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The world of MMA fighting often delivers some interesting finishes. Sometimes knockouts happen in the opening seconds of the first round. Other times a fighter might deliver a finishing blow in the waning seconds of the final round.

On Thursday night, the main event of the Professional Fighters League on ESPN ended in one of the most bizarre and controversial finishes in MMA history when former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum lost in a first-round stoppage, but only after the referee failed to see his opponent tap out just moments before. 

Fabricio Werdum has a storied MMA career

Fabricio Werdum started his MMA career in 2002. Three years later, he made his way to Japan, fighting for Pride, where he fought six times in just over a year. In 2007, he made his UFC debut and lost in an unanimous decision to Andrei Arlovski. 

Over the next seven years, Werdum steadily made his way up the ranks. In late 2014, he defeated Mark Hunt to capture the interim UFC heavyweight championship. He unified the championship six months later with a win over Cain Velasquez.

After losing the belt to Stipe Miocic in 2016, Werdum went 4-3 in his next seven fights, winning his last fight in the UFC via submission over Alexander Gustafsson in July 2020.

Makes debut in Professional Fighters League

On Thursday night, Werdum made his debut in the Professional Fighters League in the main event against fellow Brazilian Renan Ferreira.

Werdum and Ferreira didn’t waste any time getting the fireworks underway as both fighters rushed to the center of the octagon and met each other with lunging leg kicks just seconds after veteran referee Keith Peterson started the fight. 

Werdum took the fight to the ground in the first 10 seconds and managed to get on top of the much taller 6-foot-8 Ferreira. The two grappled, and with just over three minutes remaining, Ferreira slipped out from under Werdum and got on top, but found himself in a triangle. 

The much larger Brazilian attempted to pound his way out of the chokehold, delivering one shot after another to Werdum’s face. After almost 20 seconds of throwing fists, Ferreira appeared to tap Werdum’s right shoulder twice with his right hand. Peterson, who was positioned on the other side of the action, never saw it. 

Ferreira escaped from the triangle a couple of seconds later and pounded away at Werdum. With 2:30 left in the first round, Peterson intervened and stopped the fight. 

Werdum addresses controversial ending

Immediately following the stoppage, Werdum talked with the officials inside the cage and indicated that he felt a tap on his shoulder. In the post-fight interview, he addressed the situation.

“I think everybody saw the fight. He tapped,” Werdum said. “I have to respect my opponent. I have to stop. Maybe I break his arm. When he tapped, automatically, I’m going to stop the fight, but he going to keep punch my head.” 

While watching the replay, Werdum said it just confirmed what he thought during the heat of battle. “This is a tap for me. I fight for 23 years. When he tap like that, open hands, I have to stop.”

UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture, who worked cage-side as a commentator, said he saw the tap, but Werdum didn’t follow one of the main rules fighters are taught at an early age.

“The problem was the referee was on the other side of their bodies. There’s no way from that position he could have seen that tap. Generally, what we teach our athletes is you do not stop until the referee stops the fight. That’s what we try to do. It’s a rough situation. Honestly, it’s too bad.”

After the fight, Werdum filed an appeal of the result with the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board.

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