A UFC referee has one of the hardest jobs across any professional sport. They have to be ready to jump in and stop the fight in an instant, whilst also giving the fighters every chance to recover and fight back.
Throughout UFC history, there have been several examples of referees jumping in prematurely and stopping fights early, leaving the fighters and fans disappointed.
With that said, here are 5 UFC fights that were stopped way too soon.
#5 Magomed Ankalaev vs Ion Cutelaba - UFC Fight Night 169
A light heavyweight showdown between Ion Cutelaba and Magomed Ankalaev in early 2020 will go down as one of the worst stoppages in UFC history.
Ankalaev landed a big head kick early in the first round that seemed to wobble Cutelaba, that’s when things got weird. Cutelaba continued to wobble and seemed to be playing possum as Ankaleav followed up with big punches.
Referee Kevin MacDonald jumped in to stop the bout just 38 seconds into the fight. The Moldovan protested the stoppage, claiming he was fine. Despite not being knocked down, his ‘play acting’ caused the referee to intervene.
Cutelaba appealed the loss but the athletic commission denied it and the TKO stood. It was a truly bizarre sequence of events inside the UFC octagon.
The pair would face each other again at UFC 254, with the Russian winning with a more definitive first-round knockout.
#4 Drew Dober vs Leandro Silva - UFC Fight Night 62
At UFC Fight Night 62 in Brazil, the lightweight bout between Drew Dober and Leandro Silva ended with a terrible refereeing error.
Dober was caught in a guillotine choke by Silva but was about to pop his head out when Brazilian referee Eduardo Herdy called a halt to the action thinking that Dober had tapped out.
Everyone in the arena was in shock and Dana White was outraged by the early stoppage.
The Brazilian MMA commission later changed the decision to a no contest.
#3 Henry Cejudo vs Dominick Cruz - UFC 249
Dominick Cruz’s long-awaited return to the octagon after a near 4-year absence ended in controversial circumstances.
In the co-main event of UFC 249, Henry Cejudo defended his Bantamweight title against former champion Cruz. Cejudo dominated the action and in the second round caught Cruz with a big counter knee, dropping the challenger.
‘Triple C’ followed up with big punches, dropping Cruz again as he tried to get up which led to Referee Keith Peterson stopping the fight.
Cruz was furious with the stoppage and claimed that Peterson "smelled like alcohol and cigarettes."
#2 Urijah Faber vs Renan Barao - UFC 169
The rematch between former UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao and Urijah Faber at UFC 169 led to another controversial stoppage.
Barao used crisp striking to dominate Faber on the feet, dropping the challenger twice before Herb Dean stopped the fight in the first round.
Unfortunately, Dean did not see Faber give the thumbs up when asking him to improve his position and called a halt to the action early.
#1 Robbie Lawler vs Ben Askren - UFC 235
Lawler came out swinging and badly hurt Askren on the feet, before slamming him to the canvas. Somehow Askren survived the early onslaught by Lawler and was able to apply a bulldog choke to Lawler.
Referee Herb Dean stopped the fight thinking that Lawler had passed out due to the choke. However, once Dean signaled the fight was over Lawler was conscious and protesting the stoppage.
It's without a doubt one of the craziest one-round fights you’ll ever see in the octagon. Dana White said they would book an immediate rematch, something that was never scheduled.