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Editorial: Dan Hardy-Herb Dean incident reminds us oversight is overdue for MMA officials

Athletic commissions and fight promotions need to step up oversight of all MMA officials

Herb Dean did not have the best night of his career on Saturday. The veteran referee made three questionable calls during the UFC on ESPN 14 fight card. Two of those calls were of the fight ending variety. The second of those two, the stoppage in the Francisco Trinaldo vs. Jai Herbert fight drew the ire of UFC commentators Paul Felder and Dan Hardy. The pair felt that stoppage was late. They were not alone. A fair number of fans, fighters and media voiced the same opinion on social media.

I will not bash or defend Dean. MMA referees have a stressful job. The promoters and commissions task them with preserving the health of the fighters in a sport that is inherently unhealthy. An MMA referee who is performing their job properly knows how much hinges on them getting things right every time they step into the cage or ring.

That has to be stressful, but that’s the job. Just like pilots, doctors and nurses, when an MMA referee has a bad day at the office, the cost could be catastrophic. That’s why it’s so important that referees — and judges — be held accountable for their decisions. That rarely takes place. That needs to change.

This isn’t a new or novel idea. A quick search brought up stories on the subject from 2010, 2015 and 2017, but here we are in 2020 rehashing a subject that’s been discussed ad infinitum. It’s mind boggling that MMA officials face so little oversight in a sport as dangerous to its athletes as MMA.

Not only do the officials face few repercussions, but when someone like Hardy confronts a referee, the first reaction from those who oversee fights isn’t to look into the referees performance, but to say they will investigate Hardy. That is ludicrous.

Instead of looking at Hardy or anyone who has the audacity to question an official, the correct thing to do is to sit back — with an open mind — and ask if the charges have any merit. If they do, the correct call isn’t to go after the messenger, but to question the official.

If the fear is the official will take the grilling personally, well, that’s good, they should. That would indicate that they take their job and role seriously. However, the inquiry must never be personal. The goal is to get an explanation and then work from there. Something like the “5 Whys” would be a great way to investigate a disputable decision.

The “5 Whys” is looking at a moment in time and asking why five times (more or less). By the time you get to the fifth why, the root cause of the decision should come to light and both parties can move onto breaking the issue down and seeing if the official made the correct decision.

In Dean’s case, the first why would be something like “do you think you made the right decision to stop the fight when you did?” Supposing Dean answers to the affirmative, the next question would be “why do you think you made the right call?” From there, the party looking into the matter would continue to ask why until the root cause of the decision is determined.

That procedure of researching questionable calls can be private or public, but it needs to happen and it needs to happen with all commissions and promotions.

To just close the book on a questionable decision and to go after someone like Hardy sends the wrong message to everyone, including the officials. If the officials are never questioned, they will never improve and they will also believe they are doing an exemplary job when they may not be meeting the standard of their occupation.

Most jobs have accountability in the form of managerial reviews or peer reviews or something of that nature. So, why don’t MMA officials receive the same scrutiny that almost any other worker gets? They should. To not do so is a systematic failure.

Being an MMA official is a hard job, but it is not a job that should be beyond oversight. The goal of monitoring performance should be an improvement in scoring and in fighter safety. Athletic commissions should stress that fact. Any official resistant to oversight with the goal being improvement and safety should ponder if the position of MMA official is right for them. Any commission or promotion that is reluctant to hold its officials accountable should ask themselves that same question.

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