Dollaway faced Octagon newcomer Murtazaliev on less than a week’s notice earlier this month at UFC Moscow after his first two scheduled opponents, Omari Akhmedov and Artem Frolov, withdrew from the middleweight contest. Dollaway ultimately lost the fight via second-round TKO, but it was the way he lost the fight that ignited a firestorm of controversy among the mixed martial arts world. In one of the most egregious late stoppages in recent UFC history, referee Herb Dean allowed Dollaway to eat a legitimately frightening amount of uncontested punishment in the closing minute of the second frame.
Even in the moment, the finishing sequence was a harrowing one. At one point, Dollaway flipped belly down onto the mat and offered no defense other than covering up with his hands and arms, yet Dean still allowed Murtazaliev to tee off with unanswered strikes to the outrage of UFC commentators Paul Felder and Dan Hardy. Upon the round’s conclusion, Dollaway stayed down on the canvas and audibly announced several times that he was done, however another 25 or so seconds passed before Dean finally waved off the contest.
Speaking to MMA Fighting on Tuesday, nine days after UFC Moscow, Dollaway said that he was healthy and fortunate to suffer no lingering damage from the late stoppage, but he still couldn’t help but wonder what Dean was thinking.
“I’ve been on the other side before, where I thought a fight got stopped too early for me. But, being on the other side now, it’s like — it’s a rough job being a ref, they want to give you the benefit of the doubt, but at the same time, you’re there to protect us, and I don’t know what was going on, but I don’t feel like I got protected,” Dollaway told MMA Fighting. “He didn’t stop the fight. Ever. Like, he was telling me to get on the stool and I didn’t even want to fight. Like, ‘Dude, I’m done.’ I was pretty out of it. I’m going to go out and take more punishment, that’s all that was going to basically happen at that point. I understand being a referee’s a tough job, we all make mistakes in life. It just sucks when it’s you.”
Dollaway, 35, is a longtime veteran of the UFC, having competed under the company’s umbrella for over a decade. He said the late stoppage was simply the culmination of a week at UFC Moscow that was “by far the weirdest” fight week he’s ever experienced, but it was Dean’s hesitance to stop the fight after the second round that stuck with Dollaway the most.
“He was telling me to get on the stool,” Dollaway said. “That’s kinda the part, I guess, I have a little trouble with. When a fighter says they’re done, especially — I don’t really have to say much, the MMA community saw it, you saw it, people saw what happened, and then you have me saying I’m done, and for him to be telling me to get up off the stool, I don’t know. Thank God I knew enough was enough, or it could’ve been even more serious.
“At the end of the day, I know the risks we go in there with, but it does make me question what you’re doing. Like, for the amount of money we’re getting paid — we’re not making millions of dollars. But it’s a sport that you love. Usually [Dean] is a good ref, from what I’ve seen. I haven’t watched every single one of his fights. I don’t know, I’ve heard complaints about him, [things] other people are saying. But I don’t know, it just sucks when it’s you. That’s your health. I have a 5-year-old daughter. I want to be able to always know what’s going on and not be that out of it when I’m done with this career. It just is scary to know that, yeah, if there was two minutes left, what’s that look like then?
“Like, how far [does it go]? That’s the thing, they want to give you the benefit of the doubt, try to get you to the end of the round or the fighters a chance, but there’s a catch 22. He stops it too early, everyone dogs him for that. Stop it too late, everyone dogs him for that. So it’s just not an easy job, but that is your f*cking job. At the end of the day, that’s your job. You’re the one who took that job, and the same goes for me. I know what it is when I go in there. We’re not playing patty-cake. It’s a dangerous job and, yeah, unfortunately I got a pretty good taste of what it could be.”
Dollaway said he hasn’t spoken to Dean or a commission official since the controversial end to his fight and that Dean has not reached out to him.
Coincidentally, Dean was selected on Tuesday morning by the Nevada Athletic Commission to oversee UFC 229’s main event between Conor McGregor and UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, which very well could be the biggest fight of all-time.
Ultimately, Dollaway admitted that the whole experience at UFC Moscow left him with tough decisions to make. After competing at middleweight for the majority of his career, he decided to make the move to 205 pounds for his future contests. Because of the length of his medical suspension, he also likely won’t be able to compete until 2019, so he intends to spend the rest of the year rebuilding his body after a tough 2018 campaign and preparing for what awaits him in the light heavyweight division, with an eye on returning in early 2019.
“I’m not making enough money to kill myself to get down to 185,” Dollaway said. “And I’m 35 years old, I’ve been doing this 10 years, my body just can’t recover. When I was 25 or 28, that cut, you could bounce back from. But I’m already 220 pounds, so do the math, that’s not a fun cut. So yeah, I’d rather fight at 205 and enjoy what I do, not almost die during fight week in the weight cut, and then possibly in the fight not almost die. Just to have a little fun, I guess. It’s a dangerous sport, it’s not for everybody obviously, but I think the move to 205 will be better for me just to have more energy to be able to protect myself at all times. But at the end of the day, if you get hurt in a fight, the ref’s supposed to be there to protect you.
“It’s a tough job. I understand it. You get criticism from both sides. Like I said, you stop it too early, you get criticized, you stop it too late. And I’ve had fights that I thought were stopped too early and protested, but the ref needs to say, ‘F*ck you, I’m here to protect you,’ basically. Like, ‘Shut up.’ But like I said, it’s a cold game that we play.”