File Photo | Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com
Stefan Struve’s technical knockout stoppage of Sean McCorkle at UFC 124 “St. Pierre vs. Koscheck 2” at the Bell Centre in Montreal illustrated another bothersome trend in MMA of late: the mounted-and-punching-the-trapped-opponent situation. Once there, the guy on bottom is obviously still cognizant yet cannot escape, so he covers up because that is the only option available to him. It’s actually fairly hard to land a clean blow on someone in this position, but the advantage is one can keep trying, and shots of varying effectiveness are going to get through.
What I do not like are the quick stoppages that result, almost always with the guy on bottom complaining immediately afterward.
To his credit, McCorkle did not protest, but the situation and the stoppage could have been perceived far differently if he had made a stink. The irony of including this one as an example is that McCorkle did not whine and took his loss like a man. However, we’ve all seen people take a lot less punishment and get stopped, which illustrates another hazy area in the sport’s officiating. Two fights -- Fabricio Werdum vs. Brandon Vera at UFC 85 and Johny Hendricks vs. Amir Sadollah at UFC 101 -- come to mind.
Context is everything. In Sadollah’s case, he was an unbeaten fighter in the opening seconds of a match who got caught, went down and deserved to be finished cleanly. In Vera’s, Werdum had him effectively mounted, but Vera was rolling and riding with shots. He could not escape, but he was not taking an onslaught of clean punches. This is what makes the cross-mount position with the arm trapped so much more interesting; envision what Matt Hughes did to B.J. Penn in their second fight for a perfect example. You can smash away much cleaner from that position because the bottom man has nothing with which to block. Referees seem to like it, as well, because they seem to let the fights go until the guy on bottom supplies enough visual displeasure with the situation that anyone in their right mind would intervene.
There’s also the plain stupid stoppage where the referee seemingly panics as soon as a guy hits the ground and starts taking punches or the threat of damage materializes. See Mizuto Hirota’s TKO over Mitsuhiro Ishida in Shooto for a perfect example.
In my book, the masterpiece stoppage from a mounted fighter pounding a guy on the bottom is the Kenny Florian-Joe Lauzon bout at UFC Fight Night 13. Florian had Lauzon trapped and hammered away with more than 100 punches, elbows and assorted bad intentions, but Lauzon intelligently covered, rolled, bucked and remained clearly aware.
However, Florian maintained the position for what seemed an eternity, finally breaking down Lauzon and making it clear nothing was going to change. The affair was settled. Then the bout was stopped. And nobody complained. Regrettably, cool-headed refereeing like this is often the exception and not the rule, outside of major states where podunk commissions run things. I know this. Having covered boxing for a decade, I can tell you that it’s often the same suspects appearing, merely at new crime scenes.
Then there’s the situation in which the third man in the ring calls a halt to a bout thinking a fighter is out from a submission when he could have checked the guy’s arm or overall body language to see if he was limp. See Mac Danzig’s loss to Matt Wiman at UFC 115 or Ben Askren’s premature win over Ryan Thomas at Bellator 14. In those cases, a panicking referee saw a bad position instead of taking the proper steps to establish if the eventual loser was conscious or not.
Listen, none of us are here to see people get permanent brain damage. If a guy on the bottom is trapped and getting dealt shots, let the shots go until a referee intervention is the de facto answer, not something that’s at all debatable. Personally, I think if a referee has jumped in to stop a fight when a guy hits the ground and the man on the bottom can voice a protest within one second of the stoppage, then it was premature.
Referees are there to protect the fighters. We know this, which is exactly why they do not intervene when Anderson Silva gets someone in a brain-jarring muay Thai clinch or when Matt Hughes and Tito Ortiz would pin their opponents’ heads against the cage in their primes to cannonade shots off their skulls. Fighter safety is paramount. That’s why I’m not entirely clear on why there’s this insanely protective concern for a guy who happens to be somewhere between Queer Street and Hazy Avenue taking, God forbid, a couple shots to the head. I mean, after all, it’s only a cage fight, right?
The lingering problem with these kinds of stoppage is that they leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. The sad part of it all is that if refs let it go a shot or two more, the controversy, in most cases, would be entirely eliminated because the losing fighter would have definitely been finished, probably finding out via replay, which spares everyone the post-fight drama.
Perhaps it sounds churlish and cruel? This ain’t curling, folks. Let them fight, and be finished proper.