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Cheating? Referee Herb Dean details what he looks for during controversial fence grabs

Herb Dean was the referee at UFC 278 where Leon Edwards was accused of cheating before he knocked out Kamaru Usman

In the aftermath of UFC 278, Chael Sonnen claimed Leon Edwards cheated in the lead up to the head kick that knocked out Kamaru Usman and won Edwards the UFC welterweight title.

“There’s a lot more in Leon versus Usman and nobody spoke of it,” Sonnen said on his YouTube channel. “Kamaru is apparently too much of a gentleman to, in conjunction with it appears Kamaru is going to get the rematch so there is no need for it. But Leon cheated in that match a whole bunch of times. That is not a headline or a topic that is out there anywhere, I do not want to be the one to bring that to you.

“I’m a guy that operates in the gray, I’m not giving him a hard time…for the story to be told accurately, nobody’s wanting to touch that. Leon was frustrated in positions and had no way out of positions to the extent that he cheated repeatedly, not once, not an accident, not the ref didn’t see it… the ref broke the act five or six times…”

UFC president Dana White dismissed Sonnen’s claims.

“He became champion with a head kick,” said White. “He didn’t win by grabbing the fence. I mean, he got absolutely dominated in that whole fight, except for that couple of minutes in the first round. He got absolutely dominated, and you know, that’s completely unfair of Chael Sonnen to say that.

“That kid sucked it up, dug down deep and landed literally the perfect head kick with like a minute left in the fight,” continued White. “So I would say that that’s silly, ridiculous and absolutely unfair to say about Leon.”

Herb Dean, who served as the referee of the fight, shed some light on what he looks for when considering how he deals with fence grabs and if in-cage officials should address the fouls with a warning, a position change or with a deduction of a point.

“Fence grabs are a very difficult thing to deal with in the sport because it’s a natural reaction,” Dean told Helen Yee “It’s going to happen, but to deduct a point… So let’s take a look at what a point deduction means in the sport. What does a point deduction mean? What’s the most common score that goes to the card? 29-28. So that means we have a one-point sport. For a majority of fights that happen, that go to the cards, 29-28 is the most common score. So when you take a point, that means you’ve taken a win.

“It’s not like in other sports where you have 12 rounds and you take a point, it’s a much stiffer punishment. And the majority of fights that happen, when you’ve taken a point, you’ve taken a win. To have that balance there, that point, that grab needs to significantly affect the fight and it doesn’t always have to happen right away.

“Those things are judgment calls of the referee. You’re gonna say, ‘Okay, how many times has this happened? Is there other fouls?’ Or hey, even this one time this guy has spent a lot of energy and I can’t rebuild the position in any other way and so I’m gonna choose not to give a warning at this time or take a point, so those are very difficult situations.

“What’s best is to try to rebuild the position if you can… We want to try to rebuild positions as much as we can and some situations are easier. If it’s a takedown, you can’t predict where that person would have landed, but if someone gets a superior position, at least you can take away the superior position.”

It should be noted that during the event, social media was quick to point out that both Edwards and Usman were guilty of grabbing the fence during the title fight.