The Harrowing Side To MMA: Why Do Coaches Refrain From Throwing In The Towel?

Lauren Murphy, UFC
Lauren Murphy, UFC 266 ceremonial weigh-in Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

Just like any other sport, there are sides to MMA that are quite utterly harrowing. From arguments regarding fighter health insurance to debates about promotions failing to place fighter health as their top priority.

Following UFC 283, the issue at hand isn’t a gripe on the hierarchy.

Even just focusing on recent years, there have been occasions where the main talking point of a fight has been “why didn’t the corner/team throw in the towel or pull their fighter out?” Unfortunately in MMA, unlike its combat sports counterpart of boxing, there is a notion that throwing in the towel is almost forbidden. To the extent that you very rarely see a coach pull their fighter out of a fight or throw in the towel, no matter how they’re performing.

In the year just passed in the UFC, there were multiple occasions where during a fight, viewing became distinctly uncomfortable. Back to as recently as December, Darren Elkins took on Jonathan Pearce in a featherweight bout. Despite the scorecards reading ’30-27, 30-27, 30-26′ Elkins took an utter beating. More often than not these days, Elkins’ nickname, ‘The Damage,’ is used in jest but there have been several situations in his last few losses where he has looked ‘punch drunk’ and should’ve been pulled out of his fights. Even prior to that, his fight with Nate Landwehr made for tough viewing as the 38-year-old was plastered in his own blood.

Fast forward to this past weekend, where we had two separate fighters who could’ve really benefited from being pulled out of their fights after taking an obscene amount of punishment.

For one, Lauren Murphy took on Jessica Andrade in a flyweight bout at UFC 283 and to not mince words, was utterly dominated.

Murphy absorbed an astounding 231 significant strikes, with 69% of them being targeted at her head. The uncomfortable part of this fight that doesn’t entirely sit well with may is that her cornermen could see that after two rounds, she’d taken an alarming amount of punishment, and wasn’t offering enough offense herself to be able to change the outcome of the fight. Going into the final round, Murphy was clearly down two rounds. While you can appreciate that her corner didn’t know how those first two were scored in terms of 10-8’s, it was abundantly clear she was going to lose the fight.

On two of the judges scorecards, Murphy was down 20-17 and on the opposing scorecard still had Murphy down 20-18. With that in mind and seeing the punishment she was taking, she categorically shouldn’t have been allowed out for the final five minutes. The former title challenger released a statement after it was all said and done, commending her corner for not pulling her out of the fight. But the fact that she’s even commenting on that, suggests that there were warranted grounds for pulling her from the beating. The sad thing about what proceeded in that fight, were the attempts of reassurance saying ‘she’s too tough for her own good.’

Lauren’s corner could have saved her from an additional five minutes of domination, but instead opted for advising her on her “body language.”

During the same event, Glover Teixeira took on Jamahal Hill in a fight for the vacant light heavyweight title. Although it wasn’t quite as bad a beating as Lauren Murphy’s, Glover absorbed a considerable amount of damage too. The thing that makes this one different, is that the 43-year-old was wearing an extremely deep cut above his eye. One thing to highlight in this fight is that the referee in charge, Marc Goddard, is receiving a fair bit of criticism for not stopping the fight.

However, although it may have looked like Goddard could step in and save Glover from the punishment, every time he implored Glover fight back, Glover did exactly that. The same case could be said for Lauren Murphy, at no point was she wobbled or defenceless which made it difficult for Osiris Maia (the referee in charge) to step in and stop the fight.

But that’s where you’d hope a fighter’s corner would take their own stance and put their fighter’s health into consideration. So why don’t they? In fairness to the corner of Glover Teixeira, in the interval between rounds four and five, they actually considered pulling him out (this was caught on camera), but Glover made it clear he wanted to continue as he still posed a danger to Hill.

The be-all and end-all to all of this is in some occasions, a fighter’s decision to carry on and fight should be taken away from them by those closest to them. They put their bodies and livelihood’s on the line for fans’ entertainment, but that’s not what’s important in the long term. It is because of the respect we have for them that we simply want to preserve their health as much as possible.

This is far from just fans or media griping. Following UFC 283, Teixeira’s coach, John Hackleman, announced he would retire from cornering, adding that while he was glad the fight wasn’t stopped, lest the narrative become about him, “I would have thrown it in after the third. I would have been completely happy with the fight stopping there. I saw no reason for it to go on after that.”