Big John McCarthy: A Crusader for Improving Mixed Martial Arts Refereeing

Bigjohn_mediumThe question everyone wants asked: when will McCarthy return to refereeing UFC fights? Jake Rossen finds the answer confusing:

On his possible return: "That's up to the UFC. That's not up to me. … Dana [White] is the guy who runs the UFC. He has a personal problem with me. That's fine. It's his decision."

Is it really? Referees are recruited, employed and paid by athletic commissions. Those commissions likely are holding off on assigning McCarthy to officiate UFC events because they fear a potential bias (assuming he and White have an acrimonious relationship). But that's not how it should work. By that rationale, White could claim personality conflicts with any referee he's not in favor of and assemble an army of favorable officials by process of elimination.

White has also leveled personal criticisms against other referees, including Steve Mazzagatti. Why aren't they being withheld from his venues? Couldn't it be argued that they'd retaliate by screwing up a fight? And if not, why the concern about McCarthy?

It certainly is problematic that arguably the best and most talented referee in professional MMA is not using his expertise to help officiate some of the most important fights of our time. But McCarthy is one man and can only referee a handful of fights on any given night. His inclusion, while important, is nevertheless a drop in the bucket in terms of the larger problems the sport faces in recruiting and training competent referees in states and territories across North America. I have hopes for McCarthy's C.O.M.M.A.N.D. course and local DC area referee Mario Yamasaki does his part in training classes in DC, Virginia and Maryland as I'm sure other referees do in their home towns.

The larger problem is that the appeal of the sport has outpaced the ability of the sport's officiating ranks to properly oversee and regulate the contests. The efforts by McCarthy, Yamasaki and others are obviously both helpful and necessary, but lack the resources to make a more robust, comprehensive effort work. Yamasaki has done excellent work in the Mid-Atlantic states, but what can be done about making sure burgeoning nearby markets like North Carolina are properly equipped? The UFC and other shows can generally staff their ranks with competent referees in major markets, but neither they nor local shows have such luxury in the often chaotic mess of emerging markets.

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