Referees in MMA have a pretty tough job. Not only do they have to adjudicate the action, ensuring both combatants stay within the rules of the fights, but they also have to ensure the wellbeing of both fighters is maintained. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that fighters are so skilled that the course of a fight can change in an instant. Referees need to be on the ball to dive in at any moment.
Despite being one of the most experienced MMA referees in the business, Herb Dean was the subject of significant scrutiny after waving off a fight somewhat prematurely after Sabah Homasi went down to escape a barrage of strikes by Abdul Razak Alhassan at UFC 218. The preliminary card stoppage caused an immediate backlash as commentators and fans admonished Dean for jumping the gun.
Alhassan (8-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC) had Homasi (11-7 MMA, 0-2 UFC) against the cage and in a lot of trouble with a minute to go in the first round. As Homasi dodged and weaved he was even able to land a few counter punches of his own. But then a shot from Alhassan forced Homasi down to a knee, causing referee Dean to intervene.
Post-fight, Alhassan was quick to defend the veteran ref, saying:
“I would never say the referee did a bad job. The referee is there to make sure we’re safe and we don’t hurt each other or put somebody in a position that’s going to put them in the hospital. But the position I was in, I’m sure he thought he was in danger. The way he dropped, he dropped really quick. When he dropped he kind of held my leg so I knew he was still in there a little bit. I won’t blame the referee for stopping it early.”