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Herb Dean explains why he didn’t stop the fight after Anderson Silva’s flying knee

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As Anderson Silva celebrated his knockout victory over Michael Bisping at UFC Fight Night 84 in London this weekend, he made a critical error. He didn’t check with veteran referee Herb Dean to make sure the fight was over.
It wasn’t.

The 37-year-old Bisping, who had lost his mouthpiece in a sequence moments earlier, took a flying knee while trying to point out the fact to Dean at the very end of the third round. The blow dropped the Englishman where he stood along the fence, and a mini-bedlam ensued. Rather than pursue with a follow-up shot, Silva went into his victory celebration.

It was a strange moment with a lot of moving parts, but Dean stands by his decision to let the fight go on.

"That’s the way the mechanic works, is that you replace the mouthpiece during a lull in the action," Dean said during an appearance on Monday’s edition The MMA Hour. "And [Bisping] signaled once, and Anderson was actually in the process of attacking him. For a lot of reasons that are pretty evident you can’t stop to replace the mouthpiece during a heated exchange, and that qualified as a heated exchange.

"If we were doing that, we’d have guys getting their bell rung, spitting out the mouthpiece to get a little extra time or sometimes you’re feeling a little tired, just spit your mouthpiece out. So obviously we can’t do that in the middle of an exchange."

Bisping was ahead on the scorecards even after the third round, and ended up winning a unanimous decision in front of his countrymen. It was made that much more remarkable given that he suffered such a devastating blow midway through.

Even though Bisping said he blamed Dean for the stitches on his face, the referee said that it’s in the rulebook to act as he did. And besides, all fighters are issued warnings beforehand.

"That instruction was given [Bisping] him in the dressing room, and that instruction was also given to him again…right before the match started," Dean said. "I told him, protect yourself at all times, that’s what I told both the fighters. And they know that that’s their responsibility.

"At the same time, an MMA match is very stressful and a lot weird things happen. People do a lot of strange things, it’s a stressful situation, and you do things that you look back on and think, ‘why did I do that?’ So I don’t know why he did that. But it’s in the rules, it’s actually a written mechanic that was added to the rules, I don’t know, maybe six years ago. So we’ve been doing it, but it’s actually also in writing in the Unified Rules, that the referee is to wait for a lull in the action to replace the mouthpiece."

As for how he assessed that Bisping was okay and able to continue, Dean said he read the situation — taking in consideration that the round ended directly after.

"Well, [Silva] hit him with the knee and dropped him, and then he walked off and started to celebrate," he said. "He had been dropped, but you know, in MMA we don’t stop the match just because someone gets dropped. I saw that when he fell he was not unconscious. He was facing Anderson. Anderson didn’t give him a threat to protect himself from, but — I don’t want to start playing what if, what if he attacked and whatnot — the bottom line is he didn’t attack. The round ended and, because Anderson was celebrating, there was some confusion as to what was going on.

"But I never had any confusion. I knew that I hadn’t stopped the match and that the match was going to continue."

In the moment, Silva celebrated on the cage as his corner fled into the Octagon to join him. Dean said he never lost his bearings, because he never said the fight was over. He just had to alert his fellow officials — and the fighters themselves — that the thing would continue.

"I wasn’t really that worried about that because, it was pandemonium and of course I can’t run around and start yelling at everyone to get out of the cage, there was just too many people," he said. "But, what I did do is I let people know that the fight wasn’t over. And eventually, once I started expressing that it wasn’t over to the right people — the inspectors, the fighters — that order was going to be restored and we’d continue with the match.

As for Bisping’s remark that he was responsible for the flying knee that opened up the wounds on his face, Dean said it’s possible that Bisping didn’t understand the mechanics.

"Well, I don’t know, maybe he’s not aware of the rules," he said. "A lot of fighters, most of them real the fouls but they don’t read all the rules on the mechanics. Maybe he wasn’t aware of that. But the rule is to replace the mouthpiece during a lull in the action."