Somewhere early in round 3 of Anthony Smith’s headlining fight against Glover Teixeira last Wednesday, Smith appeared to be on his way to getting finished. He had been dropped hard, from which point Teixeira proceeded to put on a clinic of top-control ground-and-pound. Over the course of that round, Smith landed one official strike, compared to 43 from his opponent. The bout, however, went on.
Eventually, Smith made it all the way to the 5th frame before referee Jason Herzog finally stepped in and waived off the fight. By that time, Smith had his nose & orbital bone broken, he had lost two teeth, and he had absorbed 202 strikes.
Herzog would later take to social media with an apology for his performance.
“I am responsible for each fighter I am entrusted to oversee,” Herzog wrote on Twitter. “I will take this experience, make the necessary changes, and get better.”
It seemed a reasonable action for an official charged with fighter safety, who had watched one man take a completely one-sided beating for the better part of ten minutes. Surprisingly, the man on the other end of that beating, Anthony Smith, doesn’t see it that way.
Smith responded to fan questions about Herzog’s apology on Twitter, and to his mind, the referee had no reason to apologize. He even went so far as to call Herzog’s message a “coward move.”
Coward move on his part, in my opinion.— Anthony Smith (@lionheartasmith) May 17, 2020
He elaborated on that point, that he was aware of the referee’s commands at all times, and obeyed them throughout the bout. Adding that he feels Herzog is merely responding to outside pressure to acknowledge an error where he feels none was made.
I make it a point before fights to know the commands, and what he expects out of each one before every fight. I did everything he asked and responded correctly per the pre fight meeting. Don’t wilt under a little heat afterwards cause Twitter is mean. The world is soft. Man up...— Anthony Smith (@lionheartasmith) May 17, 2020
It’s not exactly support for the referee, at the end of the day—but Smith is echoing a pretty consistent feeling from fighters in the Octagon. It has hints of the same kind of response that Dominick Cruz had to the stoppage of his bout with Henry Cejudo; where he essentially argued that as long as he’s trying to stand up in some way, the referee should let him keep going.
It’s also the kind of attitude that stands as a good reason that referees and corners need to take the job of fighter safety as seriously as possible. Fighters may be ready to die in the cage, but nobody is paying them for that—and nobody wants to see it happen.