The UFC Needs To Change Its Stoppage Rules, Badly

The UFC Needs To Change Its Stoppage Rules, Badly
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Joe Lauzon knew his opponent was done. Problem is, the referee didn’t.

Over the weekend, UFC on Fox 16 saw TJ Dillashaw demolish Brazilian skull crusher Renan Barao even more decisively than he did the first time around. And while it was a stunning display of hot fist-on-face action, it wasn’t the defining moment of the event. At least, not for me.

That moment came a few fights earlier, when lightweights Joe Lauzon and ageing Japanese legend Takanori “The Fireball Kid Grown-Up” Gomi squared off to get the fight card rolling. It was a brief yet action-packed bout, evenly contested on the feet but so lopsided that you could use it as a piano ramp on the ground. Before long, Lauzon — one of the most prolific finishers in the whole UFC — took Gomi’s back and started raining down punches on a helpless Gomi. Referee Herb Dean stood by and watched — attentive, but unconvinced that Gomi needed saving.

After an uncomfortable handful of seconds, Gomi stopped resisting. The ref stepped in, but he didn’t end the fight. So Lauzon did something I’ve never seen a fighter in such a dominant position do: he got off Gomi, stood up, and walked away, risking a clear cut victory in the process. Gomi got off the ground too. Fortunately for Lauzon, the referee ran over to Gomi and — realising he was busted up, dazed, and on the brink of unconsciousness — declared him unfit to fight. So J-Lau got the W after all.

The UFC Needs To Change Its Stoppage Rules, Badly

At the time, it seemed like Lauzon decided to have mercy on a fallen foe, a former champion he grew up admiring. As it turns out, Lauzon thought the fight was about to be stopped and stood up a little early. Ultimately, though, the situation still broke down the same way: Lauzon didn’t want to hit Gomi anymore, the ref wasn’t convinced despite the fact that Gomi had absorbed quite a bit of punishment, and Lauzon walked away. The problem with this picture? Part of the referee’s job is to protect fighters. If it gets so bad that a fighter has to call their own fight, something has gone wrong.

Now, I’m not saying Herb Dean is a bad ref. He’s actually one of the better ones in MMA, in my opinion. But MMA refs are, at best, inconsistent with their stoppages. Sometimes they let a fighter eat a few too many punches. Occasionally they let a fighter eat way too many punches. This is because MMA is not like boxing; if a fighter hits the ground, the fight keeps going. It’s up to the ref to decide whether or not a fighter is “intelligently” defending themselves and, if not, stop the fight. But that’s wholly subjective. One ref might see a person turtled up, praying for the sweet release of death, while another might see a crafty snake of a combatant coiled and waiting to strike. Sometimes they mistake the former for the latter, other times the latter for the former.

That’s horseshit. When the difference between life and death (or a decent retired life and severe long-term brain damage) is in your hands, there’s no room for you to be wishy washy about it. But I don’t blame the refs. I blame the system, the rules.

The UFC Needs To Change Its Stoppage Rules, Badly

I do not envy MMA refs, nor do I think I could do their job — as it is currently outlined — better than them. They’re trained professionals, and they make the right calls more often than not. But, straight up, they’re part of a shit system. It’s high-time for an overhaul, one that sets rules in stone, concretely defines them instead of saying, “Uhhhhh, I dunno. You figure it out in the heat of the moment surrounded by a blaring crowd as a human being gets punch-paddled down the River Styx right before your eyes.”

It could be as simple as specifying a number of a punches a grounded fighter can take before a ref must declare a fight over. Yes, I know that doesn’t allow for the fact that some fighters hit much harder than others — and I imagine we’d see some annoyingly early stoppages as a result — but that’s just an example solution. My point is, something needs to be done. I love MMA, I love a brain-sloshing slugfest as much as anybody, but even I feel sick to my stomach when I see a fighter who’s clearly done continue eating shot after shot — especially when they’re older and more fragile, ala Gomi. It’s like they’re getting the life punched right out of them. It’s heartbreaking.

The current stoppage system feels like a holdover from a much earlier era of MMA. The rules underpinning it are imprecise, sloppy. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to see MMA become limp-wristed point fighting. The sport is great because of how close to A Real Life Fight it is. Plus, some of the best moments in fight history are comebacks, moments when a fighter on the brink of defeat surges back and smashes their opponent with a thick slab of indomitable will. But things need to be codified, specified at least a little. And with the right sort of rules in place, I think the UFC could cut down on early stoppages as well as glaringly late ones. There’d need to be some serious thought put into how to do it right, but I do think we could end up with a “best of both worlds” situation.

Bottom line: stoppages can’t be as hyper-subjective of a thing anymore. They just can’t. The current system endangers fighters, frightens or irritates fans, and occasionally makes MMA look unnecessarily (and inaccurately) savage to newcomers.

A couple days ago, my girlfriend sent me a Daily Beast article where the author suggested that bare-knuckle fighting would be safer in the long run than current UFC policies, based on the brutal Lawler vs MacDonald fight from a couple weeks ago. I don’t agree, but it’s eye-opening that a seemingly rational human being would even be driven to that conclusion. I mean, we’re talking about bare knuckle fighting. Broken hands, busted skulls. Not a good look for a professional sport. But the feeling behind the piece, the essence of it, struck a cord. The UFC needs to revise its rules before somebody really gets hurt.

Image credit: Getty.

To contact the author of this post, write to [email protected] or find him on Twitter @vahn16.


  • More UFC?
    Just out of interest, what is the click-through rate on these articles, I’m guessing it is high enough that they keep running, but it kind of seems like having stories about the NRL or Hockey or Darts championships, more for a sports site than a gaming site?

    • I’m intrigued as well. The uptick in UFC articles in the last few months is kind of annoying me when it’s just about the fight, the rules etc and no link to gaming.

      • While I understand the site is meant to cater towards nerd culture,gaming,comics,sci-fi etc. I don’t understand why something you don’t have to read is annoying to you, I could understand if it was a gif with a single sentence article but, these are usually pretty fleshed out articles and interesting to read if you have a mild interest in MMA. There are plenty of other things posted on Kotaku that don’t directly relate to gaming.

        • The point is, if I wanted to view an article on UFC/MMA I would go to a UFC/MMA website. I come to kotaku because they are supposed to be a gaming related website, not an MMA opinion blog. If they have recently changed their focus then fine, but last I checked they were still mainly gaming.

          As for the other articles that have no direct relation to gaming, not necessarily happy about them either, but UFC articles have definitely increased in number recently. I have to wonder, if the writers have enough time to write a detailed piece on UFC, while posting single sentence gaming clickbait (the supposed focus of the website), maybe they are working for the wrong people, or there is not enough gaming news to go round…

          • Isn’t the point that the site isn’t about solely you? The one constant I see in all the arbitrary negativity is (besides the flimsy and illogical argument) that everyone is using the word “I” constantly as if they’re the only thing to be satisfied by a site on the internet. Who gives a shit what you want? If I wanted, I could go find a UFC article somewhere but I don’t care that much, I’m happy to either read or ignore the one a week we get along with many other articles with no direct link to gaming but are intrinsically a part of the culture whether it specifically applies to you or not. But then again, doesn’t matter what I want, do others want it? Yeah, seems like it. Does it share a culture with gamers? Yes, the link is strong and documented. Furthermore, something you have choice over and provides no quantifiable consequence shouldn’t annoy you, it’s pretty unhealthy.

            Everything you are espousing is ignorant and generalised, to the site, to the topic, to gaming news and even the managerial structure of Kotaku. If you go through life solving your problems with the mentality of a racist (no information, assumptions, ignorance and self indulgence), nothing will make sense to you because you’re the problem.

          • I think it is more that the articles on UFC are way more detailed, passionate and well written than the ones about gaming. And they are writing UFC articles pretty regularly.

          • their game coverage basically forces you onto other sites anyways. it will be sad to see you go, but you do what you must

        • Don’t think I really deserved a downvote Crona, but whatever floats your boat I guess.

          As @razgrizace summarised so well below it wouldn’t be such an issue if the actual gaming articles are well… pretty shit a lot of the time to be honest. I already ignore the Brian Ashcraft article abortions that are opinion pieces on Japan and bs etc, I just think this is getting a little out of hand if I have to start ignoring an increasingly large number of articles when the site is meant to be focused on gaming. Wouldn’t you find that kind of annoying? Same reason I stopped reading 😛

          • Just went through 4 pages, starting at the front and there were about 24 articles purely about gaming or gaming related.. there was 6 that were unrelated. Roughly 86-87% if I’m doing the maths right in favor for gaming related news, I honestly can’t see how 13-14% of news articles could bother you that much really. There are UFC video games so you can pretend he is talking about the game perhaps?

            If the gaming articles bother you go to Gamasutra or something else. Personally I don’t use Kotaku as my serious “gaming news” website, they update there information fast so you’ll know when something gets announced but if you want more information you’ll have to look elsewhere.

            While I dislike the single gif and sentence combo that pops up on occasion I’ve learnt that it won’t change so why bother complaining, it takes less than a second or two to go back a page and continue scrolling.

    • Lots of ignorant people feel very simply about things precious to others and not to them, here they all are, asking questions decisively answered by everyone with a functioning level of awareness and inclusivity many years ago when they first ran them. (they also read Kotaku’s mission statement) Kotaku is a cultural site dealing with modern gaming culture and all that is under the umbrella. The assumption is that people are not to feel aggression when they have an incorrect perspective of “culture” nor would they decide to hold others to this misinformation. Anime, animation and other forms of media have no direct link to gaming either but rather fall under the umbrella of “gaming culture” by way of association and form of discussion.

      When someone asks “why?” everyone moderately aware of the cultural link is looking at you as if you are asking something ridiculous and just leave you alone because it’s better not to get involved in nonsense arguments (I don’t mind nonsense arguments) when the instigator shows an inability to be considerate of perspectives that extend past theirs. Just know that people are very aware of the cultural link and are able to respect it even if it’s not something they hold, nor is it anything forceful enough that you can’t exercise “choice” in your navigation of the site. I fail to see how anything you have a choice in engaging can be “annoying” to any reasonable individual. It’s probably just simpler to ask people just to not be a dick and assume everyone else is wrong just because you don’t understand something.

      • Wow, that may be the most verbose and condescending answer to a simple question I have read in quite some time. Maybe simply directing people to the fact that the culture aspect of the mission statement would have been a more constructive approach? We’re not all on this site 24/7, nor has everyone been around forever. Kotaku is sold by people I know as a gaming site. To know that the mission statement is broader makes more sense.

        Thanks for making me feel inferior though, that took some proper word-smithing.

          • Anime and animation have pretty solid ties to gaming, more so than UFC by a long shot.
            But really, the issue is that UFC is a sport, and the coverage it gets here is better than the gaming coverage as far as in-depth articles go. My own feeling is that they should write for a sports site if they enjoy that more than they do writing about games, and have people on the games site that , you know, are passionate about gaming.

  • Again, why is this on Kotaku?
    Not exactly sure how this applies.

    Make another website. I dunno, Sportaku, and post it there.

      • If you click through on the tags for the recent spate of UFC/MMA articles you’ll notice that they’re all penned by Grayson.
        There will be a population of readers who enjoy both MMA and videogames, the articles are likely targeted at them. For the rest of us who dislike or are disinterested in MMA, we can either ignore the single weekly article or read something interesting about an aspect of entertainment we are not familiar with.

        • Yeah good take, Serrels also did one or two recently but clearly labelled them as off topic 🙂

          I actually do read the articles and it kind of reminds my why I stopped watching UFC a while back! It’s a little too reliant on grappling these days.

  • Here’s the finish in question.

    Had Joe not gotten up, Gomi would have taken no more than one or two shots more before the fight was stopped. Not nearly as bad as it’s made out to be.

    The current method of referee stoppages isn’t perfect, but it’s the best method available. There are very few questionable stoppages if you’re taking a wide look, it’s only when you go looking for poor stoppages that it looks like there’s an issue.

    As an aside, if Kotaku US insists on publishing articles about MMA, they may want to hire someone with more than a casual interest in the UFC.

    • One or two more shots is all it takes to do severe lasting damage though. The guy was seriously being wailed on. That’s not being oversensitive to it, it’s just looking at that particular fight and saying ‘Yeah, he was clearly out of it and beaten, it should’ve been stopped way earlier…’

      • You’re not wrong, but take a look at it again, Herb Dean is right on top of it and even looks like he’s going in to stop it. There’s every chance that fight could have been stopped before another punch was even thrown. The only thing that makes this look like a poor stoppage is Joe getting up and walking away. Had he not done that this would have been treated exactly the same as any other TKO.

        • True that and most of this is in retrospect while analysing the fight. I’m honestly betting even Herb looks at it now and thinks ‘I probably shoulda stopped that five seconds earlier…’ himself. Oh well, what’s done is done. MMA is incredibly hard to referee but not impossible but I’m sure Herb observes every fight multiple times from multiple angles to improve himself after like every good ref usually will.

    • That’s what I thought. The fight couldn’t have been stopped BEFORE Lauzon threw that last punch, and there’s nothing to suggest that the ref wasn’t one punch (or less) away from stopping the fight.

      Joe was in the unique position of being the ONLY person who knew Gomi was out (maybe including Gomi), props to him for not trying to maul the guy but I don’t know what the ref could have done before the shot unless we’re calling fights as soon as a guy gets into a dominant position.

      The Barao stoppage was way more dangerous but again a perfect example of how hard it would be to make a rule for these things. He didn’t even go down, how do you make a flat rule for that without letting the referee use his own common sense?

    • if Kotaku US insists on publishing articles about MMA, they may want to hire someone with more than a casual interest in the UFC.

      100% agree. This article is outright embarrassing.
      The UFC follows the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, and they are allocated refs by the local regulatory body with the exception of areas that don’t have one. The UFC has NO say in what constitutes an early or late stoppage. They can and do complain about things that need or they would like to be changed, (12-6 elbows for example) but that doesn’t mean the commission will alter rules.
      Great refs like Herb Dean will base the amount of damage dealt with the two fighters in question taken into account. Some can and are prepared to take more damage than others, and some can deal more. Having a number of required hits as a basis is truly idiotic. There is a huge range of difference in power and damage given per hit and fighter based on a huge range of factors.
      Let’s say the limit is 5. I would happily take 6 unprotected hits from Lauzon over two from Shane Carwin

      the author suggested that bare-knuckle fighting would be safer in the long run than current UFC policies, based on the brutal Lawler vs MacDonald fight from a couple weeks ago. I don’t agree, .

      Again, this is truly ignorant. That fight would have finished much earlier and with far less damage to both athletes had it been bare-knuckled. The author should test this out by getting 5 hits from someone with hand raps and 4 oz gloves vs bare knuckles. I am willing to bet that they would be far happier to receive the bare knuckled hits, and the person delivering them, would be less happy giving them. There is no conjecture here, science has proven it for you that far more force and damage is applied with hand raps and gloves.

  • Clicked on this to express the same sentiments, amazed to find two others before me with the same thoughts. Is there some resident wannabe thug/caveman at Kotaku who gets a boner over this poopykins? Stick it on website for angry insecure brahs. Don’t know why here.

  • It wasn’t that bad – JLo just did the honorable ( not smartest ) thing and stopped throwing down when he knew his opponent was done. Like a previous commenter mentioned, it would only have been another 1 or 2 shots landed before herb dean would have called it off.

    It doesn’t signify that the ref got it wrong at all.

  • No complaints on the UFC content from me, if we can put up with countless cosplay articles, we can enjoy the occasional article about people punching faces and other awesome stuff!

    Like most laws the most important part is that the people interpreting them do so correctly. The standard of “intelligently defending” is a pretty reasonable one providing the refs get it right.

    I don’t see how you could implement a ‘punch counter’ for a stoppage or something like that. It would just result in otherwise ridiculous results “he only hit me 12 times before you stopped it! I thought I had 3 more to move!” or guys raining down a hail of highly exhausting “slappsies” on a downed opponent who’s defending just fine and taking no damage at all.

    Hell, the Renan Barao stoppage from last weekend was worse than the Gomi ‘non-stoppage’ and he didn’t even go down. How on earth do you create a concrete rule that removes referee discretion, doesn’t have fights stopped arbitrarily AND protects the safety of a fighter? You can’t. Even things like boxing’s ‘3-knockdown rule’ can’t be applied to MMA.

    Maybe one day we’ll have access to a technology which can calculate aggregated head trauma and call off the fight automatically or something, but until then you need referee discretion for the same reason you need judges- not all offences and defences are equal.

  • So what exactly is wrong with the suggestion to get rid of padded gloves? Sure fighters would risk breaking their hand when punching as hard as they currently do, but the point is that doing so would lose them the match so they would be less inclined to do so.

    • Getting rid of the gloves would make the sport unrecognisable. It’d be like allowing soccer players to use their hands to punch the ball- the entire sport would be transformed.

      Punches would be decreased but kicks, elbows and palm-strikes would be increased. Broken hands and fingers would go through the roof….

      Modern combat sport techniques have all been based around the idea that your hand is either protected or expendable (ie not something you’re going to want to break every month if you want to make a career fighting). You’d have to go back a few hundred years to pre-glove era boxing to brush up on your old-timey boxing stance, back when guys learnt not to use their shoulders in punches because the force would break their hand.

      • The linked Daily Beast article says that UFC originally held its matches without gloves, which isn’t that long ago. And many martial arts are practised today without padded gloves. Sure the sport would change, and it might increase the incidence of certain injuries, but it would also decrease the incidence of other injuries.

        The article also compares american football to rugby, which are somewhat similar games. Does it strike you as odd that the game where players are well protected is also the one with a bigger problem with concussions and brain injury?

        • I wouldn’t argue that removing the gloves wouldn’t make the sport safer. It clearly would.
          Banning strikes all together would alleviate both problems, but that’s not really the point of combat sports is it?

          The original matches were fought without gloves, but the standards and techniques were extremely different. If you watch those early fights most of them were massive mismatches which lasted less than a minute or two and I can’t remember any where two guys had a respectable standup battle. The guys were always off balance, didn’t know what to expect from each other, had very little or no takedown defence, weren’t encumbered by rules (headbutts and now-illegal striking techniques were both acceptable) and most fights were wild scrambles.

          In a fight like that you don’t need gloves as much, in your modern day version of the sport where both guys stand in front of each other and engage in a technically correct manner then yeah…. hands will break constantly.

          Taking the gloves out would certainly result in more hand injuries and less head injuries, but it’d come at a huge cost to the purity of the sport as well as the spectacle (gloves were brought in to boxing to actively encourage guys to punch the head).

  • There’s plenty of non-gaming stuff on here, anime, stuff about Asia in general, TV shows, all of which have no link to gaming but no-one complains about them

    As for the article, are there any studies on the long term effects of MMA? Their bodies go through a lot of punishment and by allowing fighters to continue punching someone’s head while they’re pretty much defenceless on the mat isn’t going to leave a happy retirement for more than a few fighters

    • You are prejudiced? Dude, just think. So much bad shit goes down because people think being reactionary and ignorant is some kind of affirmation of their moral fibre.

      • I’m amazed at how much you’ve managed to extrapolate from my four word post.
        Apologies if I offended you. I have to admit, the clip above was the first footage I’ve ever seen of MMA in action. Not to my taste, but each to their own.

  • Yeah awesome, haven’t seen the fight yet, so thanks for the spoilers! Seriously, you could have at least kept it out of the first paragraph so I didn’t read it as I’m scrolling through the home page. And maybe even use a different picture that doesn’t spoil the whole god dam fight

    And no, the UFC doesn’t need to change its stoppage rules. Lets not try and nanny up one of the few sports that is still ‘real’. How many fights have we seen that have stopped early, where the fighter could have kept going without a problem

    For the record, I enjoy these articles, just stop spoiling the fight in the first paragraph so that I can at least scroll passed the artcile if I haven’t seen the fight yet

    • I self impose a media/email/social media blackout when UFC is on, but still come to kotaku as I feel it’s a safe place.

      So maybe don’t put results in the 1st paragraph!

      Having said that, this is 3 days after the event, it’s not like they posted this article straight away….

  • And Kotaku – keep the UFC articles coming.

    MMA and Video games are my two favourite things in the world. Kotaku is already my favourite gaming site, so adding MMA to the mix just makes it more awesome.

  • No issue with MMA articles. Or any sport for that matter. I think it’s only fair, though, that if Netflix gets an “OFF TOPIC” prefix, that these do, too.

  • I’m thoroughly enjoying this UFC coverage.

    I wonder how many of the people complaining about it being unrelated to gaming are happy to read and discuss the GoT tv episode posts.

  • The UFC follow the Unified Rules of MMA. They don’t make the rules – They did have a big part in creating them back in the day along with Big John Mccarthy but no. Please don’t go on about the UFC needing to change the rules.

    I actively train – If you need someone to report on MMA please let me know because this article was garbage and I only read half of it and a few of the comments

  • The Dr loves MMA and UFC in particular. I also love my PS4, NES, 360 and the Commodore 64. That’s what makes this site great.

    Also, I am addicted to Payday2.

    Hashbrown pleasestoptheadamgoodesarticles*


  • I’m on the Australian version of Kotaku. No one even knows what UFC is here. Seriously. Never been reported on TV once. Kind of like to keep it that way. Makes me feel special + I doubt people want to pay up for a PPV.

    • Lol if you want that experience go back to 2011… Maybe 2010. Way too much tapout and affliction gear going on around here for the past few years!!!
      And you know what? Almost every event is getting coverage on and anything big happens it is reported on the news… if you want to be different get off your arse and train!

    • Tell that to the thousands who rocked up at the Adelaide entertainment centre at 0900 on a Sunday, that also happened to be mothers day! Paying up to $300 per ticket I might add.

      Go to any pub on a Sunday morning when a UFC PPV is on… standing room only is the norm.

      Not to mention the thousands that rock up to MMA Downunder which is just local/national fighters held in Adelaide.

      Whilst it’s not as mainstream as AFL or cricket, it’s certainly big enough that they are considering Etihad stadium for UFC 193.

      The days of it being an underground sport are well in the past.

      • What are you guys talking about? Mixed Martial Arts has never been reported on channel 7, 9 or 10 once. Do you deny this? Could the average Australian tell the difference between Conor Mcgregor and a condor? Rory Macdonald and Old Macdonald? Go do little a experiment – walk the streets and ask people if they know who Chris Weidman is.

        Lawn Bowls would get reported on the news here before MMA does. UFC 189 was the greatest spectacle I have ever seen and it is heartbreaking to see it not being the top story on the sports section of the nightly news. A part of me does wish it was as popular as you guys suggest. However you are just plain wrong and it still is indeed underground. A poorly written and researched blurb written on is not evidence of a change in the zeitgeist.

  • Not that I disagree with the article, but there have been fighters before now that have known when to walk away. Watch basically any Mark Hunt fight when he KNOWS he has the KO, he knows he doesn’t need to do more damage. He’s a greater fighter for it.
    You are right in that referees need to work their shit out because fighters don’t want to leave anything in the hands of the judges, OR refs, so they will keep hitting/pulling/pushing/tweaking/turning/choking until they are told to stop. We’ve also seen cases where a fighter has felt a tap, so let go, the ref hasn’t seen it, and the match has continued! Lot of work to be done, but how easy is it to do?

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