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Big John McCarthy would have let Dillashaw vs. Cejudo go longer: ‘Not all fights are the same’

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The longtime referee and current Bellator commentator gave his thoughts on Fedor vs. Bader, Jack Swagger, Aaron Pico, and Henry Cejudo’s TKO win over TJ Dillashaw at UFC Brooklyn.

It seems the original UFC referee is in agreement with TJ Dillashaw and Dana White. The UFC’s debut headliner on ESPN+ - the ‘superfight’ between Dillashaw and flyweight champion Henry Cejudo - was stopped earlier than it should have been. Or, at least, earlier than it would have been had McCarthy been in the cage rather than Kevin MacDonald.

Dillashaw dropped an additional ten pounds to make the cut to 125 lbs against the man who defeated Demetrious Johnson, in his attempt to play UFC hit man for the rapidly dwindling flyweight roster. Instead, a shove, a head kick, and a short series of hooks as Dillashaw tried to scramble to his feet, put a stoppage to the bout in just 32 seconds. After the event, Dana White called it a ‘horrible stoppage,’ with Dillashaw adding that it was ‘complete bullshit.’

Speaking to MMA Fighting’s Marc Raimondi ahead of this weekend’s Bellator 214: Fedor vs. Bader event, longtime referee and current Bellator cageside commentator ‘Big’ John McCarthy gave his take on the end of the fight. And while he wasn’t willing to call it “bad,” he made it clear that if it were up to him, the fight would have gone on longer.

“When you say ‘good stoppage/bad stoppage,’ I’m not into saying what’s good or bad,” McCarthy clarified. “Kevin made a decision, okay. It’s his decision. He’s the one that’s gotta live with his decision — along with TJ and the UFC themselves.

“If you’re gonna ask me – there’s things I want a referee to think about – if you’re gonna ask me, ‘Would I have stopped it at that point?’ No. I wouldn’t have stopped it at that point. And this is the reason why: this is not a fight between two guys that are just brought together and ‘Oh, we’re gonna match this fight up,’ whatever fight it is. It’s not, as I would say, ‘Fighter A’ against ‘Fighter B.’ This is a fight where both guys have earned, they’ve earned the right to actually be in this position. They’ve both created a background that’s put them in a position of being champions, and now these are champions going after each other. One to actually try and save his entire weight-class, basically. The other to prove, ‘Those guys are not as good as me.’

“And you look at what happened,” he continued, “that fight is a young fight. It’s 25 seconds in when Henry hits TJ with a shot. It hurts him, no doubt about it. Puts him down. But there’s no time... When you’re a referee you’ve got to understand certain things. And what you’ve gotta understand is, ‘I’ve got two guys that are champions, not all fights are the same.’ And you’re gonna hear a lot of referees say, ‘You ref every fight the same.’ And I’m gonna tell you that that’s a referee that has no clue what they’re doing, okay? You got two guys that are champions, they both have a full tank of gas. There’s no better time... You know one thing: TJ Dillashaw is in great condition. Now I’m not saying he didn’t lose a lot of weight, and that may have a factor in this fight. But, he’s in the best condition he can be in, with receiving as little damage as he can receive. He hasn’t had anything happen in there other than the shot that puts him down. This is his greatest opportunity to recover. Henry goes and swarms him, and so you gotta watch it and make sure, ‘If he goes out, I’m gonna stop the fight.’ Henry goes and hits him; three clubbing things, kinda hits him with the forearm a little bit. And TJ, you see he’s got the leg. He’s trying to collect himself, and you’ve got to give him that opportunity. Because again, he’s got a full tank of gas. He hasn’t received damage over a couple of rounds; it isn’t that he’s exhausted.

“Those are elements that you bring in as to whether you’re going to stop a fight or not. In that position, you want to try to give those guys as much as you can give them. You give the fans as much as they can give them. You give the promotion as much as you can give them, without getting somebody seriously hurt. And at that point, although TJ had accepted damage, he wasn’t seriuously hurt — in my opinion. At the stoppage of that fight, he still had a moment. It could have been that three seconds later he was out, okay? And that’s decisive and that’s what is best for those fighters, it’s best for the promotion, it’s best for the fans. So, in that circumstance, I would have let it go a little bit longer. But, you know, I could have been wrong in that too.”

However, while he may feel that the MacDonald’s decision to step in and end the bout was ill-timed, McCarthy was staunch in his defense of the difficulty of that kind of instantaneous decision making. The way he sees it, referee’s - just like anyone else - can get nervous for big fights, and need time to settle into the action. When things happen that fast, that early, they’re more likely to make mistakes.

“It is difficult,” McCarthy agreed, when asked about the challenges of deciding when to stop a fight. And what people don’t understand is this, Marc: you know the first time you did an interview with somebody – especially someone you kinda liked as a fighter – your heart was going ‘dut-dut-dut-dut-dut,’ It was beating. And as a referee, look at... Again, all fights aren’t the same. And when you’re doing a fight that’s in New York, it’s at the Barclays Center, it’s the first fight on ESPN+, and you’ve done all these fights, when he walks in there that referee’s heart rate is not at it’s normal 60 beats-per-minute. He’s standing there and it’s at 120.

“And so, it’s nice when the fight can go on for a little bit, because the referee starts to get in the timing of the fight and gets to settle into the fight — the same as the fighters settle into the fight. But when, all of a sudden, there’s ‘Pop!’ and TJ goes down, he’s gotta start making decisions. And you can watch, just off of what you’re seeing the referee do – if you know this game – you know, ‘Oh, his brain’s turning fast.’ He’s thinking so fast that, when you think real fast and can’t calm yourself down and stay in that moment (and it’s like they say, ‘Be in the moment’) you can end up saying, ‘I gotta stop this.’ When maybe, if you were just a little bit slower in everything and had more time, you’d be saying, ‘Oh, I’ll let it go just a second.’ Because, you are making a big decision.

“And they’re not easy decisions,” he added. “They’re the hardest decisions in the world. Everyone thinks that refereeing is easy. It is, until you’re in there. Then it’s a bitch. So, you know, it was a fight that you wanted to see go longer. I understand why it didn’t. But, hopefully they’ll play it back again.”

‘Big’ John also gave his thoughts on the stakes surrounding the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix finale between Fedor Emelianenko and Ryan Bader; as well as Aaron Pico’s amazing potential as he rises up the featherweight ranks, and Jack Swagger’s MMA debut. So, check out the whole interview and stay tuned to Bloody Elbow for more coverage of Bellator 214, in Los Angeles, CA.