18 Questions for John McCarthy

Part One

By TJ De Santis Mar 19, 2009
In part one of this exclusive interview, the most famous referee in mixed martial arts, Big John McCarthy, discusses the state of MMA officiating and the subjectivity of “intelligent defense.” McCarthy also addresses whether he has been critical of the UFC or of Keith Kizer of the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

Sherdog: I know you have the Big John McCarthy Ultimate Training Academy. How is that going? And what have you been up to recently?
McCarthy: The school is going good. I have been doing a lot of teaching as far as reffing and judges classes through the C.O.M.M.A.N.D. [Certification of Officials for Mixed Martial Arts National Development] course that I am doing.

Sherdog: Let’s talk about the reffing classes. I think a lot of guys tend to think they already have the skills to be successful in MMA officiating. What are your students like?
McCarthy: A lot of these guys I teach have already had hundreds of fights. I also teach guys who have never done it at all and they’ve been a fan of the sport forever. They’ve watched it on TV … then you’ll get them in there and they go, “Oh my god, it’s completely different than I thought.” My whole thing, whenever I teach anybody or I speak to anybody, is we all, no matter who you are, whether you’re John McCarthy, Herb Dean or “Scott Nobody” down the road, we can all learn something.

Sherdog: When you were coming up as a young ref, who did you seek out for advice?
McCarthy: [Laughing] You know, nobody. I hate to say that, but it’s the truth. That’s the one thing that I try to explain to people. When I was coming up, I didn’t have anybody to go to. If I made a mistake, I had to learn from my mistakes. Like I tell people, I made mistakes. No doubt about it, I’m human. I would always go back and watch every fight I did and see what I thought was a mistake and how do I correct that mistake. Then I would go work on correcting it so that it wouldn’t happen again. I wish that I had had a course that I could go to … someone saying, “Hey if you do it this way, this is going to take care of this problem.”

Sherdog: What is your status right now as a referee? Where are you licensed?
McCarthy. I am licensed in California, Ohio, Utah, in certain places in Canada, and that’s where I can go right now. I am not licensed in Nevada. Even though I have thought about doing it, I haven’t applied for it. So I go where the commissions ask me to work.

Sherdog: Why haven’t you reapplied for a license in Nevada?
McCarthy: You know what, it's one of those situations where I'm trying not to cause anyone any problems. I should probably talk with Keith Kizer before I apply, and I haven't, so that's on me.

Sherdog: Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports had an article up that had some interesting things to say about you. I am going to read this to you and would love to hear you comment on it:

“As far as the UFC goes, it will be up to the various state athletic commissions to appoint him. However, John has created some issues. He created conflict-of-interest possibilities with some very pointed and negative comments about the UFC while he was a TV analyst. Also, he has numerous fighters who work out at his Southern California gym; he could never work any of those fighters’ bouts. And a little birdie tells me Nevada Athletic Commission executive director Keith Kizer, one of the sport’s most influential regulators, is none too pleased with McCarthy these days for criticisms McCarthy delivered of him. It’s not to say that it’s impossible, but he’s got a long road ahead of him.”

McCarthy: First off, everything Kevin's writing is his input, and most of that is bull. I never criticized the UFC -- that's a lie. If you're going to talk about while I was broadcasting, did I say something wasn't a good fight? Yeah, but I never said the UFC is bad; I don't do that. I spent too many years building up the UFC, getting people to love the UFC. It would serve me no purpose in saying bad things about something I actually care a lot about. Bring out what I did: Was it a blog I wrote? Is it something you have tape of me saying, like "The UFC is bad"?

Everything can't be complimentary about everything they do. There's obviously going to be things I don't agree with, personally, that they do. It doesn't mean I'm right; it just means it goes against the way I think it should be done. When it comes to me having fighters out of my gym, if I have 10 fighters out of my gym, I go to the [athletic commission] if that fighter is actually even going to be in a show that I do, and I tell them, "I have this person, he works out at my gym, please excuse me from that fight." How many fights could that really happen in? Not that many, so it's really not that big of an issue at all. There's been many times I've gone to commissions and said I've done this with this fighter before, and they make the decision to put me in that match or not.
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