While we spend our time in the media criticizing every minor misstep that every referee, judge, promotion, president, advertising company, etc. make, I feel it best to sing the praises of MMA's best referee—Herb Dean—and use him as an example that all fans, referees, and fighters should expect and/or strive for.
When refereeing you have three major responsibilities—protect the fighters' safety, enforce the rules, and be in position to see the action while never interfering in a fight.
While I make that sound so simple, in fact, it's not.
Protecting the fighters encompasses stoppages. Rules, addressing fouls and other illegalities, and being in position can be the bane of even the best of referees.
But Herb Dean stands above them all right now. Nobody has better understanding of when to stop a fight, and it was evident at UFC 107.
Steve Mazzagatti would have stopped the Sanchez vs. Penn fight at the first knockdown, depriving the fighters the opportunity to settle the matter themselves.
While Herb Dean hovered looking for the perfect moment where a fighter can no longer defend himself. Despite being dominated, Diego didn't quit, never stopped defending himself, and was never removed from his senses.
Ultimately Deigo survived, and gutted out five rounds of whooping. But that's not the point, the fighters (or doctors) decide when a fighter is finished—not the referees. However long the odds appear, all it takes is one guy to slap on a guillotine, or armbar to change a fight forever.
Now, imagine if Minotauro had spent his whole career being reffed by men like Steve Maz? What would his record look like? A career of surviving the impossible, overcoming seemingly lethal strikes and winning fights with clinical submissions would be gone.
A legend would be lost forever, deep in the mustache of Steve Mazzagatti.
As other referees have faltered with the rules (Mario Yamasaki), Herb Dean has full understanding of them, and put them on display during the TUF 10 stoppage between Kimbo Slice and Roy Nelson.
Caught in a crucifix, Kimbo could no longer intelligently defend himself, and Dean correctly stopped the bout, causing a baseless uproar from the MMA community.
Even though it's his weakest area, caused mostly by unfortunate wardrobe choices, Herb Dean is never out of position when it matters the most.
At UFC 107, he stopped a bout between Frank Mir and Cheick Kongo. With both fighters in awkward positions up against the cage, and no way to tell how deep Mir had a guillotine choke, Herb Dean leaps in the moment Kongo stopped moving, and checks his arm—out cold.
At UFC 48, he was possibly the only man in the world to see in real time Tim Sylvia's arm had broken, while caught deep in another of Frank Mir's submissions.
While Sylvia protested and moved his arm for Herb, he stuck to his guns. X-Ray's showed a fracture three inches above the elbow and replays showed it to the fans later—which still plays today in Mir highlight packages.
Sylvia later admitted that he knew his arm was broken and wanted to keep fighting in spite of it, but he thanked Herb for saving his career by ending the fight when he did.
If I had it my way, Herb Dean would be the only referee allowed to oversee UFC numbered events.
I think that's the biggest complement I can give any referee.
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