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UFC 244 doctor faces threats, online harassment after controversial main event call

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The doctor who stopped UFC 244’s main event said he’s been bombarded by threats and harassment since his controversial call.

Dr. Nitin K. Sethi, a New York-based neurologist, said the MMA community should “hang its head in shame” for the way he’s been treated.

Sethi has contemplated asking for police protection in the wake of the fans’ behavior following the event. He said fans have personally threatened him, called his office, and posted fake reviews bashing him online.

”I’m a very good neurologist and a very good doctor, and calling me f*cking scum online and calling my office staff and yelling at them, threatening me, I fear for my health and safety,” he told MMA Fighting. “Somebody’s going to get hurt, and it’s probably going to be me this time.

”People don’t realize what they do when they talk about these things. But that’s the hard reality of this sport.”

Sethi was hired by the New York State Athletic Commission – on which he serves as the commission’s chief medical officer – to oversee the “BMF” title bout this past Saturday at Madison Square Garden. He said he’s worked for the commission “for a while” as a cageside doctor.

Between the third and fourth rounds of the pay-per-view headliner, Sethi advised referee Dan Miragliotta to stop the bout, which awarded Jorge Masvidal a third-round TKO victory over Nate Diaz. Diaz had suffered a massive cut over his right eye and a slightly smaller cut under it.

Fans immediately jeered the decision, prompting a testy response from Masvidal and a promise from he and Diaz that they would fight again. UFC President Dana White later hedged on that idea, saying he agreed with Sethi’s call to stop the fight.

Sethi declined to discuss the medical basis for his decision, saying it would be personally and professionally unethical for him to discuss a patient’s condition publicly. But he defended his choice as a necessary answer to an imminent concern for Diaz’s health and safety.

”I made an objective call based on my assessment of the fighter,” he said. “Not just the cut, but the overall assessment of the fighter (and) how the fight was going. Once I felt I could not guarantee the health and safety going forward, I had to make a tough call.

”The moment I lose my objectivity and I’m concerned how my actions are viewed by the UFC, by the fans, by the media, then I cease to be a ringside physician, and I cease to be doing my job. I have to be objective, and objectively, you make a call.”

Sethi added that referee Miragliotta had expressed concerns about Diaz to the commission following the second frame, but he decided to give the fighter one more round.

”Going forward off that third round, I could not guarantee his health and safety,” he said. “When in doubt, you have to do what you have to do to protect the athlete’s safety. His health and safety comes first. Every action of mine has to be viewed with that foremost in everybody’s mind, but that doesn’t happen.”

The doctor takes no issue with those who disagree with his decision. He said he welcomes feedback from fans and media who may think he stopped it too early or too late. It’s when the criticism escalates to physical threats and harassment that he believes the sport devolves into barbarism.

”It’s a shame that’s what it boils down to,” he said. “Anybody who’s involved in that sport should be hanging their head in shame when that happens. That’s not how sports are done. I’ve never experienced that, and I’ve been involved in a lot of sports.”

Sethi partly blames the reaction he received on the UFC, which he said made things worse by calling attention to his decision. UFC commentator Joe Rogan said it was “very, very usual for a doctor to stop a fight for a cut like that” in a post-fight interview with Diaz.

”You have a very, very charged crowd, and you just make it more charged,” he said. “I was walking back [from the cage] and people from the top were yelling at me, ‘f*ck this, f*ck that.’”

At the post-fight press conference, Diaz implied that Sethi had tricked him by saying everything was OK after a check of his cuts. Sethi declined to address that claim, again citing professional standards of behavior for medical professionals.

”I can only defend my medical decision making process,” he said. “I have the highest respect for Mr. Diaz, and he’s a fighter who never quits, and he certainly would have not quit and would have liked to continue, and he did say that to me in the cage. I can appreciate that.

”Everybody has a different threshold of stopping a fight. A fan (or) a referee or the media might have a different threshold. A doctor has a different threshold of stopping a fight, and in the end, if a doctor’s there, you need to respect the threshold.”

The backlash hasn’t necessarily discouraged Sethi from working for the commission in the future but he said the message sent to other doctors is clear.

”After what happened to me, let me tell you one thing: The only thing sad about this will be you’ll have doctors who will now be very afraid to make calls,” he said. “And when people are scared to make calls because they’re so afraid of the repercussions, I think we’re entering dangerous territory.”

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