By Eric Holden,

MMA referees have to make split-second decisions whether or not to stop a fight or allow it to keep going. For the most part, they do a great job to ensure fighter safety while keeping in mind the best interest of the sport. However, there's been plenty of controversies in the past involving fights that were stopped too soon.

MMA Fighters.
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Here's a look at the top five most controversial early stoppages in UFC history:

Matt Wiman vs Mac Danzig

Matt Wiman defeated Mac Danzig via submission at 1:45 of the very first round in a preliminary bout at UFC 115, and many fans felt thought referee Yves Lavigne stopped the fight too soon.

In an interview with ProMMAnow.com, Lavigne said that Wiman called out to him during the fight that Danzig had indeed gone to sleep. Lavigne added that usually fighters will give a "thumbs-up" signal to let the ref know that they are still conscious after getting caught in a blind choke. He said that Danzig didn't give the "thumbs-up" signal, so he stopped the fight at that time.

Fabricio Werdum vs Brandon Vera

Werdum "knocked out" Vera in the first round of a main card heavyweight tilt at UFC 85 in 2008, and many fans on hand felt the fight was stopped too soon. Werdum took Vera to the mat and tried to work his ground-and-pound. He threw a flurry of punches, but most of them were not connecting. Vera was an experienced fighter, and this one was supposed to be a war to determine who would be next in line for a title shot.

Evan Tanner vs Phil Baroni

Tanner earned a knockout victory over Baroni at UFC 45 in 2003, and the win was extremely controversial. Baroni was teeing off on Tanner and appeared to be in line for a knockout win, when the referee decided to pause the fight to check a cut that opened up on Tanner's face.

When action resumed, Tanner got the upper hand by mounting Baroni and throwing a flurry of punches. Referee Larry Landless had a bit of a miscommunication with Baroni when asking if he was still feeling alright to fight, and he decided to step in to end it. Baroni immediately popped up and was visibly upset with Landless for stopping the fight so early.

Josh Koscheck vs Paulo Thiago

Thiago floored Koscheck with a crisp uppercut followed by a left hook, but the latter felt that he recovered as soon as he hit the mat. The referee saw it differently, as the fight was stopped before Thiago could swarm in for the decisive knockout. In this post-fight video, Koscheck and his team were visibly upset by referee Marc Goddard's decision to stop the fight when he did.

Ken Shamrock vs Tito Ortiz (Part II)

When Ortiz worked his ground-and-pound on Ken Shamrock at UFC 61, in the second meeting between the fighters, referee Herb Dean mercifully saved the latter from extensive damage by calling the fight in the first round.

Shamrock was so upset that the fight was stopped early that he was able to talk the UFC into granting him another rematch with Ortiz. He would go on to lose to Ortiz decisively in the third meeting, which is a true testament to Herb Dean's ref skills. He was proven to be correct in his assessment that Ortiz's elbow strikes were too much for Shamrock to handle.

What other early UFC stoppages deserve to be on this list? Let me know in the comments.

Eric Holden is a lifelong UFC fan and supporter of the sport of mixed martial arts. Follow him on Twitter @ericholden.

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