What Is a Doctor Stoppage in the UFC? (Simply Explained)

Have you been left confused with the way a UFC fight ended, due to the ringside physician inspecting a fighter and calling off the fight?

If so, you’re not alone. This article will explore what a doctor stoppage is, why, when, and where they’re used, and some of the most famous in the UFC.

What Is a Doctor Stoppage?

A doctor stoppage, or medical stoppage, is a decision by the ringside physician to end a bout due to a fighter’s injury.

A ringside physician, or doctor, can discuss the situation with the referee but has the authority in deciding whether a fighter can’t continue, in which case the fight will be over.

This makes sense since they are best equipped to assess a fighter’s injury and stop a fight if they feel it’s in a fighter’s best interest.

Does a Doctor Stoppage Count as a Loss?

Technically, yes.

An injured fighter not allowed to continue as judged by the ringside physician automatically loses the fight by TKO, which means a doctor’s stoppage effectively counts as a loss.

Losing a fight via a doctor stoppage only shows on a fighter’s record as a loss by KO/TKO. This can be confusing as by looking at a fighter’s record, you’ll never know the actual method of some of their knockout wins or losses. 

Why Is a Doctor Stoppage Used?

A doctor stoppage in the UFC is used to prevent a fighter from unnecessary damage. The ringside physician has to judge how bad an injury currently is, and how much worse it could potentially be if the fight were to continue.

When assessing an injury, the physician has to ask himself and the fighter whether the injury is hampering their ability to protect themselves. 

Injuries such as a break or fracture, or injuries around the eyes hamper a fighter’s ability to protect themselves and usually results in a TKO by doctor stoppage.

Injuries likely to get much worse or affect a fighter’s long-term health if the fight were to continue also result in doctor stoppages, despite the fighter still being able to defend themselves.

This is the case, especially when regarding damage to a fighter’s eyes, deep lacerations on a fighter’s face or head, or if a fighter has received too many strikes to the head.

Doctor stoppages are essential in helping prevent long-term brain trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in fighters; which is a big concern in all contact sports, and more so in MMA where the aim is to hurt an opponent.

Moreover, doctor stoppages are often used if fighters are seriously beaten, are way behind on the scorecards, and it remains very unlikely they’ll win; and letting them fight on with a chance of winning is far outweighed by the potential further unnecessary damage they may receive.

Fortunately, there have been no deaths in the UFC to date, and a doctor stoppage is used as a way to prevent this from ever happening.

When Can a Doctor Stoppage Occur?

There are two times a doctor stoppage can occur; midround when it’s stopped by the referee, or in between rounds during the rest period.

Doctor Stoppage Midround

A ringside physician cannot check a fighter midround unless the bout has been stopped by the referee.

For the fight to be stopped midround by the referee in order to have a doctor check a fighter, it has to be an opportune moment that isn’t disrupting any immediate action (similar to a fighter losing their mouthpiece).

In terms of legal strikes causing an injury, the referee can only stop a fight midround to call on a doctor when a laceration is present.

The amount of time a doctor has to check a fighter isn’t specified, but it’s normally only a quick check, around one minute. If the fighter isn’t passed by the doctor, the fight ends in a doctor stoppage.

A doctor stoppage can also occur mid-round if a fighter loses control of their bodily functions, which include feces, vomit, or urine. This is recorded as an automatic TKO due to medical stoppage, despite the bout being stopped by the referee.

The referee can also stop the fight mid-round to call on a doctor if an injury is caused by a foul, such as an eye poke or a groin strike. In this case, the doctor has up to five minutes to assess whether the fighter can continue, because five minutes is the time given to a fighter to recover from these fouls.

If the doctor ends the bout, the fight is not declared a doctor stoppage (and therefore a TKO) because the injury was caused by a foul, and will likely result in a disqualification of the guilty fighter, a no contest, or a technical decision.

Note: A referee doesn’t have to call on a ringside physician when dealing with a laceration, and can end the fight themselves; with the fight going down as a TKO via referee stoppage (laceration). This is rare, though.

Doctor Stoppage Inbetween Rounds

Doctor stoppages also occur in between rounds during the minute rest when it’s more convenient for a ringside physician to assess a fighter.

If a bad injury is caused by legal strikes (except lacerations) and a fighter makes it through to the end of the round, the ringside physician will assess whether it’s safe for a fighter to continue. If it isn’t, the fight ends in a doctor stoppage.

If a fighter loses control of bodily functions during the rest period in between rounds, the doctor will assess the fighter and if they’re not permitted to continue, they lose the bout as a result of a medical stoppage.

However, the presence of feces at any point after the fight has started results in an automatic TKO due to medical stoppage, despite the referee having ended the bout, and the ringside physician not being used.

In What Weight Division Do Doctor Stoppages Often Occur?

Doctor stoppages mostly occur in the lighter weight divisions, such as featherweight and below.

This is because fighters in these divisions have less power, but are faster and more technical, meaning there are fewer knockouts but more potential damage caused by a high amount of accurately landed strikes.

On the other hand, the heavyweight division experiences more knockouts meaning fewer repetitive blows to the head and less chance a doctor can assess a fighter before the fight has finished.

Famous Doctor Stoppages in the UFC

Leslie Smith vs Jessica Eye (UFC 180) – Herb Dean called a stop midround as a result of Smith’s ear laceration. Much to her outrage, the doctor stopped the fight as it was feared Smith could lose her ear.

Max Holloway vs Brian Ortega (UFC 231) – The doctor stopped the fight after the fourth round because Ortega had absorbed 307 strikes in 4 rounds and his nose was broken, his eye was extremely swollen and close to shutting, and it was later discovered he also had a broken thumb.

Ortega could still protect himself but the damage he had taken was too much and at the point where it was becoming life and career-threatening.

Jorge Masvidal vs Nate Diaz (UFC 244) – When fighting for the BMF title (Baddest Motherf***r), Masvidal was awarded the win via TKO doctor stoppage because Diaz had deep lacerations next to his eyes.

The crowd booed the decision by the doctor as Nate was still able to defend himself, but the doctor deemed the cut likely to get worse if the fight continued.

Anthony Smith vs Jimmy Crute (UFC 261) – An outside of the knee leg kick struck a nerve that meant Jimmy Crute couldn’t walk on his left leg. 

He made it to the end of the round but the ringside physician ended the bout because it was clear Jimmy couldn’t adequately protect himself, and to prevent further unnecessary long-term damage to his leg.

Conor McGregor vs Dustin Poirier 3 (UFC 264) – McGregor broke his ankle in the first round, resulting in a doctor stoppage during the rest period between rounds. 

It was clear to the ringside physician that Conor couldn’t walk and therefore wasn’t able to protect himself.

After the loss, Conor tweeted that a doctor stoppage is not a TKO. According to the official rules, it’s a TKO, because a doctor stoppage is mostly a matter of timing, and therefore doesn’t negate the fact his injury was caused by strikes.

What’s Up, Doc?

The use of a doctor stoppage usually means a fighter has been badly injured or beaten and results in a 3-6 month standard medical suspension; unless they can get medical clearance from the necessary doctors.

Suspensions are so long as fighter safety is of very high importance in the UFC, and despite a doctor stoppage being a very unpopular way for a fight to end, ringside physicians can’t concern themselves in a popularity contest. 

Their job is to prevent unnecessary damage and protect a fighter’s short-term and long-term health, and most of the time it’s overwhelmingly clear when a doctor stoppage is required in the UFC.

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