By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran
Renowned UFC referee and IMMAF Regulatory Affairs consultant Marc Goddard recently spoke with IMMAF.org to discuss why more one-sided bouts should be stopped on the feet without the need for a significant “kill shot”, plus his desire to see corner teams stepping in more frequently to save their fighters from potential harm.
From his time spent as a former MMA competitor, Goddard understands how it feels to be stuck in a losing battle: in retrospect, he has passionately identified the need for one-sided action to be halted while athletes are still on their feet.
“It’s quite simple to me,” he explained. “It’s something that’s a hot topic for me and close to my heart. Having been a competitor, and having had good nights and bad nights, I know what it’s like to take a certain amount of punishment and it stays with me.”
MMA sets itself apart from other combat sports on a great number of levels, and stoppages is one of them. One of professional MMA’s closest relatives is boxing and both sports present a very similar concept: two athletes throwing strikes at each other with a referee and corner teams present to guide and manage their fighter’s progress. One of the greatest contrasts in culture between the two sports is the act of a corner team stepping up to withdraw their fighter from a one-sided beating, whether it be during or at the end of a round, without waiting for their athlete to be finished outright.
In boxing, it is far more common for a corner team to signal for withdrawal when their athlete simply cannot assert themselves, to ensure that they leave the arena in a reasonably fresh state to fight another day. However, in the MMA world, it might come as a surprise if a competitor’s coach were to throw in the towel or call a halt to the bout between rounds.
“What hurts me most, when a fight becomes one-sided, is when the coaches or corner of a particular athlete are watching the exact same thing that I’m watching and yet they elect to send their athlete out round after round for more of the same. Something I like to do is plant a seed in the corner’s mind. If the guy or girl is on the wrong side of a beating I’ll go to the corner at the end of the round, look him in the eye and say “look after your fighter.” I’ll then go back to my spot for the rest period. I’ll be watching intently and 99.9% of the time they’ll ignore what I’m saying and send the fighter back out. Internally I’m shaking my head, because I don’t get it.
“I just don’t see enough corners acting to withdraw their fighters. It’s not them risking injury and being sidelined for three to six months. There’s so much of the athletes’ futures at stake. You want to give a fighter the chance to turn it around but when it becomes apparent that things aren’t changing, then act. The coaches are the ones who love this person and have their livelihoods at stake.”
The argument could be made that the losing athlete is aware and making the effort to ‘intelligently defend themselves’, but this rhetoric statement of faith in what a losing competitor could possibly do, should he or she survive the TKO, does not hold weight when their actions give no sign of the momentum being changed. Prolonged defence without response is a strong sign that the bout’s competitive aspect is withering.
“Here’s the point,” Goddard continued, “nothing is changing, and what I’m looking for is a fighter to show me something that’s inside them to adjust the outcome. Fifteen to twenty-five minutes is a long time to be taking a one sided beating. One round is long enough, and it will be the referee who takes the flack.”
While Goddard hopes to see corner teams stepping up more frequently on their athletes’ behalf, the vastly experienced referee detailed that officials must also recognise when an athlete is no longer competitive, and act accordingly. Over the years many MMA competitors have shown incredible heart or have possessed the ‘iron chin’ phenomenon, but the perceived durability of an individual fighter must never be taken into consideration by the official when assessing the need for a stoppage.
“There has been many a time when myself or another fighter has been in a match with our hands up and from the outside that looks like awareness and intelligent defence, but does it put a stop to what’s happening? No, that’s totally irrelevant. If you’re being punched and are unable to stop it then I’m taking the decision out of your hands. You may be awake at the finish with your arms in the air telling me you knew what was happening, but could you stop it? Could you prevent it? That’s the key, you need to effectively do something about it.
“Of course fighters are brave and they have heart but that’s not what it’s about. There’s a notion in MMA where people think you’ve got to have a kill shot, where the fight isn’t over until somebody hits the floor. I have and will stop matches when standing. It’s rare in MMA but not for a reff who knows the game. You have to recognise when a fighter isn’t capable of changing the outcome or wants out of there, whether they know this consciously or subconsciously. This is probably the most passionate thing in my mind at the moment.”
Furthermore, the magnitude of a fight, say for a world championship or with an undefeated streak on the line, must also be treated no differently from any other bout on the card.
“I will give you every opportunity to remain in the bout providing you’re active. I don’t give a damn who you are, if you’re not satisfying me that you can change the outcome. I’ve stopped a UFC world championship fight for the exact same reason – Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Jessica Penne. That became one-sided and I stopped it in the third, so I had given it sufficient time.”
Goddard believes that the lack of standing stoppages has grown from MMA’s nature of being an up-and-down sport that can go to the ground at any moment. The vast majority of matches have met their eventual conclusion on the canvas as a result of a submission, knockdown, or strikes on the ground, and this has lead to an almost subconscious understanding that a losing competitor is still capable as long as they’re standing.
“This is something I press upon when speaking to officials at the IMMAF certification courses. It comes from the fact that MMA is an up and down sport, because you can go to the ground and get back up. In most cases a match is finished on the floor, so an under-experienced reff may get caught in two minds, because they’re waiting for it to go to the floor.”
In the past it was believed that throwing in the towel was an offence. However, this notion was removed a number of years ago. Goddard feels that coaches in an athlete’s corner should have every available means to signal when their athlete needs to be saved, as they know them better than anyone.
Goddard recalled a fighter who would consistently drop his hands due to an undisclosed shoulder injury that only the athlete and corner were aware of. Nevertheless, he clarifies that the eventual decision is solely in the hands of the referee.
“Under the Unified Rules throwing in the towel is not a fowl. Some states like Nevada don’t like it but you’ll often see in boxing when towels get thrown across the ring and referees throw it back out. Only the referee chooses when to stop a fight but corners should always have the ability to signal for their athletes’ withdrawal when they see fit, because the athlete may be carrying an injury that we know nothing about. You may think a competitor’s hands are low because they’re tiring or for whatever reason, but they actually can’t raise them because they’re carrying a should injury, and only they and the corner know. I’ve seen this happen. It just takes a little more experience and education for would-be officials to be able to identify when an MMA competitor has become overwhelmed, plus a little humanity.”