Herb Dean is the only mixed martial arts referee to earn the title of Referee of the Year at the World MMA Awards. The award was introduced in 2010, and Dean has claimed that award for each year that it has been handed out. However, Dean's award winning streak doesn't mean he is above reproach. A pair of recent main event stoppages have left some questioning Dean's status as the best referee in the business.
The first of those two stoppages occurred at UFC 169. UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao fought former WEC champion Urijah Faber in that contest. In the first round, Barao dropped Faber. In response, Faber turtled, holding onto Barao's leg as the champion uncorked punches to Faber's head. Watching closely, Dean told Faber to show him something. Unfortunately, what Faber chose to show the referee was a raised thumb that was out of Dean's view. Not seeing Faber's indication that he was all right, Dean waved off the fight.
Dean recently appeared on The MMA Hour and addressed the stoppage of that February 1 fight.
Dean said the key for him to ask Faber to show him something during the barrage of strikes was when Barao looked up at the referee and adjusted his posture. That adjustment from Barao, according to Dean, left Faber with some space. When Faber did not respond to that available space, that was when Dean made his request to see something from the challenger.
The four-time Referee of the Year said that when he asks fighters to show him something he is looking for the fighter to improve their position, and that fact is something he reviews with the combatants before they step into the Octagon.
As for the thumbs up, Dean admitted that he did not see it, but if he would have, he said he would have given Faber "a second more" to better his position. He also added that had he saw Faber's signal he would not have let Faber stay where he was - taking strikes from Barao.
In the end, Dean acknowledged that he felt Faber had something left, but added, "I think the communication kind of got lost there."
Dean never fully came out and said he felt that he made the right or wrong call during the Faber versus Barao fight. However, on his call during the main event of UFC 170 he was not so ambiguous. Dean said he "absolutely" felt that stopping the Ronda Rousey versus Sara McMann fight when he did was the correct call.
During the first round of the February 22 fight, UFC women's bantamweight champion Rousey landed a knee to the body of McMann that left the challenger crumpled on the mat, holding her midsection.
Dean described his thought process during that fight, "She (McMann) takes a shot. As far as her posture, she turns away from her opponent, hand out, and holds her injury. Not blocking, but holds, there is a difference. I see that, and she's in no position to defend herself. She landed there, faced away from her opponent - with her hand she's choosing to post with one hand, and hold onto her stomach with her other hand, while she's taking shots. She takes three or four shots to the head while still holding her stomach. I'm going to stop that fight."
Almost immediately after the fight was waved off, McMann got to her feet, leading some to call the stoppage premature. Dean responded to those criticisms by saying what happened following the stoppage has no bearing on why he stopped that fight.
Dean then questioned the host of The MMA Hour, Ariel Helwani, and by proxy all of his critics, asking, "When a fighter is holding a wound, and turned away from their opponent, and taking shots, should we let it continue?"
Concern for fighter health is the priority in MMA refereeing, something that Dean pointed out when he said that a mistake by an MMA referee could result in an individual suffering injuries that they may never recover from.
In closing, the long-time referee said that taking criticism is part of his job. Dean added, "Part of my job to have thick skin and big shoulders and carry that stuff."
Another part of that job is to learn from every fight, something Dean acknowledged when he said, "This isn't the last fight I have where I'm going to learn something from."
Dean will referee this weekend when he travels to Brazil for UFC Fight Night: Shogun versus Henderson 2.