Another UFC pay-per-view event, another contentious ending.
At the start of this month we had UFC 169 and the disputed stoppage of Urijah Faber at the hands of Renan Barao, and now the climax to UFC 170 has its own stench of controversy as Sara McMann’s challenge to Ronda Rousey’s UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship was called off prematurely in the eyes of many. Unfortunately for one man, the one constant in both furores was the referee, Herb Dean.
Herb Dean is rightly lauded as one of the best in the business, as his career has been littered with timely calls and sterling in-cage communication that is underpinned by consistency, but surely February 2014 is a month that Dean will be glad to see the back of.
With Rousey looking to display the work she has been putting in to her hands in the gym, the champ had McMann pressed up against the cage, working dirty boxing in with some knees to the body of McMann. When one knee landed flush to the liver, McMann crumpled and Rousey looked to follow up with some strikes. Rousey barely had enough time to connect at all, let alone convincingly, before Dean stepped in to wave this one off and he may have got away with it had McMann not begun to rise to her feet immediately after Herb brought an end to the action.
Personally, on first viewing I felt that the stoppage was premature. This was a title fight and both the challenger and the champion should be given fair and reasoned opportunity to recover, something which Dean failed to do.
But what Herb Dean did do, was his job. Dean is the third person in the Octagon for a reason and that is to officiate and have a duty of care for the fighters that needs to be exercised when necessary. Having had the chance to view the stoppage several times over from all kinds of angles, a luxury that Dean does not have at the time, Dean made the right call.
Rousey landed a solid knee to the liver and McMann was instantly down, clutching her side with her head turned away, unintelligently defending herself. No matter how long that lasted, or would have lasted had McMann been given a chance to adjust whilst Rousey teed off, is irrelevant. Having seen what was unfolding in front of his eyes, Herb Dean had to act to protect McMann from any unnecessary damage and while it may be unpopular, it was the correct call.
McMann to her credit was as gracious in the face of defeat and perceived injustice as you can be. After a mild protest, that really only consisted of a brief shoulder shrug, McMann refused to be play the blame game when questioned on the stoppage in her in-cage post-fight interview with Joe Rogan. McMann recognised that Dean is there to protect a fighter and that she should have got back to her feet quicker, which is incredibly harsh on herself as she could hardly have recovered from a liver shot with any more speed than she had done.
McMann had actually started the fight strongly, tagging Rousey with a few straight punches and on at least one occasion had the champ not quite wobbled, but definitely wary. McMann was even able to prevent Rousey from using her world-class judo to take her down, perfectly distributing her weight in order for her to block Rousey’s attempted throw, showing that she could have further success in any potential rematch at some point down the line. That is if Rousey’s development didn’t continue to accelerate between each of her fights the way it has been.
This was a different Rousey to the one we are used to. Rousey spoke of the focus on her hands in training leading up to this bout and the work clearly paid off. Rousey was keen to trade until McMann started landing, and even then Rousey did not shy away from exchanges, just altered the location, pressuring McMann away from the centre of the Octagon to the fence. It was here that Rousey would shine and eventually secure the finish after feeding McMann with a steady diet of close quarter elbows and knees to the body.
While Rousey demonstrated solid gains in her ability to strike effectively, this is still an area of her game that requires work. Too often in previous fights we have seen Rousey appear too comfortable in being prepared to take a shot to land a shot, and this was also the case in the early goings last night.
If McMann, a fighter not exactly known for her striking acumen, can land solid shots in the time it takes Rousey to effectively close the distance, then I can only imagine what Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino could do given the opportunity.
Cyborg is as vicious as they come in women’s MMA and has showcased the kind of damage her hands can do on many occasion. Cyborg has proven time and time again that if you are prepared to stand toe-to-toe with her, you are playing with fire and is something that even Rousey should be cautious of if the two were ever to meet.
Of course any potential Rousey/Cyborg matchup is dependent on a number of factors; most notably that Cyborg has never competed at 135lbs or is even signed on with the same fight promotion as Rousey. However, if these hurdles, along with several others, can be cleared Rousey may not just have a new competitor on the block, but a very real and present threat to her title.