Josh Rosenthal: The Invisible Man

Imagine gaining notoriety from being unnoticed and being the man that fades into the atmosphere. For elite MMA referee, Josh Rosenthal, this is an ideal scenario. In a time when refs and judges are carefully scrutinized by fans, Rosenthal stands out….for being unobtrusive. There’s a saying that goes something like ‘You’re not doing it right if people aren’t talking about you.’ In Josh’s case, the reverse is true. Solid reffing and lack of controversy/questionable calls, has made him a fan favorite. I know when I see Josh in the cage, I can almost count on a smooth fight, and that nobody will be beaten within an inch of their life, or robbed of opportunity via the fight being stopped too soon. In a recent TapouT Radio interview, Josh details some ins and outs of the referee game that you may not know.

Referee selection for international UFC events

“There’s a number of factors, availability, how many shows you’ve done here or there, but I’m not really sure how the international stuff gets picked. I know Mr. Ratner basically submits a list of suggestions to athletic commissions, and they decide who they want to pick, and that’s how it works in the states as well. I think there’s a combination of factors, but there’s no ‘This guy, or that guy has worked more, or less.’ Everyone gets a little pull in the rotation, and there is no set rotation. It’s just kinda how the dice are thrown for that show. It’s always been a dream of mine to go to Japan in some capacity that has to do with fighting, so at the top of my list I would have to say it would be to work in Japan, but they’re all good spots. Europe, Brazil, Australia, there’s a lot of great markets opening up. The Middle East is opening up really big right now. There’s a lot of opportunities out there for everybody, but yeah Japan is somewhere that I would love to go.”

On being rated the number two referee in the sport by Bleacher Report

“It makes me feel great, but I don’t really look at it as who’s better than who or anything. I think we all do a really good job, me, John, Herb, Mario, Yves, Steve. I think we all try to put the best we can out there, but it’s great to be recognized by media, and the fans, and I truly appreciate all of the support from everybody. It’s nice. It’s a tough spot to be in, and we’re all happy to be in it. Don’t get me wrong, or else we wouldn’t be doing what we do, but as fans get more educated on what the rules are, and what the criteria is, they’ll understand more of what our decision processes are. To me, the less I’m seen the better. That’s the sign of a good ref. When people come up to you like ‘You were the ref in that fight? I didn’t even notice you!’ That means I’m doing my job. That means all of the focus is on the fighters, where it should be. It’s their time. Me being in the ring means I’m there for the fighters, and it’s their time to shine. It has nothing to do with me. I always make the joke that we’re the brakes on the elevator. If the elevator goes up and down, and does what it’s supposed to, then there’s no reason for me to have to do anything. When the cable breaks, and the elevator drops, then we step in. I really try to use that as the way I ref. Let the fighters shine.Let them do what they need to do. We’re there to keep them safe.”

The ten point must system and judging

“To me the ten point must is fine. I think definitions of the criteria need to be defined greater. I think that’s where discrepancies come into play with it. The way you look at it, is you have striking, grappling, control, and then you have aggression. If you’re saying striking is first, you’re automatically giving an advantage to the striker, opposed to the grappler, who’s category comes second. To me, grappling and striking are one thing, as far as how they should be judged. They’re different systems of combat, but they should be weighed equally. You have to judge each thing in the context of where it’s being done. So if a guy is in his guard, and he’s throwing elbows from the bottom, and he’s damaging the guy, then that’s effective striking. Be it that it’s on the ground, and not on the feet, it’s still effective striking. When you have a fight where a guy is completely smothering the other with grappling, he’s taking the back, he’s mounting, he’s attacking the neck, he’s attacking the arm, what’s to say that that’s not scoring greater than the striking? They all need to be looked at in the context of what they are. Personally, I like the idea of who’s trying to win the fight, like the Japanese style, which is focusing on finishing the fight, and scoring technique. By doing that, you kind of push the striking and the grappling context together, because you’re now judging who’s actually trying to finish the match, be it with striking or grappling. I believe damage should be a criteria, which it’s not really at this point, but I believe it should be. Damage doesn’t have to be acute damage of a cut or blood. You end up with fights where guys are getting a lot of body shots, or in positions where their head’s not going to get banged around because it’s buried in a guy’s chest, or in his leg, and he’s trying to take him down. You have to look at it positionally, what’s happening as opposed to the traditional of ‘It’s striking on the feet, and it’s grappling on the ground.’ You have to look at it as a whole. I think the ten point must is fine, I just think the definitions of the criteria need to be looked at a little bit, and adjusted. Our sport has evolved, so the criteria needs to evolve, and combining striking and grappling is what it should be. They should be scored as one, not one greater than the other. That’s the way I see it. They should be scored equally. Like if a guy gets a big Matt Hughes style takedown, just throws the guy over his shoulder and just smashes the guy through the mat. That’s like a stiff right hand, you just knocked that guy on his butt, there’s concussive damage in that. Let’s say I reach out and I touch you with a jab. Well, that’s like maybe a guy does a soft little ankle pick, and flops a guy to his butt, and he gets up. It’s not equal pound for pound, but in the relative of where they are in the fight, what they accomplished can be looked at similarly. It’s the education of the referees, the education of the judges, the education of everybody. Everybody needs to keep educating themselves so that they can put these pieces together the right way. I think if we educate the fans a little bit more on what the judges are looking at, they’ll start to understand more of what happens in the judges minds, and they’ll understand why they give these scores. As a fan you know when you watch a fight you’re emotionally involved. All of the emotions of enjoying the fight are there, and you’re seeing things happen, and you get emotionally drawn into it, but the judges don’t. They’re sitting there looking for very specific things to work with, and those don’t always fall in line with what the emotional response is gonna be. Helping us as officials define the criteria, and also letting the fans know what we are looking at, is going to make everybody better.”

Josh’s ideas for refining the judging criteria is certainly one area that improvements can be made, because right now, there isn’t really a solid alternative to the 10 point must system. Hopefully, the future brings us closer to a viable solution.

Follow Josh via his Twitter @MMARosenthal

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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