In late June, former combat sports referee John McCarthy raised eyebrows when he said without him Jon Jones might have lost the UFC light heavyweight title at UFC 165.
McCarthy, who served as the referee during the Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson matchup at the top of that September 2013 fight card, said on his “Weighing In” podcast, the cageside doctor wanted to stop the title fight before the fifth round.
Under normal circumstances, McCarthy’s decision would seem questionable. A referee telling a physician the fight should continue despite the doctor’s concerns? At first glance that seems like something that should not happen.
However, McCarthy said UFC 165 did not take place under normal circumstances.
“The ringside physician that I’m talking about in the Jon Jones fight — I want you to think about this. Toronto had MMA since UFC 129. There was one show before UFC 129,” McCarthy told Bloody Elbow. “I did that show. I actually sat ringside every time I wasn’t officiating (at that event) with that physician to try to get that physician comfortable with MMA and combat sports.”
By the time UFC 165 rolled around, McCarthy estimated the doctor in question had worked five to 10 MMA events.
“Everyone thinks referees are stupid,” McCarthy continued. “That’s okay. But I have seen more injuries than 99.9 percent of human beings. So when I have Jon Jones, who has a cut caused by a blow in the first round and that cut has stayed the same through every round, and at the end of the fourth round, a round that Jones won and a round that he came back and almost stopped the fight in, I have a doctor that comes in and looks and he goes, ‘ah, I just don’t like the cut,’ and the cut has not changed and it’s not a cut that we would say is in a bad spot.”
McCarthy described the cut in Jones’ eyebrow as about one and a half inches long and a quarter of an inch wide at its widest spot. He also said that the cut did not seem to bother Jones or affect his vision. Despite that and the fact the fight was perhaps even on the scorecards heading into the final round, the doctor was about to stop the scrap because as McCarthy said, he wanted to heal Jones and take care of the cut even though the cut was not a bad one.
Dr. Paul Wallace, who has been a ringside physician for over 30 years and is currently the chairman of the medical advisory committee of the California State Athletic Commission, was also on the call with Bloody Elbow and McCarthy.
“I normally try to stay in my lane, but I will say this,” said Dr. Wallace. “How are you going to have somebody who’s done five fights do a championship fight? That’s absolutely ridiculous. If you understood just in regular medicine, you can’t do a surgery alone your fifth time.
“We have several different organizations that will help in terms of continuing medical education, continuing combat medicine education. And I just can’t see any reason, you certainly wouldn’t put a referee in that’s only had five fights and for championship fights? Of course people have to learn, but we have a system where there’s always a senior that’s with a junior as you go through. You can’t have somebody just come up and do that and so, thank God they had an experienced referee.
“We can handle an inexperienced doctor because our experienced referees probably know more than most of them in terms of dealing with that. It is a complete contrast, as John put out for a physician. First of all, being at ringside watching damage happen, it literally takes years to get comfortable and understand (combat) sports and differentiate that this person is tired, this person is hurt and this person is in danger. You can be hurt and still be okay.”
Wallace stressed that a ringside physician does not perform the same job as any other doctor. The job of a ringside physician is not to worry about fighters getting hurt. After all, getting hurt is the cost that goes along with mixed martial arts. Instead, the ringside physician’s main function is to assess damage and react to that damage in a way that is applicable to combat sports.
It seems as if McCarthy made the right decision at UFC 165. He knew he had an inexperienced cageside physician — which does not mean he was an inexperienced doctor — and he knew that the Jones didn’t suffer a bad cut. So he offered his knowledge of combat sport injuries to the doctor to say that the cut was not bad enough to warrant a stoppage.