A quick stoppage to the Daley grind
I'm familiar with the "err on the side of caution" idiom, and I agree with it in most cases, but Saturday's stoppage was a bit premature for a couple of reasons. First of all, it was the nature of the fight. A minute before Big John McCarthy jumped in to wave off Nick Diaz, Diaz was in trouble himself, lying on his stomach after a big left and covering his head as Daley teed off. This sort of covering up is usually the last vestige of "intelligent defense," and McCarthy did what he was supposed to do -- he gave Diaz a chance to recover. A few seconds later, Diaz did.
In a back-and-forth championship fight, the same luxury wasn't given to Daley, who was rocked and went down late in the round. Maybe it was the way he went down, with his legs folding in on him, which ignited the crowd's want of a finish. But there's a reason officials clack the wood blocks together with 10 seconds left; it's as an audible reminder to the fighters but particularly to the referee as well. As Diaz came in for the finish, Daley's arms were still active and moving, and his legs were still trying to push Diaz back. Both of these actions are still intelligent. I'm not suggesting a fighter has to be unconscious for the referee to stop the fight, but given the context of the timing -- inside of 10 seconds -- a stoppage has to be a smidge more definitive, particularly with the belt on the line.
No? Look back at the Brock Lesnar-Shane Carwin title fight. There were at least a couple of times that the referee could have stopped it in the first round as Carwin wailed away at a turtling Lesnar. Referee Josh Rosenthal didn't, and it was a good thing because he'd have altered history. Same thing in Frankie Edgar-Gray Maynard II at UFC 125. Maynard was laying waste to Edgar -- who admits he had no idea where he was at that point -- and there was one moment when it would have been completely justified to wave him off. Edgar survived, and retained his belt with a draw. Judgement calls.
Daley was down, hurt, wobbled, momentarily senseless, but not out. With three seconds left and his limbs still fending off heat in a title fight, he should have been made to see the second round. He wasn't, and he won't get that back.
The referee's job is to protect!
During every fight, professional or amateur, the referee must always keep his eyes on the action. Not for a split second can his attention wander. He can't be distracted by crowd noise or concern himself with the amount of time remaining in a round -- his primary function is to assure the safety of each fighter.
"Safety is No. 1," longtime referee John McCarthy told ESPN.com on Monday. "I never care about how much time is left. It doesn't matter. It's all about, 'can a fighter safely continue on in a fight?'"
McCarthy is one of, if not the best, in mixed martial arts at assuring that each fighter under his watch leaves the cage in the best of health. It's one reason he is often selected to oversee the biggest bouts on high-profile cards. He was in the cage Saturday when Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz put his title on the line against hard-punching Paul Daley -- and the legendary ref brought his A-game with him.
Diaz and Daley went at each other nonstop. Punches and kicks were flying from all directions, and at no time did McCarthy take his eyes off the fast-paced action. Not a single person at Valley View Casino Center in San Diego had a better view of the fight than McCarthy. He was never more than 2-3 feet away.
With about a minute and a half remaining in the opening round, Daley landed a left hook that dropped Diaz. The challenger then landed several punches as Diaz covered up. But McCarthy was in position to see that Diaz was intelligently defending himself, so he allowed the action to continue. When the fighters returned to their feet, Daley was physically exhausted. A few right-left combinations to the head and body from Diaz rocked Daley, who stumbled to the canvas.
Diaz then pounced on him with less than 10 seconds remaining before the horn. With Daley on his back flailing, Diaz landed punch after punch to the head. Daley was unable to defend himself and McCarthy jumped in and correctly stopped the assault. There were 3 seconds left on the clock.
"It's not my job to make sure a fight goes to the second round; my job is to make sure the fighter is safe," McCarthy said.
And Daley, who remained on the canvas several seconds after the stoppage and then struggled to reach his stool, gets to fight another day.
'GROSS POINT BLANK'
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