Hector Lombard says he should not have been disqualified at UFC 222 on Saturday night, because his after-the-bell blows came as part of an exchange and referee Mark Smith didn’t step in at the round bell to halt the action quickly enough.
As it turns out, those things aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
John McCarthy, the godfather of MMA officiating, told MMA Fighting on Sunday that, in his assessment, Smith was indeed late getting in between Lombard and C.B. Dollaway at the bell to end the first round. However, McCarthy said Lombard’s punches — especially the last one — came after the bell and after Smith called “time!” Therefore, a DQ was the right call, McCarthy said.
Right at the first-round bell in the middleweight fight at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Dollaway threw a body kick and Lombard countered with a one-two. The closing straight left — definitely after the bell — sent Dollaway to the canvas and doctors ruled he could not fight on.
McCarthy said there are specific “mechanics” that a referee must use at the end of every round. Smith completed about “90 percent” of them, McCarthy said. He yelled “time!” when he was supposed to. But didn’t get his arm in between Lombard and Dollaway, because he was slightly too far away.
When the clack sounds signifying that there are 10 seconds left in the round, McCarthy said a referee is taught to acknowledge it and count down in his or her head. When it runs down to about three seconds, McCarthy said a referee should “start closing the distance and putting yourself in a position to be 90 degrees to the interface of both fighters, so you can come in between them, so they see you.”
The fighters seeing the referee is very important, McCarthy said. Because sometimes fighters cannot hear the bell and the sight of the referee — and the ref’s arm shooting in — is what actually stops the action. And McCarthy said a referee will know if it’s a late strike if it goes over his or her arm.
“[My arm] shoots in between both fighters and I say, ‘Time!’” McCarthy said. “Because I know as my arm goes straight, as soon as it is straight everything that passes it is late. So, I don’t have to guess. I don’t have to go back to an instant replay. I don’t have to do any of that. It’s clear that if my arm comes in between them and something passes it, that’s late. If my arm is bent as it’s coming and it goes past it, it’s good.”
McCarthy has taught these end-of-round “mechanics” in training courses for years. Smith is actually a graduate of one of McCarthy’s courses.
Backstage after the mess, Lombard told reporters he was confused and upset to be disqualified. He felt the fight was still going and Smith didn’t get in between he and Dollaway to signify that the action had to stop.
“We’re exchanging,” Lombard said. “He threw a kick and I’m coming back. You’re in the fight. …The referee didn’t [step] in or anything.”
He’s not wrong, McCarthy said. “Big John” said that Smith could have done a better job physically being there to shoot his arm in between the two athletes.
“[Smith] did 90 percent right, let’s say,” said McCarthy, who has stepped away from reffing after 24 years to work with Bellator in the broadcast booth. “If he had done everything right, would that have stopped Hector from going and throwing those two blows? Especially the last one. I can’t say that it would have. He still could have done it. But it’s a much clearer, ‘Oh, I’ve got a referee that’s actually coming in between.’ It could have actually stopped Hector. The referee is not off to the side at a distance of 3 feet and that might have been the difference between us seeing the second round, because Hector would have stopped.
“Your job is to do things the same way for every f*cking fight there is, because there’s a purpose behind it. If you don’t do it, this is what can happen.”
Despite all that, McCarthy said Lombard still should have been disqualified, because he clearly broke the rules, inadvertently or not.
“He’s responsible for his actions,” McCarthy said. “His actions are, he threw things after the sound, even after the call of the referee, because Mark did call it. He wasn’t in that position that I would want to see him in, but he did make the call of “time” and it was before Hector decided to throw those. And Hector should have been disqualified. Mark Smith was right for disqualifying Hector in that situation.”
The debate raged Saturday night on social media on whether the bell ends a round or the referee does. McCarthy, who essentially invented the position of MMA referee, getting his start at UFC 2, said it’s kind of both. The bell is technically when the round ends, but a referee must physically get between two fighters in case one or both can’t hear the sound. Fighters are typically instructed to fight until the referee gets there to stop it.
“What does it come down to? It comes down to, it’s the referee’s responsibility to make sure that the fighter knows that it’s the end of the round,” McCarthy said. “And we do that through the mechanics of putting myself in between them, my arm coming out, calling time and we have the reasons why.
“Is it the bell that ends the round? Yeah, it is. Because it’s the notification. But it’s the referee that has got to do things to make sure that they end the round properly.”