Perhaps the most difficult judgment call for an official in sports to make is knowing when to stop a fight at the proper time.
Missing a ball-strike call, or a safe-out call, or a pass interference call, might mean the difference between winning and losing a game. Making the wrong determination on when to stop a fight can be, quite literally, a life-and-death situation.
On Saturday on the main card of the Strikeforce show at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, there were two situations in which the referee failed to stop the bout quickly enough. In the main event, referee Herb Dean let Keith Jardine absorb at least five additional blows from Luke Rockhold in their middleweight title bout. Earlier in the card, Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal landed 15 unanswered punches to the head of a downed Lorenz Larkin.
Keith Kizer, the executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission, said Monday he didn't have a problem with Winslow's stoppage in the Lawal-Larkin fight. The action happened directly in front of him, Kizer said, and Lawal wasn't able to put the torque on his punches he would have had he been standing.
Kizer said he found more fault with Dean's stoppage, believing that the second time Jardine went down, the bout should have been stopped.
Dean didn't come under much scrutiny because he is widely regarded now as the world's best mixed martial arts referee. Winslow, though, took a torrent of abuse and many suggested that she shouldn't referee matches because of her gender.
The notion that a woman isn't competent to referee a men's fight is ludicrous. Her gender is no issue at all.
The question that needs to be raised is her judgment. Winslow also refereed the match between Cris "Cyborg" Santos and Jan Finney on June 26, 2010, in San Jose, Calif. Santos was pounding Finney with massive shots and Winslow allowed the fight to continue. Sherdog.com named the bout its "Beatdown of the Year."
Though Kizer didn't have an issue with the stoppage in the Lawal-Larkin fight, and noted that the Nevada Athletic Commission doctors were more concerned about Jardine than Larkin after the fight, pronouncing Larkin "fine," it was obvious that A.) Larkin wasn't getting up; B.) he was being hit repeatedly in the head; C.) he wasn't able to defend; and D.) he was never in the fight.
Lawal was outraged after the bout.
"The commission needs to do something with her," Lawal said. "Let her take a fight or something and give her a bad ref. Let her fight 'Cyborg' or something. Let her fight 'Cyborg' and then let's do a late stoppage on her. I watched her almost get Jan Finney killed by 'Cyborg.' I think the tables need to be turned. Put me in there as a ref and I'll just do a terrible job like her."
Other than those two events, Winslow's record is a good one and she shouldn't be disqualified from officiating in the future because of those or, most certainly because of her gender.
But it wouldn't hurt for her, as well as Dean and Josh Rosenthal and John McCarthy and every other person who officiates an MMA match, to remember that it's a person's life at stake in the cage.
Better for the crowd to boo an early stoppage than for it to be hushed as a badly injured fighter is hauled out on a stretcher.
• UFC president Dana White said that if Chael Sonnen beats Mark Munoz at UFC on Fox 2 in Chicago on Jan. 28 that he'd likely wind up fighting middleweight champion Anderson Silva in a soccer stadium in Brazil in the summer. It's a great idea if the UFC can be assured of Sonnen's protection, which is no guarantee considering how much Sonnen's taunts about Brazilians and Brazil have enraged the people there.
• As MMA continues its worldwide expansion, one troubling sign is the lack of growth in quality referees. Dean, Rosenthal, McCarthy et al can't referee every fight. A plan needs to be in place to develop more competent referees.
• Gina Carano hasn't fought an MMA fight in nearly two-and-a-half years. Just because Santos was busted last week for testing positive for Stanozolol, an anabolic steroid, doesn't mean Carano will return. She's got a bright movie career ahead of her and doesn't need to risk it by fighting.
• Strikeforce still has top-shelf fighters, despite the defections of stars such as Nick Diaz, Dan Henderson and Alistair Overeem. What it needs is depth. Adding that depth should be priority No. 1 for CEO Scott Coker.
• Coker said it is possible that Fedor Emelianenko will meet the winner of the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix, which will be between Josh Barnett and Daniel Cormier. When Zuffa kept Strikeforce alive and renewed its Showtime contract, it announced that it would dissolve the Strikeforce heavyweight division after the tournament and one additional bout involving the winner.
Your point about Strikeforce champions demeaning the promotion by looking beyond Strikeforce contenders to the UFC is certainly true. But your final line about Nick Diaz, Dan Henderson and Alistair Overeem showing that being a Strikeforce champ "is a pretty significant achievement in and of itself" holds little water. Diaz, Hendo, and Overeem demean Strikeforce even more than lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez and middleweight champion Luke Rockhold do. Melendez and Rockhold want to defend Strikeforce championships against the best in the world (i.e. consensus top-5 contenders, who all happen to be in the UFC), and show Strikeforce champs are as good as anyone. The other three surrendered their championships willingly, sending a message that just having a job in the UFC is "better" than being world champion in SF. Diaz's, Hendo's and Overeem's "pretty significant achievements" of late aren't their title defenses, it's their impressive wins against top competition. Yes, they've shown Strikeforce champs are as good as anyone, but they left Strikeforce to do it. The Strikeforce champs who are left just want the same opportunity. Will a win over Keith Jardine, Robbie Lawler or Tim Kennedy put Rockhold in the top five in the world? Or will a win over UFC veterans like Yushin Okami, Demian Maia or Michael Bisping?
You make a good point, Dean, but I think you're missing one thing. When Diaz, Henderson and Overeem jumped to the UFC, the future of Strikeforce was very shaky. Nearly everyone in the industry assumed that it simply would be folded into the UFC. Then, Zuffa worked out a deal to keep Strikeforce alive and on Showtime. At that point, with the organization surviving, it's time for Strikeforce to build its depth and it's time for the fighters in the promotion to concentrate on making it the best it can be.
I'm a big Gilbert Melendez fan, but he and Luke Rockhold need to learn the term "Don't bite the hand that feeds you." Who was Rockhold before Strikeforce signed him? I don't care that Strikeforce is considered a second-rate organization in the eyes of some; they gave him a shot clearly when the UFC didn't want to. Imagine Stephen Curry, during his magical run at Davidson during the NCAA Tournament saying, "Truthfully, I would have rather played for Kansas to prove I'm a top talent because the Big 12 is where all the talent is." These guys need to shut up and keep winning, like Benson Henderson did when he was in World Extreme Cagefighting, like Urijah Faber did, like Nick Diaz did. Wins, particularly impressive wins, create fans. All those years Chuck Liddell was winning fights in the UFC, no one outside of MMA fans knew who he was beating. All they saw were knockout after knockout and eventually they wanted to know what he was all about.
You said it perfectly, Sal. I couldn't agree with you more. You create a fan base for yourself by how you perform and make fans demand to see you. Great job. If I gave an award for Letter of the Week, you'd not only win it, but also you'd be in the lead for Letter of the Year.
I would like to see Tito Ortiz get one last fight in the UFC before retiring. However, I do not see another fight with Chuck Liddell happening. Ortiz-Rich Franklin would certainly make for an interesting fight. In your opinion, would that be a viable option for Tito's last fight?
I like that fight, Derek. They're both at advanced stages in their careers, and I think it's a fight that has merit to it. Given that Franklin sent Liddell into retirement, he might have to change his name from "Ace" to "AARP" if he beats Ortiz, given that he's the guy who retires you.
"I don't feel like [I] have to make a decision right now. So I'm waiting until I definitely know the right answer in my heart." – Gina Carano, to MMAWeekly, on whether she will ever return to fighting.
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