Big John McCarthy is recognised as arguably the best referee in the sport of mixed martial arts.
His officiating in the UFC incredibly dates all the way back to UFC 2. He has also refereed in other promotions around the world including Bellator, K-1 (Japan), Strikeforce and many others. He has built a solid reputation as one of the most respected figures within the world of MMA through years of work in the industry.
Big John is the founder of C.O.M.M.A.N.D, training and certification school for MMA referees and judges as well as being a key figure in writing of the Unified Rules of the sport as we know them today.
Well, McCarthy’s days in the cage appeared to be numbered as he has been announced as a new commentator for Bellator, the UFC’s rival promotion.
McCarthy has tried commentary in the past on The Fight Network in 2007, which forced him to take a sabbatical from refereeing during that period. However, that proved to be a brief venture as he returned to officiating fights in 2008.
Bellator president Scott Coker announced the news on Twitter.
— Scott Coker (@ScottCoker) January 9, 2018
In a press release McCarthy refrained from using the word “retirement” when it comes to refereeing as he takes up his new role. He stated:
“I first want to say how grateful I am for the opportunity I have been given to work with the incredible team Bellator has assembled. It is always so hard to leave something you love, but I have always wanted to step away based on my terms rather than someone else’s.
“My goals are to work as hard as I can to meet the expectations everyone will have for me and to hopefully someday exceed them.
“I cannot think of anyone I would rather be working with than Scott Coker. Scott has always been a person I admire because of his honesty, loyalty and love for the martial arts.”
However, ESPN’s Brett Okamoto soon after tweeted this update:
Bellator president Scott Coker confirms via text John McCarthy is "retiring from officiating."
— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) January 9, 2018
Update: Speaking to Marc Raimondi of MMAFighting on Tuesday evening, McCarthy contradicted Coker’s statement to Okamoto, saying that he is not committing to retirement, but that he will no longer officiate for either of North America’s two biggest promotions, Bellator and the UFC.
“Can I go and referee? Yes, I can go and referee,” McCarthy said. “If I want to go and referee something internationally, I can do it. I can do small shows here if I want. I’ll do charity events and things like that. I’m not gonna say, ‘Oh, I’m retired.’ I’m not retired. At this moment, I’m just taking on something else, so that’s gonna go on the back burner. All of my attention is gonna go toward being the best colour commentator I can be for Bellator.”
“When I say I’m walking away, I’m walking away from what people are gonna expect. They think that I can commentate Bellator and then go ref a UFC — that ain’t gonna happen. I’m gonna be stepping away from what most people see of me as a referee. I’m still gonna work with athletic commissions.”
McCarthy will be making his commentary debut with Bellator on January 20 when Rory MacDonald meets Douglas Lima on PPV at Bellator 192. That card, on the same night as UFC 220, also features Chael Sonnen vs. Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson in the quarter-finals of the Bellator heavyweight championship Grand Prix.
Big John will be joining ex-UFC commentator Mike Goldberg on the broadcast team in his new post.