After DJ’ing mobile parties and nightclubs for 30+ years, I am quick to deter anyone who is interested in getting into that business; that is because I feel it is an underappreciated field of endeavor. However, for my many reasons to feel this way, it cannot even begin to compare to the lack of appreciation a referee in any sport receives. No matter what they do, it is always going to be criticized by someone. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in combat sports such as boxing and mixed martial arts.
Yet for as much criticism as a referee receives, and in some cases justified, he or she is the person we must rely on not only to call a fair fight, but more importantly to possibly save someone’s life. This past weekend there were two vivid examples of this in high profile bouts in both sports and for all the negative press refs receive, I feel it is just that they receive some praise when it is due.
Herb Dean (pictured above) and Tony Weeks (pictured below)are both prominent referees in the sports of mixed martial arts and boxing respectively. Both are well known, have been around for awhile and most importantly are highly respected by their peers. Many outside the cage and ring consider them to be the preeminent examples of the third man within their sport.
All those adjectives and superlatives were justified this past Saturday when their final call in two separate championship bouts in both MMA and boxing were not only the right call, but quite possibly a life saving one in the long run. However, their decision to end the fights when they did was made even more special by knowing when to do it. They gave the losers in each fight the utmost opportunity to overcome their opponents, without hindering their safety.
Herb Dean is a veteran referee of over 3,500 MMA fights worldwide. He’s also been the referee of some of the most unique situations and historic endings in MMA history such as Tim Sylvia’s arm breaking when being caught in Frank Mir’s armbar submission at UFC 48 and Gabriel Gonzaga’s knockout victory over Mirko Cro-Cop at UFC 70. In both cases Dean played a prominent role in the outcome; thus there isn’t much he hasn’t seen or been through.
Besides that, he was a professional fighter himself with five professional fights from the early to mid 2000’s. That unique perspective came into play this past Saturday during the UFC heavyweight championship between champ Cain Velasquez and challenger Junior Dos Santos. In the third fight between these two, this latest installment pretty much played out like the second one with Velasquez laying a thorough beating on Dos Santos.
With Dean watching closely throughout, he gave the challenger every chance he could to possibly find a way as long as he was fighting back. That was until midway through the fifth and final round when a last ditch effort by Dos Santos to muster some form of submission, resulted in his forehead hitting the canvas directly. Noting it right away and realizing the champ was about to unleash some fury to his downed opponent, Dean stepped in to wave off the fight. In an already dazed state, Dos Santos was rescued from some possible irreversible damage from a dangerous and still strong champion.
Meanwhile, at around the same time in Denver, Colorado, a world championship boxing match was taking place as former WBO light welterweight champion Mike Alvarado, lost for only the second time in 36 fights when his fight was stopped by referee Tony Weeks after the 10th round of a scheduled 12 round fight. Part of that decision may have come from Alvarado himself, but it was only after Weeks had the resolve to confront the fighter face to face in his corner in between rounds.
Tony Weeks has been a professional referee for 17 years, dating back to 1996. His love of boxing made him pursue the profession in Arizona while working in the corrections system there. However, his passion led him to the state of Nevada in 2000 where he was licensed to work in the fight capital of the world, Las Vegas. Since then he has worked many high profile championship bouts including this past Saturday where Alvarado was defending his title against Ruslan Provodnikov.
Provodnikov is the same boxer, who earlier this year was part of possibly the fight of the year, excluding this past Saturday, against current WBO welterweight champion Timothy Bradley. His performance in the Bradley affair, even though it resulted in a decision loss, garnered him the shot against Alvarado.
A vicious puncher who keeps coming at you with a relentless attack to both the body and the head, Provodnikov shook off Alvarado’s early boxing effort to punish the champion. The beating was such that he dropped the former champ, who had never been dropped previously, twice in one round. Weeks took a close look at the former champ, who in desperation fought on valiantly.
However, after the 10th round, as Alvarado sat on his stool while his trainer was asking a clearly shaken fighter if he should stop the fight, Weeks took the initiative to bypass the cornerman and confront Alvarado face to face. He looked directly into the fighter’s eyes as he asked him how he felt and if he could continue. Seeing what he already knew when he knelt down before him, Weeks stood up and waved his arms signaling his decision to stop the fight.
There was no reluctance on Alvarado’s behalf as it looked as though he was relieved someone was smart enough to save him from himself. A true fighter’s mentality is to continue even in the face of defeat and quite possibly death if that is the case. It is a referee’s job to keep that from happening. In this case Herb Dean and Tony Weeks did that admirably for two great combatants who may now live to fight another day; props to two of the best in their respective professions for knowing when to say enough.