Without taking too much away from Diaz's amazing comeback win, referee "Big" John McCarthy's stoppage was premature for a number of reasons.
Without any context for consideration, the stoppage is justifiable. On a smaller event, with less at stake, an early stoppage is justifiable, and because the referees on those fights have less experience, it's better to see them play it safe rather than risking the health of young fighters and weekend warriors who would rather get stopped early rather than risking an injury that could disrupt their day jobs.
In top-league professional MMA, things should be different.
These fighters are fighting less frequently, but for more prestige, and more money. They are better at defending themselves, and they're willing to take greater risks than your average weekend warrior who is just fighting as a hobbyist.
The Strikeforce welterweight world title is important enough that referees should use all the restraint they can to keep the fight going.
It's the kind of restraint that Josh Rosenthal used to allow Brock Lesnar to come back and beat Shane Carwin. It's the restraint Yves Lavigne used when Frank Edgar was allowed the opportunity to come back against Gray Maynard.
While the stoppage tonight would have been perfectly acceptable in most situations, in a title fight, Daley deserved every opportunity.
There are a couple of other factors to consider as well.
Only a minute earlier, McCarthy had allowed Diaz to faceplant on the mat without stopping the fight. Given the restraint he used there, he should have been all the more cautious in stopping the fight should it turn the other way.
But also, the stoppage is one that asks the question about the meaning of intelligent defense.
Daley didn't have both of his hands up and was taking punches to the face, but he was also using one hand to push back Diaz's hips so that he could get his feet between himself and Diaz. He was nearly successful in doing so before the fight was stopped.
There's more to intelligent defense than simply putting your hands in front of your face, and while what Daley was doing might not have been the tactic I would have chosen myself, it still constitutes intelligent defense.
For all the criticism Yves Lavigne gets, he is one of the referees who understands this.
At UFC 75, Marcus Davis was dropped by Paul Taylor and took a series of elbows to the face. But although Davis wasn't protecting his head, he was using his arm to try to improve his position.
A similar situation happened when Thiago Tavares fought Kurt Pellegrino. Davis was able to recover and win, while Tavares recovered but still lost. Yet, although Tavares lost, it was still better that he was given the opportunity to recover.
Had McCarthy used the same criteria of defense as Lavigne, Daley might have made it to see round two.
Daley might still have lost, but given the stakes involved and the fact that Daley was still doing things to improve his situation, he should have been given every opportunity to continue fighting.