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Referee Herb Dean Made the Right Call, Even if It Was an Unpopular One

Dan HendersonFedor Emelianenko

went face-first into the canvas. His legs went limp beneath him. His arms lay flat at his sides. It was a posture that only lasted a moment before he regained enough of his senses to turn to his back and offer something that resembled a defense, but a moment was long enough.

Once Herb Dean saw him laid out on the canvas, he had a decision to make and not much time to make it in. That's the hard part about being an MMA referee. There's no time to count to ten and look in a fighter's eyes. The longer you stand there pondering the current state of his consciousness, the more chances there are for him to get the last remaining brain cells knocked out of his head.

It's a business of snap judgments, which necessarily mean it's a business of flawed judgments. But in the Sears Centre on Saturday night Dean made the right call at the right moment, even if many fans wish he'd made a different one.

First of all, let's be honest with ourselves about one thing: Fedor was out. He got hit and everything in his body went slack. Call it a flash knockout if you want, but that's a distinction you can only make with the benefit of hindsight, after the afflicted fighter comes to. If you're a fighter complaining about a stoppage on the grounds that you weren't really out, but merely resting your eyes for a second, sorry, but you don't have a case.

The split second where Fedor was out was the moment when Dean had to make a decision. The fact that he couldn't get Henderson off of Fedor until the Russian had jolted awake like a man who suddenly realizes he's overslept on the morning of a job interview is immaterial. Dean made the choice to get involved, so he couldn't back off once he'd interfered with Hendo's attack and Fedor had started to show signs of coherence. Then he'd be the dreaded indecisive ref, which is far worse than being the overly cautious ref.

Stopping a fight is like pulling out into traffic: the worst thing you can do is second-guess yourself once you've already started.

Of course, you could point out that Dean also let Fedor take a couple of shots to the back of the head while he was down, but that's a gray area that MMA hasn't figured out how to deal with yet. In that situation, do you pause the bout to warn Henderson, thus giving Emelianenko vital time to recover? Do you wave it off entirely, even when it wasn't the punches to the back of the head that caused the real damage? Do you ignore it and hope nobody says anything?

Dean essentially did the last one, which seems like the worst possible option except for every other option.

Would it have been nice to know whether Fedor could have recovered and kept fighting? Sure. A fight like this, you hate to have any doubt. Plus, it was exciting enough while it lasted that we all wanted more.

But the stoppage guidelines shouldn't change dramatically just because we're all having a great time, or because we like the person who's about to be stopped. It's one thing to give a veteran fighter a little more of an opportunity to show he's still in it, but it's quite another to look at a guy who's face-down on the canvas and decide that he needs to take a few more shots to the skull just so we can go home happy.

Frank Shamrock

, who does have a way with words on occasion) a few seconds after the stoppage doesn't mean it was a bad call.

It was the right call, even if it was a little unsatisfying. Better to see a fighter leave the cage disappointed than to see him leave on a stretcher. Better to stop it when it looks bad rather than waiting until it gets tragic.

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