‘Big’ Move for McCarthy

By Jake Rossen Dec 7, 2007
Confirming speculation running throughout the past week, UFC mainstay "Big" John McCarthy announced during a media conference Friday that he will be stepping down from officiating to focus on a new broadcast career with the Fight Network.

McCarthy, a former Los Angeles Police Officer, was enlisted by Rorion Gracie to referee the second Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1994. Since then, he has overseen more than 500 mixed martial arts matches. His last appearance as a contracted employee of a state athletic commission will be Saturday's "Ultimate Fighter 6" finale.

Speaking to journalists following the announcement, McCarthy said that his desire to play a more active role in the growth of MMA is what prompted his decision.

"The biggest problem is, I can't do both," he said. "I can't referee and take a new step in the broadcast field … [it could be looked upon] as a conflict of interests, so I had to make a choice."

The Fight Network, a 24-hour cable outlet based out of Canada, granted McCarthy the opportunity to offer analysis on-camera while acting as "strategic advisor" behind the scenes. "The Fight Network has offered me a great deal as far as the ability to learn something on the run while getting paid to work. … I think I have an insight most people don't have in this sport."

Both McCarthy and his new employer have ambitions to contribute to more uniform standards in the industry.

"It's still in its infancy," McCarthy said. "You have to have set standards, whether it's in the U.S., Canada, Russia, Japan. You have all these promoters doing shows and coming up with their own rules. You go to watch baseball in Japan, and it's played in the same way it is in the U.S. or Cuba … that's the way the sport of MMA needs to be, one governing set of rules that everyone understands.

"We're in early days of this, but I see lot of things going on that will help the structure of the sport, a ranking system as far as who the number-one person is and who the number-one contender is for that person. And even if they're in separate promotions, the possibility of those guys matching up should be there."

McCarthy said he intends to continue shepherding programs that will help develop referees and offer clarity on rules and judging standards. "I'm still going to have a part in [that], bringing other people along to have a pool that state and athletic commissions can draw from."

That pool was partially responsible for McCarthy's exit from officiating, he said. With state commissions having their own referees, he anticipates a time when out-of-state officials will no longer be invited to participate in events. (November 17's UFC show involved only New Jersey-staffed ring officials.)

"I'm not the brightest guy in the world, but I'm smart enough to look at the changing scope of the sport and see what was going on and understand I'm not going to be able to continue doing what I was doing. Athletic commissions have guys working for them at every event they have, whether it's at a bar or the Continental Airlines Arena … those guys deserve to do a big show when it goes there. They worked for it."

After making his decision, McCarthy phoned UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta.

"I have a lot of respect for Lorenzo and wanted him to know that I was going to be taking a job. I wanted him to hear it from me and not somebody else … some people thought I was mad at Zuffa, wanted to get away from them, and that is not true at all. Zuffa has treated me well and the commissions have treated me well. I have no complaints with anything or anybody. There just has to come that time."

Fight Network President George Burger*, who called McCarthy the "John Madden" of his channel, said he expects to announce plans to further establish the brand outside of Canada. McCarthy's next on-air assignment will be as color commentator with play-by-play announcer Mauro Ranallo for the station's Dec. 14 coverage of TKO 31.

*Sherdog.com incorrectly identified Fight Network President George Burger as George Brewer
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