You know, I really do love watching fights. It is that fact that makes it difficult to reconcile with my own personal feelings about the sheer brutality of combat sports sometimes. By now we’ve all seen what happens to some fighters after their careers are over; we’ve seen the punch drunk fighter whose life after the ring, the bright lights, the gold belts and the crowds are all over becomes painful to watch. It’s the stuff that goes against the company line that the UFC tends to hold of MMA being the safest, most regulated sport in the world.
The truth is, sometimes it is far from safe, sometimes it is brutal. It becomes brutal because humans are involved throughout the whole thing, humans who can become emotionally compromised and caught up in a moment. Referees, judges and even cornermen are there to ensure that fighters are able to perform and to be safe, yet there are fights like last night’s UFC Heavyweight Championship bout where it felt like everyone failed Junior Dos Santos in an attempt to give him that last shot at throwing a Hail Mary and defeating Cain Velasquez.
If you saw the fight last night it was pretty clear that in round three Junior Dos Santos was knocked out. He was down on the ground, only covering up out of reaction and clearly not all there still. When he somehow fought back to his feet he was only quickly put back down onto the mat with ease, which should have been the point where seasoned referee Herb Dean said that enough is enough and stopped the fight. He gave Dos Santos his fighting chance by not stopping it seconds before, but we were at a point where Junior Dos Santos and his fortitude were becoming a danger to himself.
Junior Dos Santos was a man defeated, a man who was only being held up by the chain link fence of the cage and his opponent Cain Velasquez, yet there was still fight left in him, somehow. When he slunk back to his corner after surviving the round there was no way that I saw a doctor or JDS’s corner allowing him to continue. He put up a valiant effort and had Cain stung a few times, but Cain had ultimately won the fight. Yet, somehow, they pushed what was just his rotting carcass back into the ring for the fourth round where he continued to receive damage.
It was a bit difficult to fathom that a guy that was hurt as badly as he was in that fight was allowed to continue. All of the talk of fighter safety and “safest sport in the world” was temporarily thrown out the window in misguided attempts at allowing JDS to retain his pride and to put on an entertaining fight. Yes, JDS was still winging shots that were sometimes connecting, but it felt more like muscle memory and a testament to just how hard these guys train their bodies to perform. He was running on pure instinct at that point, it was a survival mechanism, as he was hurt so badly.
Miraculously he survived the round and it felt like it was time to have mercy on his brain, which was on the receiving end of some serious trauma and being continually poked and prodded afterwards. Then, somehow, without logic or reason, he was once again pushed out into the ring to square off with a still game and still aware Cain Velasquez. This was the point where the fight went from being entertainment to just being perverse and brutal. This man was hurt and hurt very badly and had no place within the ring anymore. We’ve seen fights stopped while fighters were still aware because they were going to receive damage that they didn’t need to, only for them to pop up and complain instantly.
Those fights we always talk about fighter safety and protecting them from themselves. Sadly, no one was there to protect Junior Dos Santos as he continued to take shot after shot to his skull as round five wore on. He eventually went for what was the most haphazard headlock that could be called a choke on Cain, only for Cain to throw his body to the mat, as JDS simply came along for the ride, with JDS’s head ramming into the mat at terminal velocity. JDS immediately held his head in agony after it smacked against the ground, while Cain got up and threw a few more punches to his head and Herb Dean finally showed mercy and stopped the fight.
I saw a few people on Twitter trying to put a positive spin on it, that Herb Dean took mercy on JDS by stopping the fight, but more people were just talking about how difficult it was to watch the fight after a certain point and that the stoppage should have come a lot sooner. Even Dana White after the fight, when he was recapping the event with Rogan on the broadcast, spoke about how the fight should have been stopped in the third round and how JDS’s will to fight probably did him more harm than good in the end. That is Dana White, the ringleader at the circus that wants everyone to jump through their hoops in time.
There are a lot of regulations within MMA to protect the fighter, but fighters themselves should not be responsible for deciding if fights can continue or not. No fighter, with the future of their careers and legacies on the line, are going to say, “nah, I should just stop now, I think.”