The Mir Stoppage

Sept 1, 2013

As many of you should know I watched UFC 164 last night, which featured the Frank Mir vs Josh Barnett fight. Barnett won the fight via first round TKO stoppage and after the stoppage many fans were up in arms complaining that the stoppage was early and that the referee, who I had never seen before, should never be allowed to referee again.

I defended the stoppage on twitter but eventually gave up, getting tired of arguing with people who were more concerned about getting to see a longer slugfest than fighter safety or whether the stoppage was actually reasonable or not. This got me quite angry so I thought I would take my time here today to not only explain my stance but also show why everyone else is clearly wrong.

The problem lies with fans being selfish and having a vested interest in a certain outcome or decision. Sports fans want what they want and they look at a decision trying to justify their own wants and beliefs, rather than openly looking to see if the decision rendered can be justified. It happens with judges decisions all the time too. While I am not defending judges as a whole, I can't count the number of time I've heard fans screaming in outrage that a decision was a "robbery" or "the worst decision ever made" when realistically a couple rounds were really close and because of the current scoring system the fight could have been scored either way.

Let's look specifically at the stoppage last night. For those of you who didn't see the fight Mir and Barnett where engaged in a slobber knocker of a slug fest, and Barnett started getting the upper hand landing a lot of shots, eventually leading to a strong knee to the face that dropped Frank Mir. Frank dropped landing on the floor face down with both hands on the canvas, and I mean out on front of him, not on the floor like a push up type position where he might use them. Barnett jumped on top of him (I think he landed one more shoot in the process, but not sure) Frank was clearly out, and Barnett had another punch cocked and was about to throw it when the ref stepped in and stopped the fight.

Okay before everyone jumps up and screams BUT... nothing after what I just wrote matters. We have to judge the referee's decision on the information he and everyone else had at the moment he stepped in. If a case can be made that stepping in at that moment, with only the information available at the time of the stoppage was justified, no one can complain that it was a bad call. Referees have to make a split second decision; referees don't get to watch a replay; referees don't get to access information that occurs AFTER they've step in, so neither should we. They are in the heat of battle and have to make a definite decision in the blink of an eye, and fighter safety needs to be of paramount concern. When the ref stepped in Frank Mir WAS knocked out and not defending himself; he WAS unconscious, and Josh Barnett (a 255lbs man) was about to punch him in the head several more times. At that instance the ref was absolutely justified to step in and stop the fight.

The complaint everyone was making, was that Frank Mir recovered almost immediately after the ref stepped in and that he could have kept fighting, so the stoppage was early. Yes he recovered quickly, but he only recovered quickly AFTER the ref stopped Barnett from punching him in the head. Would Mir have recovered if Barnett continued to punch him? I seriously doubt it, and when I said as much on Twitter, even my good friend Jeff Marek tried to argue that you can't justify a stoppage based on what might have happened. This is of course true, but him using this as an argument for it being a bad stoppage is absolutely ridiculous and I truly hope he was just playing devil's advocate. It's ridiculous because that is in fact exactly what he, and everyone else, is doing by invalidating the stoppage based on that same sort of speculation. Everyone is speculating that Frank would have been able to recover even if the ref hadn't stepped in, which is all WHAT IF, the same sort of WHAT IF, they criticized in my statement.

The only information we can consider is the information present at the second the ref stepped in. Was Frank knocked out? Yes even the critics of the decision said "...but he was only out for a second" Out is out, Frank was knocked out, how many times do you have to knock out your opponent in a fight to be declared the winner? Was Frank intelligently defending himself at the moment the fight was stopped? No he wasn't; his hands were down and limp; end of story. Don't look at the replay trying to invalidate the stoppage because you want to see a longer fight; look at the replay trying to justify the stoppage. If you can justify it at all, you've got to back the ref.

I want to deal with one more frequent complaint about the stoppage last night. Many people argued that since both fighters said they would have rather the ref not stop it, because they wanted to fight to the bitter end, the fight shouldn't have been stopped. To those people I say, wake the F--K up. It's the case of the unprotected chair shots to the head all over again. Just because people are willing to do things, doesn't mean they should be allowed. The sport needs to protect their fighter, that's why there are things like mandatory medical suspensions. Fighters always want to fight, almost without exception if the ref asks a fighter if he wants him to stop the fight the fighter will say no. In the heat of battle no fighter is thinking about his long term health, which is why the referees have to look out for the fighter's safety.

This show came on the heels of a $765,000,000 compensation payout package to players by the NFL for brain damage suffered due to concussion received while playing the game. Concussions are bad, very bad, they cause brain damage, and after the fact, years after battle, it seems athletes aren't all that happy about the brain damage they've suffered during battle. I'm friends with Chris Nowinski, who is one of the leading experts on concussions and one of the first things he will tell you is that continual concussive blows after you've been knocked out or concussed are an extremely bad idea. Even a flash knock out is a concussion, and having your head pounded on in that state is not good. That referee saved Frank Mir's brain from a lot of damage, and fans thirst for blood, or a fighters desire to go down swinging in battle, can't take priority over the health and well being of fighters.

If you want to see UFC (MMA) get licensed in NY State, and once and for all silence the critics that think MMA is barbaric cock fighting, we not only need to stop criticizing stoppages like this, we need to highlight them to illustrate the safety of this great sport.

Lance Evers

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