Being a referee in mixed martial arts is a difficult task by any measure, and few have ever done it better than Herb Dean.
The long-time official has been the one of the top referees in the game over the past decade and has been the third person inside the cage for some of the biggest fights that have gone down over that stretch.
While the position is one that comes with a large amount of criticism and scrutiny, Dean's consistency in the way he's handled fighter safety and stepping in to stop the action when he's deemed it necessary have elevated his status and respect level to a place only a handful of MMA referees ever see.
That said, Dean has been under the microscope as of late. The California native has faced harsh criticism for judgement calls he's made in two of the biggest fights to hit the Octagon in 2014. He waived off the action between Renan Barao and Urijah Faber in the main event at UFC 169 in February and brought the Team Alpha Male leader's resurgent title run to an abrupt end.
After the Brazilian phenom dropped "The California Kid" with a flurry in the opening round, the bantamweight champion pounced on his opponent to finish the fight. Although Faber was obviously hurt, he signaled Dean with a "thumbs up" to show he was weathering the storm. Yet, despite the Sacramento representative's attempt to show he was hanging in, Barao continued to land unanswered shots, and Dean stepped in to stop the fight.
Faber immediately reacted with shock and disappointment as Barao broke into his signature celebration dance. The scrutiny on Dean's call became a highly debated topic, and he discussed his decision on a recent visit to the MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani:
He was taking big shots, he had been hurt badly, but sometimes subtle things you look at. The fact that when Barao was doing his thing where he was looking up at me, he was actually taking his posture off Urijah a little, so that made me want to check in with Urijah. He's taking his posture off [Faber] and he's not responding to that. So what I did, that's something that like, it's a tool which has been very helpful over the years, I tell the fighters to fight back, show me something, and based on their response, that's how I make my decisions.
He heard me, he attempted to show me he was OK by giving the thumbs up. My position was a good position, but was not in the correct position to see his thumb. I cannot see his thumb. I can't expect him to know where I am at all times, letting me know, usually in that position, when I ask the fighter to do something, what we go over is, they should do something to better their position. ... The thumbs is a little strange for someone in the position, usually it's something you see in a choke, but if I had seen it I would have given him a little more time to see if he would have bettered that position.
In addition to discussing the decision he made at UFC 169 in Newark, Dean also addressed the call he made several weeks later at UFC 170. He oversaw the highly anticipated women's bantamweight title tilt between Ronda Rousey and Sara McMann, and the matchup between the two former Olympians was figured to be a drawn-out and grinding affair.
Instead, the action never made it out of the opening round, as "Rowdy" dropped the Olympic silver medalist with a knee to the liver and then proceeded to unleash shots until Dean jumped in to bring a stop to the fight. Immediately upon his interjection, McMann popped back up to her feet clear-eyed and baffled by the call. This decision once again evoked a wave of criticism aimed at Dean, but it's a judgment he hasn't wavered on.
Where Dean believes Faber still had something left when he stopped the fight in Newark, he has never doubted he did the right thing in the bout between Rousey and McMann.
When you take those shots to the body, there's a spasm that happens to your diaphragm, you can't breathe, you cannot move, your legs can't move but you can move your hands. So she landed there, her face is facing her opponent, She's landed there while she's taking three or four shots to the head while still holding her stomach. I can't think of anyone, any explanation, while someone is holding their stomach and not doing anything to deal with situation, taking shots to the shots to head, why you should let her continue. The fact of what happened after the fight has nothing to do with the situation during the fight.
I definitely was sure about the call. But anytime you see a fighter, after the fight she immediately goes and stands up, well I go OK, this is a championship fight, fans are going to get upset about this probably, but I can't think of a way to do it differently.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.