The forgotten role of MMA cornermen: Choosing when to save a fighter
On Wednesday night in Jacksonville, Florida, Anthony Smith was the victim of a hellacious one-sided beatdown that ultimately saw him stopped in fifth-round of the main event. His punishment was dished out by 40-year-old veteran Glover Teixeira, who extended his impressive win streak to four in dramatic yet sickening fashion.
After getting off to a good start, Anthony Smith visibly began to fade and by the third round was on the receiving end of one of the sports more nauseating one-sided affairs. Throughout the third and fourth round, referee Jason Herzog had multiple opportunities to step in and wave off the contest but instead allowed Smith to stay in the fight. As the fight continued, Smith absorbed mass amounts of unnecessary damage. However, if anyone is to blame, it is his cornermen.
Cornermen are known across the world of combat sports as being the eyes and ears for their athletes, as well as sharing advice and instructional words of wisdom in order to benefit their fighter’s performance. Despite the importance of this, their top priority should unquestionably be managing the health and safety of their respective fighters.
The large majority of MMA cornermen are capable of delivering good advice while keeping their athlete’s best interest at heart. But then again, people have off days, and the long-lasting ramifications of these off days are much more significant in comparison to a regular job.
What makes a good cornerman?
As previously mentioned, the role of a cornerman is to provide critical information to a competing fighter in addition to holding responsibility for their health.
When on the topic of well respected and conscious cornermen, Colorado’s Trevor Wittman is the cream of the crop. An MMA coach for well over a decade, Wittman is the mastermind behind the successes of former strawweight queen Rose Namajunas, as well as interim lightweight champion Justin Gaethje, who most recently put on a performance of a lifetime at UFC 249, battering divisional boogeyman Tony Ferguson in a ghastly manner.
Wittman has long been referred to as one of the sport’s premier coaches, courageous enough to throw in the towel when needs be. Rewind back to 2015 where one of his more experienced pupils in Nate Marquardt squared off with rising contender Kelvin Gastelum – his bold yet instinctively correct characteristics were on full display in between rounds.
After being outstruck and completely smothered for two high paced rounds, the elder Marquardt looked utterly fatigued and stagnant, replicating a sitting duck in open water. As he returned to his corner with a shallow look on his face, Wittman offered some harsh truths as he questioned Marquardt.
“Are you ok? Hey, look at me” voiced Wittman, visibly concerned over his athlete’s health and wellbeing. Succeeding a lackluster response from Marquardt himself, his head coach opted to call off the fight.
“It’s over, stop it. He’s done.”
The stoppage was praised by the commentary duo of Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg, who further reinstated the fact that cornermen should be celebrated for waving off criminal thrashings as opposed to being criticized. Unfortunately, this a very real and common among the MMA community, even in today’s modern era.
This, as well as Wittman, is one sole example of cornermen stepping in to prohibit literal life-altering damage on their athletes. This whole ‘Live by the sword, die by it’ schtick can only run so far before permanent, irreversible harm is forever inflicted on these athletes.
Bad days at the office
Just spoke to Anthony Smith via text.
Injuries suffered tonight: Broken nose, broken orbital bone, two missing teeth and a cut under his right eye. One tooth in front and one towards the back, he said. His real teeth.
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) May 14, 2020
These varieties of injury – on top of the beating received – can take years off not only an athlete’s career but their lives, as well.
Here’s a video of Anthony Smith calmly handing some of his teeth to the referee to hold for him during the main event…#UFCJAX pic.twitter.com/BCLGgyehhS
— Spinnin Backfist (@SpinninBackfist) May 14, 2020
Throughout the main event of UFC Jacksonville on Wednesday night, various athletes and media members took to social media in protest over the corner of Anthony Smith, pleading for them to spare their fighter from further punishment. As a member of Factory X, his corner included head coach Marc Montoya and UFC welterweight James Krause, two highly esteemed figures within the MMA community.
Immediately after the fourth round came to a halt, Smith returned to his stool a defeated man. If his coaches decided to call off the fight then and there, the number of complaints would stand at the sum of zero. To make matter worse, the light heavyweight contender let it be known that his teeth had fallen out, however that wasn’t enough to prompt any intervention. “Lionheart” would be sent out on a silver platter and subsequently finished by his opponent.
Regrettably, this is not the first time in recent memory that coaches have failed to put the safety of their athletes at the forefront of operations. You don’t need to travel back too far to stumble upon Mike Davis vs. Thomas Gifford, a fight where the young Gifford’s chin was cracked at every opportunity. He too was knocked out in the final round of his fight, with many disagreeing with his corner’s decision of allowing him to press on. It is all the more shocking when you learn that Gifford’s father was also in his corner that night.
Veteran referee “Big” John McCarthy stated that if he were in charge that fateful evening, the fight between Davis and Gifford would not have seen the third round.
“Now would have I done it differently? Yes,” McCarthy told MMA Junkie, “I can guarantee you the fight never would have seen the third round, it probably would have been stopped long before that and I’m going to get him out in a certain way because there [are] things as a referee you’re supposed to consider.
“That’s extra damage that he took that he did not need to take. You can only give so much before that shiny diamond becomes a crushed rock that just doesn’t sparkle anymore and that’s everybody.”
In the case of “Lionhart,” the referee, as previously stated, played a huge role in allowing him to sustain nonessential damage that contributed towards his broken orbital bone and missing teeth, nevertheless, the ultimate responsibility lies with said fighter’s coaches. If cornermen cannot protect their fighter, they have no business being in that corner.
On May 13, Anthony Smith’s cornermen failed him. Rather than putting his health first, they marched onwards with an outdated mentality designed for bloodshed, and it cost not them, but Smith, dearly.
Steven specialises in MMA and Lethwei. He loves a good 1-2 down the middle.