UFC 166 figures to featured an instant classic for the main event as Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos look to settle the score in their rivalry. Most figure the fight will end with either a JDS knockout or Velasquez dominating on the judge's scorecards. Either way, the odds are there won't be much controversy in the cage; something that couldn't be said at UFC 164.
Prior to Anthony Pettis dethroning Benson Henderson as UFC lightweight champion in the main event, an entire arena erupted in boos for one man in particular. He wasn't a fighter, coach or even an athlete from a rival sports team being shown on the big screen. No, these boos (along with the flooding of message boards) were focused on MMA referee Rob Hinds.
To review, Hinds was the official for the UFC 164 co-main event, a heavyweight bout between Josh Barnett and Frank Mir. The fight started quickly with both men going toe-to-toe with one another. Eventually, Barnett got an advantage and pushed Mir against the cage. It was here where Barnett worked his dirty boxing, eventually landing a knee that sent Mir sprawling to the canvas.
Hinds quickly jumped in to call the fight, but Mir and the fans didn't seem happy with the decision.
Hinds is a veteran being the third man in the cage, and he spoke to Bleacher Report MMA about the now-notorious decision.
"I expected this matchup to be an aggressive, no nonsense fight…Sometimes you can sense the end over a period of time. This time it was immediate. Mir was taking punishment in the clinch. No problem there. It was when Barnett’s knee connected on Mir's temple. Mir briefly lost all neurological control and collapsed with no possible sign of any defense."
I asked Hinds to give fans (and myself) a little bit of insight into the thought process when something like this happens. After all, it’s not easy to make a judgment call to step in while two heavyweights are battling it out in the matter of a few seconds.
- Is Mir conscious/unconscious? Maybe partially conscious. Maybe not.
- Is he facing Barnett or facing the floor? Face toward the mat.
- Are Mir’s arms, legs or body in any position to intelligently defend himself? Palms and forearms were facing down. Arms were loosely above his head. Not protecting his face or head. Legs straight out with no foot, knee or leg between him and Barnett. Body turned to the side angling toward the mat.
- What is Barnett's position to finish? Is it a striking position or is he going for submission? Barnett was postured up, had knee on body with his arm cocked to do more striking damage to a defenseless Mir.
As you can see, there's plenty going on upstairs when Hinds made the call. Fans were up in arms over an early stoppage but at least this call wasn't as glaringly bad as some other calls.
Some fans argued that, “Hey this is Mir’s thing. He drops to the ground and gets his opponent to come to the ground with him.” I'm not inclined to believe that was Mir's strategy as he collapsed to the canvas and neither does Hinds.
"In No. 3, if Mir would have shown any signs of fighting back, defending himself or at least in a position to offer some resistance after that brutal knee, the fight would have continued," he said. "Mir showed none of those signs."
Another thought coming from this fight was the fact Hinds likely did Mir (and his brain cells) a favor by jumping in right away. We've seen Mir be on the wrong end of some vicious beatings (Brock Lesnar) and thunderous knockouts (Shane Carwin, Junior dos Santos). Mir’s questionable chin has failed him in the past but it wasn't on Hinds' mind the night of the fight.
"Prior knowledge of fighters is helpful as a referee, but should not be the determining factor in making a decision,” he said. “Every situation is different. Mir’s previous fights have nothing to do with the next. If a fighter is medically cleared to compete, they get the same chance as every other athlete.”
After the fight was called Mir rose to his feet to protest the stoppage and the fans erupted with boos. It’s an environment few can relate to but it’s nothing new to Hinds."
"I stood by this call 100 percent at the time (and still do). Protests are part of all sports. That’s what we sign up for. If you’re not prepared for that and are not confident in your abilities, maybe this isn't the position to be in… I am confident in my decision making, regardless of what’s going on around me. An arena can be intimidating and can affect the mindset of an unconfident or newer/inexperienced referee. This was a very good call."
I will give Hinds credit on the fact he appears to be the type of person to own up to their mistake. It's become a routine for officials in other sports to stand by their calls even when they’re so obviously wrong.
"If I would have made a mistake or realized that I did something wrong, I would definitely lose sleep over it," he said. "I take this position seriously, have a lot of pride in what I do and constantly put a lot of work into my craft."
Improving his craft as an official in the cage no doubt requires a lot of work without much payoff. Nobody notices the referee in a fight unless something controversial happens. Even though it can seem like the referee gets put on an island by himself following a controversial call, Hinds explains that’s not the case.
"Whenever decisions are made, the officials who truly care will consult with one another and get different perspectives on the same situation. It's very helpful for the growth of an official. There is a lot of peer support."
It's good to know the officials will pick the brains of one another following a fight. Just like we have three judges at different sections of the cage, it's helpful to have another set of eyes in a different position to explain what happened.
Still, it'd be easy to let something like this get to you. But Hinds explains it's always a mindset of "on to the next one."
"Bout to bout, event to event, I do not bring my previous performances into thought," he said. "That time has passed. To me, it’s a continuous evolution and learning experience. I tirelessly review as much footage as I can and break down my (and other officials’) performances so I can be better with every event."
Fans may have not liked the call immediately after it happened (I was one of them), but after seeing the replay, it's hard to say that Hinds' call was a bad one. Mir was face first and limp on the canvas. Not only was Barnett in prime position to deliver a few follow-up punches that would've scrambled Mir’s brain cells like Sunday morning breakfast, the outcome of the fight at the point wasn't in question.
All quotes were obtained by Bleacher Report MMA.