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In defense of ‘early’ stoppages in MMA

Give me 1,000 early stoppages over one late stoppage

Dan Miragliotta stopped the UFC 277 heavyweight bout between Derrick Lewis and Sergei Pavlovich
Dan Miragliotta stopped the UFC 277 heavyweight bout between Derrick Lewis and Sergei Pavlovich
Photo by Alejandro Salazar/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The phrase “early stoppage” gives me agita. Whenever I hear those two words uttered together they register as, “that referee prevented me — the paying fan — from seeing a professional athlete take unnecessary damage to their brain and my entertainment is more important than the safety of that fighter.”

The most recent example of this phenomenon came at UFC 277 when referee Dan Miragliotta waved off the Sergei Pavlovich vs. Derrick Lewis bout. Miragliotta saw, at the moment he stopped the bout, a fighter, in this case Derrick Lewis, face down and in danger of taking unnecessary damage. By ending the contest, Miragliotta prevented Lewis from absorbing additional damage to his brain via strikes from Pavlovich. Miragliotta did the job the athletic commission and UFC tasked him with, ensuring the safety of the fighters inside the cage.

I didn’t have an issue with what Miragliotta did that night. I still don’t. And for those that did — and still do — I’d ask, what’s the issue? I mean, at the core, what’s the issue?

Before you ponder that question, ask yourself, do you think the fight would have turned out differently had Miragliotta let things continue? Or, do you share the opinion of former referee John McCarthy that, “I don’t think the results would have changed…” And if you think the result, had Miragliotta allowed Pavlovich to keep throwing strikes, would have still been a Pavlovich knockout victory, aren’t you really saying that the stoppage was just, fair and not early at all?

I’ll answer that. That’s exactly what you’re saying. What you’re also saying, every time you lament an “early” stoppage is that you didn’t get to see someone fully separated from consciousness — that you didn’t get closure, that the entertainer, in this case a living and breathing professional athlete, didn’t need immediate medical attention — for your enjoyment.

Sorry, but the MMA referee’s job is not to give fans some twisted sense of satisfaction from seeing a fighter unnecessarily knocked out cold. The ref’s job is to make sure the fighter is as safe and healthy as possible at the end of the fight. Miragliotta did that at UFC 277.

MMA is inherently dangerous. We know that as fans of the sport. Fighters know that. Referees know that. There’s no need to make it more dangerous by putting entertainment before safety.

I know what’s going to come up in this discussion and so I feel the need to address it, and that is pay.

The argument that the ref should let the fight continue to the point where unnecessary damage takes place because it could cost a fighter the chance to get their “full” paycheck is a bogus argument. Instead of worrying about the fighter being prevented the opportunity to get the “win” portion of their check, one should focus on the false narrative that the “win/show” pay structure makes for more exciting fights. It doesn’t. All fighters should earn a flat rate, win or lose. The referee that stops the fight “early” doesn’t cost any fighter a single cent. That responsibility falls squarely on the promotion who elects to use the antiquated “win/show” pay structure instead of paying a fighter a flat rate for their services — one that risks permanent damage to their body and brains for the sake of entertainment.

My feeling is that almost all stoppages in MMA are good stoppages if they prevent a fighter from taking unnecessary damage. I’m willing to live with the (very) rare legitimate and mistaken early stoppage. Why? Because I’d rather have 1,000 early stoppages than witness one late stoppage, because that late stoppage could be one that results in life-changing damage or even death.

So, next time there are cries of “early stoppage,” ask yourself, honestly, is the health — immediate and long-term — of an athlete worth more than your entertainment dollar? It should be.