This weekend at UFC 285, fans were treated to a rarity of sorts when Derek Brunson’s corner threw the towel in during his fight with Dricus du Plessis, saving him from unnecessary damage.
Cornermen saving their fighters by throwing in the towel is a worryingly rare sight in the UFC. Over the years, though, we’ve seen a number of fights that probably should’ve been stopped in this way.
Often, the beatings fighters involved ended up taking altered their careers for the worse, making matters even more painful.
Here are five times when a UFC fighter’s corner should’ve thrown in the towel to save them.
#5. Kris Moutinho vs. Sean O’Malley – UFC 264
Fans were baffled in 2021 when Sean O’Malley, arguably the hottest prospect in the bantamweight division, was paired with unknown debutant Kris Moutinho at UFC 264.
To be fair to Moutinho, he was replacing Louis Smolka on short notice. Still, the fight made no sense. ‘Sugar’ had already beaten the likes of Eddie Wineland and Thomas Almeida, who were far more proven than the newcomer.
Everyone feared the worst for Moutinho, and they were proven correct.
In an absolutely merciless performance, O’Malley dismantled the newcomer, destroying him with strikes from the word go. By the end of the first round alone, ‘Sugar’ had connected with 77 significant strikes, bloodying Moutinho up and knocking him down late on.
Moutinho’s corner would’ve been justified stopping the fight there and then, but instead, they let their fighter take more criminal punishment in the second round.
The debutant absorbed another 70 significant strikes in that round. Remarkably, the fight went into the third stanza, where ‘Sugar’ hammered him with another 83 shots before referee Herb Dean called a rare standing TKO.
Incredibly, the fans in attendance didn’t seem happy with the stoppage, but it was entirely justified. In reality, Moutinho’s corner should’ve thrown in the towel after the first round.
It was painfully clear that their fighter was badly outgunned, and to allow him to continue only meant he suffered more brain trauma.
#4. Anthony Smith vs. Glover Teixeira – UFC Fight Night 171
A number of fighters in the UFC live up to their nicknames, but few come close to Anthony Smith. Known as ‘Lionheart’, the former light heavyweight title challenger has shown his insane toughness on numerous occasions.
Sometimes, though, that toughness has landed Smith in more trouble than he probably deserved. One such example was his 2020 bout with Glover Teixeira.
In the headliner of a Fight Night event at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, fans expected Smith and Teixeira to go toe-to-toe. Indeed, they lived up to those expectations.
However, despite ‘Lionheart’ performing well in the first two rounds, he seemed to run out of steam as the bout went on. In the third round, he found himself trapped underneath the Brazilian, who proceeded to batter him with strikes from top position.
The fight could well have been stopped by Smith’s corner there and then, but after an eye injury was cleared by the cageside doctor, the action continued.
‘Lionheart’ once again found himself on the bottom in the fourth round and took an utterly criminal beating. When he somehow survived the round and staggered to his corner, he outright told them that his teeth were falling out.
Quite why Smith’s corner didn’t throw the towel in there and then remains a mystery. However, ‘Lionheart’ was allowed to go out for the fifth round, where the bout was finally stopped by ref Jason Herzog.
Thankfully, Smith’s career seems to have recovered well from the beating. However, it’s safe to say that his corner were reckless here, and probably should’ve saved him.
#3. Dan Hooker vs. Edson Barboza – UFC on Fox 31
In late 2018, lightweight prospect Dan Hooker appeared to be on a roll. He’d won four fights in a row, stopping Ross Pearson, Marc Diakiese, Jim Miller and Gilbert Burns, and clearly needed a step up.
That came in the form of a clash with top 10-ranked Edson Barboza. Unfortunately, the bout could not have gone more wrong for ‘The Hangman’.
The New Zealand-based fighter tried his best to land strikes in the first round, but quickly found himself suffering from the heavy leg kicks of Barboza. When the Brazilian stunned him with a right hand towards the end of the round, it was clear which way the fight was heading.
Even that didn’t really hint to the damage ‘The Hangman’ would take in the second round, though. Already limping from the low kicks, Hooker was hit with numerous big shots, including huge kicks to the body, more leg kicks, and hard punches too.
When the round ended, it was painfully clear that Hooker had no chance of winning. Realistically, his corner should’ve saved him by throwing in the towel there and then.
Instead, he was allowed to go out for the third round, where he continued to take insane punishment despite not going down. Finally, a huge body punch forced him to collapse to his knees, and mercifully, the fight was stopped.
Luckily for ‘The Hangman’, he recovered from the beating and still seems relatively durable today – although he needed to take a full seven months off after the fight to recover.
#2. Edson Barboza vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov – UFC 219
Edson Barboza was responsible for a criminal beating when he faced Dan Hooker in 2018. Just a year before it, though, he suffered a terrible beating of his own at UFC 219.
Worryingly, the punishment that the Brazilian absorbed at the hands of Khabib Nurmagomedov seemed to have done genuine damage to his career at one point, although he did eventually seem to recover.
At the time, Barboza was riding a strong three-fight win streak. With Khabib returning from over a year on the shelf, the Brazilian felt like a major threat to him.
Of course, that wasn’t the case. ‘The Eagle’ came into the fight seemingly angry that he’d been overlooked for a UFC lightweight title shot, and took every frustration he had out on Barboza.
The Brazilian found himself forced to the ground in the first round, and Khabib went onto utterly destroy him with elbows and punches, practically swelling his eyes shut. When the stanza ended, he could barely make it to his corner.
Barboza’s team could well have stopped the fight then. It was painfully clear their fighter stood no chance of actually beating Khabib, who looked like a man possessed. However, instead of throwing the towel in, they allowed him to continue.
Remarkably, he survived the distance, but ended up absorbing a total of 154 strikes, many of them needless. Barboza’s career did recover – his next win was the bout with Hooker – but not before suffering a frighteningly similar beating from Kevin Lee in the meantime.
#1. Junior dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez – UFC 166
The rivalry between former UFC heavyweight champions Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos is usually recalled as the greatest in the history of the division. However, despite ‘JDS’ winning the first bout via KO, it was also a painfully one-sided feud.
Velasquez beat the Brazilian down heavily in their second fight, claiming back the title he’d lost to the Brazilian in the process. When dos Santos bounced back by knocking out Mark Hunt, though, the trilogy fight was quickly signed.
Sadly for ‘JDS’, the bout at UFC 166 turned out to be even worse than his previous meeting with the champion.
Velasquez shrugged off an early shot from dos Santos that staggered him, and went on to bully him in the clinch, abusing him with huge punches. That continued in the second round, and in the third, when Velasquez dropped the Brazilian with a right hand, it looked like the fight was over.
The champion followed by seemingly knocking him out momentarily with follow-up punches. When he then put him him down for a second time, quite why Herb Dean didn’t step in was anyone’s guess.
Dos Santos survived the round, but it was clear that he wasn’t with it at all as he staggered to his corner. For the good of his career, his corner should’ve stopped things there and then.
Incredibly, though, they let him continue on. Eventually, he was finished in the fifth round via TKO. When the fight ended, ‘JDS’ had eaten no fewer than 274 strikes.
In this case, dos Santos’ career never truly recovered. He went on to win six more fights in the UFC, but also suffered six defeats via TKO and looked vulnerable every time he fought.
Had his corner stopped his bout with Velasquez, he could well have gone on to far more success than he ended up having.
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