometimes, that requires stopping a fight just a hair shorter than maybe it should have been.

Dean is one of the best referees in the game, if not the very best. One can argue that the fight could have gone on longer, but the bottom line is that in the interest of fighter safety, the call he made at UFC 169 was completely justified.

Thank you, Mr. Dean.