Herb Dean is the most decorated and popular official in mixed martial arts.
But even with all the praise which has come the veteran referee's way, Dean has never lost sight of the fact that his job sometimes involves making highly unpopular decisions.
"I think that's part of my job is that I am going to be criticized," the Southern California-based referee said. "I think that I was very lucky to be the darling of mixed martial arts officials, it almost felt kind of strange to have the people, to get the response I got, I enjoyed it, but part of my job is to make decisions that a lot of time people aren't going to be happy with."
It's good that Dean understands this, because he was in the spotlight after making unpopular calls in the main events of back-to-back UFC pay-per-view cards.
At UFC 169 in Newark on Feb. 1, Dean waved off the Renan Barao-Urijah Faber bantamweight title fight late in the first round. At UFC 170 in Las Vegas three weeks later, Dean halted the Ronda Rousey-Sara McMann women's bantamweight title fight just over a minute into the bout.
On Monday, Dean appeared on The MMA Hour and discussed the rationale behind his calls.
In the case of Barao vs. Faber, Barao had rocked Faber and knocked him to the mat, and was in the process of landing a series of blows to Faber, who was down on his hands and knees.
When Dean asked Faber if he could continue, Faber gave a thumbs-up, which Dean couldn't see. Dean soon thereafter called off the fight.
"I can't always think of them as exactly right call or the wrong call," Dean said. "One thing I do have to say is Faber had something left, and it's unfortunate. I want fighters to always be able to leave everything out there on the table."
Dean went on to break down how things looked from his vantage point when he put a stop to things.
"He was taking big shots, he had been hurt badly, but sometimes subtle things you look at," Dean said. "The fact that when Barao was doing his thing where he was looking up at me, he was actually taking his posture off Urijah a little, so that made me want to check in with Urijah. He's taking his posture off [Faber] and he's not responding to that. So what I did, that's something that like, it's a tool which has been very helpful over the years, I tell the fighters to fight back, show me something, and based on their response, that's how I make my decisions.
"He heard me, he attempted to show me he was OK by giving the thumbs up," Dean continued. "My position was a good position, but was not in the correct position to see his thumb. I cannot see his thumb. I can't expect him to know where I am at all times, letting me know, usually in that position, when I ask the fighter to do something, what we go over is, they should do something to better their position. ... The thumbs is a little strange for someone in the position, usually it's something you see in a choke, but if I had seen it I would have given him a little more time to see if he would have bettered that position."
While Dean concedes that the Faber stoppage will not go down as the best of his career, he draws the line at the Rousey-McMann stoppage.
In this case, Rousey hit McMann with a wicked knee to the liver in the clinch. McMann dropped to the mat, clutched her stomach, did not respond to Dean's inquiries, and was taking unprotected head shots when Dean called off the bout.
"She fell, she turned away from her opponent with her hands out, and holds her injury," Dean said. "There's a different Ronda on other side of her, shots were coming in, she's protecting her body, she's in a lot of pain. Usually when I see fighters hold something, oftentimes when something is broken, the instinct is, I don't care how many shots I'm taking, I'm going to hold this in place. So I see that, so she's in no position to defend herself."
Because McMann popped up off the mat soon after the stoppage, the assumption, from those who have never been drilled with a nasty strike to the midsection before, that the fight was called off too soon.
"When you take those shots to the body, there's a spasm that happens to your diaphragm, you can't breathe, you cannot move, your legs can't move but you can move your hands. So she landed there, her face is facing her opponent, She's landed there while she's taking three or four shots to the head while still holding her stomach. I can't think of anyone, any explanation, while someone is holding their stomach and not doing anything to deal with situation, taking shots to the shots to head, why you should let her continue. The fact of what happened after the fight has nothing to do with the situation during the fight."
Not that Dean didn't know the fans would be upset with a main event which lasted just over a minute.
"I definitely was sure about the call," Dean said. "But anytime you see a fighter, after the fight she immediately goes and stands up, well I go OK, this is a championship fight, fans are going to get upset about this probably, but I can't think of a way to do it differently."
In the end, Dean says it's feedback from his peers that matters most.
"When I make decisions, I talk to other officials, I talk to people in the business about them, always trying to improve and whatnot," Dean said. "So as for the criticism, I think that's a polite word, that's part of my job to have thick skin and big shoulders and carry that around."