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John McCarthy on reffing in Eddie Alvarez debacle: ‘You’re not using your brain‘

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The seasoned former official has seen almost everything, and he didn’t like what he saw from last week’s event.

Bellator-DAZN Announcement Press Conference
Big man at big podium, dispensing wisdom.
Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Bellator MMA

One of the biggest developments from last week was the disappointing finale at ONE Championship where former Bellator and UFC champ Eddie Alvarez was disqualified via an odd decision by the referee.

After taking down submission specialist Iuri Lapicus, Alvarez began to use his grapevine position to land punches on Iuri. The ref talks to Eddie, and Alvarez continues to land shots behind the ear and a few that land mostly on the neck and glove of his opponent. After a position change, Alvarez goes for hammerfists, but the ref stops the action and pulls the red card to end the fight.

While there were some shots that hit the back of the head, this wasn’t a situation where all the punches thrown in that position were illegal. And there’s been a ton of online debate since as a result.

On the most recent episode of his podcast Weighing In (with Josh Thomson), none other than Big John McCarthy came down on the ref not just for the decision to call the fight, but the perceived lack of proper communication with Alvarez throughout.

(Transcription by Steven Marrocco from

“Just to take a championship fight and throw up a red card or to disqualify somebody, you’re not using your brain. You’re not being reasonable, and you’re not thinking of the full context of what you have.”

“When Eddie takes Lapicus down, he laces the legs, a la Khabib [Nurmagomedov], to keep him in that position,” he said. “But you’ve got to look and see where is Eddie’s head. Because Eddie’s head is up, and he’s using it as a third arm and it’s right up against his opponent. So to think he can see exactly what’s going on, he can’t.”

“In this situation, Eddie is looping shots from the side,” McCarthy continued. “Directed means you’re coming straight at it. When a fighter is looping a shot, it’s telling you that he’s trying to hit the ear, so he’s hitting the head and hitting the ear, because that’s why he’s looping that shot, and if his opponent starts to turn their head, then if the opponent turns the head and Eddie hits that spot, you tell them, ‘Watch the back of the head.’

“What I’m telling you is, you just struck the back of the head, but it’s on your opponent because he turned his head into it, which caused it, but I need you at this moment to redirect to either another target or use another weapon so you can continue on with your attack.”

This is where McCarthy gets into the meat of the matter from a ref perspective as it relates to where ref experience counts and what not to do:

“You have limited power in certain areas to do things, and you try to lend that out in a judicious fashion,” he said. “You don’t become the judge, jury and executioner, unless you have to. Was Eddie Alvarez attempting to foul Lapicus? No, he was not attempting to foul. So there was no intent there. If Eddie has Lapicus and turns over and bites his nose, then Eddie needs to be disqualified, because that is something that’s way outside the sport, way outside the rules. But to think that every fighter knows where everything lands and knows exactly where their opponents are, you’re asking too much of fighters.”

McCarthy’s case here is a sensible one, as one of the most experienced officials in the sport and an instructor in his own right. In his view, it’s not that complicated to determine what the proper procedure was here.

Alvarez has been very vocal about his hopes of the DQ being reversed, while ONE boss Chatri Sityodtong appears to agree with the ref’s call. There’s no decision as of this writing regarding what will happen next, but we’ll see if McCarthy’s words have any weight and ONE ends up making a change to the result.