Referees are often the brunt of criticism for their split-second decisions, but rarely do they publicly voice any post-fight opinion on their own performances. Even rarer is the situation when one admits a mistake. Usually, they simply leave their work as its own argument, leaving us to form our own conclusions.
That makes what Josh Rosenthal did this week all the more respectable. Less than one day after refereeing the Chris Weidman vs. Mark Munoz main event at UFC on FUEL 4, Rosenthal admitted what many had said: that he let the fight go on too long, and let Munoz take too many unnecessary blows.
Just about a minute and a half into the second round, Weidman dropped Munoz with a standing elbow strike and then rode him to the mat where he unloaded with a barrage of 17 punches. The entire sequence from start to finish took only about eight seconds, but many felt Rosenthal could have stepped in much earlier to save Munoz from taking unanswered strikes. Count him among his own critics.
"I came home and I watched it, and I was kind of like you know, if I was sitting here, watching this on the couch, I probably would have been talking smack about myself," he said on SiriusXM's Tapout Radio show.
Rosenthal went on to say he was "slow on the trigger" and let the fight go on a few punches too long.
That mirrors the complaints about the stoppage that flooded in right upon the bout's conclusion. On the FUEL TV post-fight show, UFC president Dana White was clearly angered, asking, "How can you be standing like this, looking down at a guy getting hammered like that and not think the fight needs to be stopped?"
It's a question we all wondered at the time, and Rosenthal says it's a fair one. He noted that given the potential stakes involved in a bout between two top 10 contenders and all the time the fighters put into preparing, he tries to offer each man every opportunity to continue. And in that particular mind set, he elected to give Munoz a bit longer than normal to defend himself. In hindsight, he admitted, it was simply too long.
Rosenthal was memorably the referee when Dan Henderson and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua fought at UFC 139, a fight which won him acclaim for allowing it continue to the final horn despite dominant stretches by both men at various stages of the fight. So he does have first-hand experience watching fighters rebound from seemingly disastrous situations, but this time, he says, he waited a little too long in seeing if the same kind of situation materialized. And in a refreshing move, he's standing up to take responsibility for it.
"I always say accountability is a huge part of the sport, and you are accountable for your actions," he said. "I feel like I was just a little slow on the trigger [Wednesday]. I don't want to see guys take unnecessary punishment. It's a rough sport. Everyone knows what they sign in for, but it's a millisecond-basis game. You're making choices right there on the spot, and in the heat of the moment, I felt like I was seeing some stuff. In hindsight, I have to step my game up and make sure I'm on point for the next guys."