A lot of hoopla has been made this past weekend over the main event between Cain Velasquez and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva at UFC 160 and whether or not it was an early stoppage or if it was justified. This is going to be an argument that it was indeed and early stoppage, and we’ll take a look at some recent and not so recent examples of how the fight may have played out had the referee allowed the fight to continue. We’ll also play with the notion that early stoppages are worse for fighters’ careers than poor judging or even late stoppages based on the fact that there are still so many unknowns.
When referee Mario Yamasaki called the fight at 1:21 of the first round, the first thing Silva did was look the referee directly in the eye and protest the stoppage. Then he stood up under his own power and calmly walked to the side of the cage as normally as could be. If an observer had only seen the fight after Mr. Yamasaki had called it, there would be nothing in the actions of Bigfoot to indicate that he had just received a slight concussion. Add to that the fact that he attempted to stand up twice mere seconds before indicates that he was in fact intelligently defending himself, the other criteria for stopping the fight. So what might have happened had the referee continued to let them fight?
Outcome #1: Velasquez would have continued to demolish Bigfoot en route to a TKO or unanimous decision the way he did with Junior dos Santos at UFC 155. Let’s be honest, Velasquez was the clear favorite in this fight for a reason. By all accounts he is the superior fighter and almost every fight analysts had Velasquez with his hand raised at the end of the night. In this outcome, the referee simply saved Silva from a more severe beating.
Outcome #2: Bigfoot stops Velasquez with strikes. This scenario is the second-most likely outcome to this fight. As evidence by the first fight on FOX (and to a lesser extend the fight with Cheik Kongo), Velasquez is capable of being knocked out. And Silva is known for his power and his ability to recover. Silva only received 18 significant strikes from Velasquez in their fight at UFC 160 – compare that to the 51 strikes he received from Alistair Overeem in their fight at UFC 156 (source: FightMetric). That’s almost three times the amount of strikes he was able to absorb while still managing to knock out one of the most feared strikers in the division.
Outcome #3: Bigfoot submits Velasquez. Although less likely, Bigfoot is a BJJ black belt and capable of submitting foes from his back. If one finds it hard to believe that a fighter can win by submission after taking a fierce beating in the first round, look no farther than Brock Lesnar’s fight with Shane Carwin at UFC 116. Few, if any, gave Lesnar a chance after his first round drumming by Carwin, and even fewer would have ever thought that Lesnar would have won by submission. Is it outside the realm of probability? Yes. Is it outside the realm of possibility? No.
Outcome #4: Velasquez submits Bigfoot. Although even less likely than the previous outcome, it is still not completely impossible. Can a wrestler-turned-striker submit a high-level BJJ black belt? Look no farther than Jon Jones’s submissions over both Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort. As unlikely as it would be, it would at least have been a definitive end to the fight.
So there you have it, four different scenarios with four solid outcomes. No questions as to who would have won the fight and no unnessasary damage done to either fighter. In a poor judges’ decision, most of the fans know who “actually” won the fight and the UFC has even gone so far as to award winning bonuses to fighters on the losing end of poor decisions (Nam Phan in his first fight with Leonard Garcia, for example.) But early stoppages are so clearly disconcerting for all involved. It robs the losing fighter of a chance at victory, the fan of a longer fight, and even the winning fighter of a clear-cut, undisputed “W” in the win column. Early stoppages also rob the fighters and viewers of opportunities to witness one of the greatest spectacles in sports, the comeback. Imagine if the referee had stopped the Lesnar/Carwin fight in the first round? Or if the referee had seen enough in the Overeem/Silva fight to not allow it to go to the third? Or if the referee had stopped the Velasquez /Kongo fight after Velasquez got dropped the second time and couldn’t get off his knees? In all these instances the fight was allowed to go on and the fighter who appeared to take the most damage won and changed the MMA landscape. Would Velasquez have been able to put Bigfoot away? Would Silva have been able to rally back and take the belt? I don’t know. That’s why we let them fight. It’s only when the officials don’t allow the fight to play out are we left with continued questions – and the fighters, fans, and sport of MMA suffers for it.