In the last month, I have been witness to an alarming rate of main event or championship matches that have been stopped prematurely. I would again like to address the role of the third man in the cage.

In my experiences as a professional promoter, the purpose of a referee is clearly defined. He is the official responsible for the enforcement of the rules-period. The referee is there to ensure that no fouls are taking place, that the round time is adhered to and to stop a fight in one of only three ways. They are as follows:

  • When a fighter submits;

  • When a fighter's corner throws in the towel;

  • When a fighter is no longer consciously able to defend himself.

The key words here are "consciously defend himself." This means that a fighter is no longer conscious and able to defend himself. This may come as a result of a knockout from a strike or slam or a fighter losing consciousness due to a choke or submission hold.

At some point in the game, the extra responsibility of judging when a fighter is no longer "intelligently" defending himself came into the fray and muddied up the responsibilities of the official.

In the Cornermen's Hands

The responsibility of determining when a fighter is no longer intelligently defending himself belongs to the cornermen-not the referee. The cornermen have a towel and can stop the match at any given time that they feel their fighter is in danger. More than anyone else in the arena, these are the men who are more experienced in making this decision, as they are the ones who know the strategy and physical limits of the fighter whom they've trained specifically for this fight.

The referee has no idea what kind of damage a fighter is capable of sustaining. Maybe it is the fighter's game plan to eat punches until his opponent gasses and then mount his attack. Maybe the fighter bleeds easily or is more interested in gaining position that defending punches.

I can speculate all evening, but the point remains the same-the referee will have to make a decision based on speculation, and it shouldn't be his decision to make in the first place!

This problem has gotten to be so bad that fighters are now training to produce a ref stoppage. Get on him and hammer him until the ref steps in, regardless if the strikes are actually inflicting any damage (as long they appear to be). Why wait to influence a judge's decision after a full three rounds when you have a judge who can stop it right now? This has also become a problem to the image of the sport.

MMA Is a Combat Sport

Mixed martial arts is a combat sport, and fighters are expected to get hit. The events even pay out extra bonuses for a knockout or submission victory because this is what the fans want to see. Nothing looks worse than having a referee jump in right in the heat of battle, only to have a fighter pop right up and spend the duration of the announcement of his loss publicly (and vocally) contesting the stoppage.

Now, I'm not here to bash anyone in particular, and I realize that these matches are stopped with the safety of the fighter in mind, but come on man! This is a combat sport. If the fighters didn't expect to get hit, then they would have taken up swimming. Every official has a part, and there are already three judges sitting ringside.