Position and speed can mean the difference between one extra concussive blow and three of them, and in the case of Derrick Lewis’ knockout of Curtis Blaydes, both weren’t entirely in Herb Dean’s favor.
That’s according to veteran official and current Bellator commentator John McCarthy, who said that while Dean’s performance at UFC Vegas 19 wasn’t perfect, it was as good as could be expected given the particular circumstances.
Dean, whose calls have been the subject of frequent controversy among fans, fighters and even UFC employees, found himself trending after a pair of heavyweight fights – Aleksei Oleinik vs. Chris Daukaus and Curtis Blaydes vs. Derrick Lewis. In the former, Oleinik took several unanswered punches while covering up on his feet, while Blaydes took two while he was unconscious.
Dean was criticized for not stopping the Oleinik fight soon enough as the Russian floundered. But McCarthy said Oleinik’s history may have played a factor in the leeway he got before being taken out of the fight.
“Could Herb have stopped it earlier? Yes, he could have,” McCarthy said on the “Weighing In” podcast he co-hosts with UFC vet Josh Thomson. “But there could have been things that he’s seeing at the time that is telling him, ‘No, I’ve got to let that go,’ and he’s worked with Olineik.”
While some fans online believed they saw Oleinik looking up at Dean in a plea of sorts for intervention, McCarthy said that could just as easily have been the grizzled veteran’s attempt to let him fight longer.
“If you’re going to have 100 people look at it, you might have 50 people go, ‘I would have stopped it earlier,’ and 50 people that say, ‘I thought it was fine,’ McCarthy said. “Olineik didn’t hit the ground, either, and when you have a guy that’s 75 fights into his career and he hasn’t hit the ground and he’s trying to come back, sometimes, we let that guy swim into deep waters.
“When Herb thought he was drowning, he pulled him out. Is everybody going to agree with it? But that’s just your opinion. You’re not standing in there.”
Dean was there to catch a wobbling Oleinik after waving off the fight just shy of the two-minute mark of the first round. At that point, he was standing mere feet away when the veteran’s balance became questionable. The same couldn’t be said for his position when Blaydes was knocked unconscious as he shot for a takedown near the start of the second frame in the evening’s headliner.
Lewis blamed Dean when Blaydes’ corner reportedly protested the pair of hits landed on their fighter after the telling blow. But according to McCarthy, Lewis correctly called Dean as the ultimate decider of the fight’s ending point.
“In the back, most referees are going to tell the fighter, ‘Hey, you go after him, you knock the guy down, you stop when I tell you to stop.’ Don’t stop unless I tell you to stop, because we get guys that cheat.
“They will get stuck in a position, and they will see where the referee is, and they’ll put their hand and start tapping on the fighter. The fighter lets go of the hold, and the referee doesn’t see it, and all of a sudden, the bottom fighter starts fighting, and the referee’s letting it go, and all of a sudden everything falls apart for the guy that should have won the fight.”
McCarthy cited another fight Dean oversaw – Amanda Ribas vs. Marina Rodriguez at UFC 257 – as an example of how body language can go south. Rodriguez believed Dean was stepping into stop the fight when he closed distance after she dropped Ribas. But Dean didn’t make contact and wave off the fight, and thus Rodriguez was forced to redouble her efforts.
McCarthy indicated Lewis’ decision to hit Blaydes after the initial knockout was a choice. But it was one he was within his rights to make.
“Does Derrick need to hit him again? No, he doesn’t,” McCarthy said. “That’s on him. But if Blaydes hits the ground, and if by hitting the ground, it brings him back, and Derrick Lewis is walking away, Herb’s gonna stand there and go, ‘You should have gone after him.’
“So Derrick did what he was supposed to do. The problem for Derrick is that Herb is behind him, so he’s got to move. Blaydes falls away from him. Trust me, that time for Herb is going in slow motion. He’s trying to get there as fast as he can, and it seems like it’s taking forever. It’s really fast. Derrick Lewis is able to land a lot of shots one second at a time.”
Lewis said after his win that he wasn’t sure whether Blaydes would recover and get back in the fight. Debatable as that might be, McCarthy has seen fighters come back from incredibly punishing shots.
Stopping all of them from landing was Dean’s job, and McCarthy believes the veteran referee did the best he could.
“He got there as fast as he can,” McCarthy said. “Is Derrick Lewis wrong for hitting Blaydes when he’s unconscious? No. That’s basically what happens at times.”
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