Stop Pounding on the Referee

Being an MMA referee is not an easy task. Like officials in all sports, MMA referees have to make many judgment calls in reflexive situations and lodged in the heat of the moment. Often times, the referees are subject to Monday morning quarterback scrutiny more than the athletes themselves…and it may even begin seconds after the fight was stopped. Early stoppages are usually a subject of controversy and questions: “Was it or wasn’t it?” And after a while, the conversation seems to evaporate with time and all that is left standing is the W on the winner’s record. But with late stoppages, what sometimes results is something of a humanitarian crisis in the media world of mixed martial arts.

Such was the case this past weekend when Rick Glenn battered Gavin Tucker on his way to a lopsided 30-25, 30-24, and 29-27 unanimous decision victory. The overwhelming majority of the media have been decrying the non-stoppage of referee Kyle Cardinal as Glenn continued to pound away with one shot after another, resulting in four broken bones in Tucker’s face. I am here today to share the unpopular opinion that Kyle Cardinal can, in fact, rest easy as Tucker has tried to lull him to do after the referee has been cascaded with criticism.

Let me begin by saying that MMA is a violent sport. It is arguably the most violent sport in the world, and certainly in the top tier in that category. This does not mean safety cannot be important or even paramount, but it does mean that given the amount of fights, we can expect that there will be some bloodbaths….sometimes one-sided, sometimes back-and-forth wars. This one was the former. However, just because a fight was one-sided does not mean that it had to be stopped. Take notice that I used the word “had” and not “should.” Because had the referee stopped the fight, yes, it would have been understandable, also. But the referee made a judgment call going by the books. The referees are trained to warn a fighter who is taking a lot of punishment to fight back, move, etc. Each time Gavin seemed to be taking the worst of the beating, which was within the last three minutes of the final round, the referee did just that. He warned Tucker. And after each warning, Tucker either attempted a leglock or struggled back up to his feet, which he did even at the very close of the fight. And do you know what Tucker did next?! He gestured to Rick Glenn, “Is that all you got!?” after the sound of the final bell.

I have heard the argument that some fighters are too tough for their own good and need to be saved from themselves and that Gavin Tucker is an example of that. I say he is a warrior who, though unsuccessful as hell, was in fact making an effort to defend himself. The MMA media is making it out as if Rick Glenn was raining punches down on him uninterrupted. This is false. There were several gaps, even within the most brutal stretch of the last few minutes, where Tucker was able to hold Glenn and prevent further damage. THAT’S intelligent defense. Tucker continued to move the entire fight, which he himself pointed out after the fight in a Facebook post. He continued to try for leg locks and continued to even battle up to his feet. So how is that in spite of all that, it is the overwhelming consensus that Tucker was failed by the referee or his corner? The answer to that question is Joe Rogan.

Joe Rogan is arguably the most respected voice in the MMA community. And he is someone who has gone public many times about how he hates to watch fighters take more punishment than they have to. So he came into this fight with such a stance, which is fine, and a humane and understandable stance to have. But I think what the MMA community fails to grasp is that Joe Rogan is not the voice of MMA God, which he is sometimes made out to be. In reality, it is just one man’s opinion. Daniel Cormier, another commentator this past Saturday, who also happens to be a championship caliber fighter, stated that the fight “COULD” have been stopped. And I personally agree 100% with DC’s assessment. Rogan, on the other hand, says that it “SHOULD” have been stopped. And I’m sorry, but I will side with the fighter, Gavin Tucker, over Joe Rogan, the MMA media, and anyone else.

If Gavin Tucker wanted out of that cage or thought he could not win, he would have stopped fighting. He would have balled up in the fetal position and let Glenn punch him a few more times after the referee warned him. It happens all the time. Tucker didn’t do that. He did not want to give up. And I believe he still thought that he could win by some miracle. If Tucker, against all odds, nailed that homerun swing in the final seconds of the fight that he attempted or actually succeeded in applying one of his leg lock attempts, then we are not having this conversation right now. Instead, we would be lauding this comeback even more than the Darren Elkins vs. Mirsad Bektic bout back at UFC 209. But instead, the MMA media seems to be unanimously filing behind its MMA God as if it is scripture.

If there is one “God” in this scenario, whose voice should be put over all others, it’s that of the fighter who is telling you with his attitude during the fight AND with his words after the fight, that he was not done and that if he was going to go out, he wanted to go out on his shield. Who more important is there to hear from than that!?

“Stop blaming the ref for a bad call. That man let me go out on my shield. He visited while I was in the hospital and apologized.”

I’m sure after the backlash he has received led by the torch-bearer of the MMA media Joe Rogan, Cardinal is devastated and maybe even questioning himself as an official. And what’s really unfortunate is that this is how early stoppages happen. When referees receive, or even see, this type of criticism for letting a fighter never say die, they are quick to pull the plug on what could have been a great comeback or end what was a very anticipated matchup too soon, leaving fans to wonder if it were really over. In these matches, we seem to forget how upset the fighter was that the fight was stopped and how quickly they recovered. We just remember the W for the winner and move on. But other times, it’s devastating, especially in a much-hyped match. And when those matches are stopped early, we can see the match come a sad end, but it is HERE where those stoppages begin.

Unjust criticism to referees like Kyle Cardinal is enough to make any referee consider stopping a fight as soon as possible, especially those on the receiving end of the criticism. What we have to understand is that these fighters chose their line of work with open eyes. And if they want a way out on any given night, as stated earlier, there are ways to do that without blatantly tapping out. Gavin Tucker is not one of those guys. If you want to feel like a compassionate human being, that’s great. But share it with the true victims of the world, and there are many of them of many kinds. Maybe donate to a worthy cause for those in need. Gavin Tucker is not a victim. He is an adult who walked into that cage with open eyes and wanted to leave on his own terms. And if he was going to take his first loss in his home country, he deserved no doubt that he had no chance to win. Kyle Cardinal gave him that.

To close, I want you to pay attention to this passage from Gavin Tucker’s Facebook post. Because it says it all, and is, in fact, what I cosign to the last period:

“It was him and I in that cage. I didn’t stop fighting. He saw that. He should sleep easy.”

Those two men were in that cage. Not Joe Rogan, not Matt Serra, and not any of the other sea of MMA journalists jumping on the bandwagon to bludgeon the kind-hearted referee who was following protocol. I say kind-hearted because Cardinal did not have to go out of his way to visit and apologize to Gavin Tucker. So he is not this sadist who enjoys watching a fighter get beat up. He is a referee who gave a man fighting in his home country every opportunity to fight back….and contrary to popular opinion, though unsuccessful, that is what Tucker attempted to do.

Tucker was getting hammered. The referee warned him to fight back or defend. Tucker obeyed. That is protocol. And that is fact. Go back and rewatch the fight to verify, if you can bring yourself to stomach somebody actually getting dismantled in an MMA fight, which for some, seems to be an inhumane and shocking turn of events.

Good on you, Gavin Tucker for fighting with heart and not looking for a way out. And even better on you for being the voice of reason to the maltreated Kyle Cardinal….as the only voice in this situation that matters.

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