View Full Version : 18 Questions for John McCarthy

03-19-2009, 06:37 AM
18 Questions for John McCarthy (http://www.sherdog.com/news/articles/18-questions-for-john-mccarthy-16629)

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.

03-19-2009, 06:38 AM
Part 2 . . . .

Sherdog: And what about criticizing Keith Kizer?
McCarthy: I never said anything bad about Keith Kizer. I personally don't have any kind of issue with Keith Kizer at all. He is the executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. It is probably the most powerful athletic commission because of the Vegas area and the huge world championship fights that happen there. They may not do as many fights as some other commissions, but when it comes to the biggest fights, they're usually in Vegas.

I had a criticism toward people being put into place as far as officiating. You listen to what Dana White was talking about the other night. His real problem now is judging and reffing in MMA. We're looking at things the same way. I have a problem when you have an official who is put into place to have an impact on the sport I love when they don't understand the sport, when they don't understand what the fighters are doing. They understand someone getting hit in the face. They don't understand the manipulations of the ground game and who is winning the fight. I probably should've shut my mouth because I've got a big mouth, and it's got me in a lot of trouble, but it's the truth. I want everyone to understand what is really happening in the sport so they can make educated decisions and judgments.

Sherdog: Did you get a chance to watch UFC 95? If so, what did you think of some of the stoppages that drew criticism from fans?
McCarthy: I understand the stoppages. Types of knockdowns are different. When you have a guy that gets hit with a shot and he goes falling backwards, that’s the norm from a guy who can get hit with a very good shot and is out, or even gets hit with a shot and is off balance. But it’s the way they react that is going to tell you if you’re going to stop the fight or not. When you get someone that gets hit with a shot and goes either sideways or falls flat face-forward, that’s information you’re relying on to make a decision on what you’re going to do.

Josh Koscheck got hit with the uppercut, and it put him out. No matter what anyone wants to say, Koscheck was out. When he hit the ground, he came back. And I’ve had the exact same thing happen with high-level fighters at times. They get hit with a shot, they go out, they hit the ground and they pop back. You, as a referee, have got to put yourself in a position to be where you need to be to see some things. Sometimes you’re going to see some things that other people don’t.

If you watch that fight, Marc Goddard was the referee, and he was at an angle where he was actually behind [Paulo] Thiago as he hit Koscheck. He made up his mind to stop the fight from that distance, and he is rushing in. Well, the problem was, when Koscheck falls to the ground, he does come back.

In the space of time that it took [Goddard] to get from where he was to in between the two fighters, Koscheck had hit the ground and popped back. Thiago really didn’t go right after him to try and blast him again. He kind of stood over him a second and was kind of raising his hand as the fight was stopped. But Koscheck was at least putting his feet in the proper position, putting his hand out, which is telling you there is no doubt about it that he is hurt. But you’ve got to give a guy at his level the opportunity to try and get himself back in the fight. Because fighters have gotten back in the fight from that. Is it going to happen? I can’t tell you. It’s very likely that the fight could end in the next couple of seconds with Josh being knocked out. And you don’t want to see the fighter get knocked out. So I understand why it was stopped. But could he have been given more time? Sure. But it is the referee’s decision, and when he says he cannot protect himself at that time, then it’s the referee’s job to stop the fight. That is what Goddard said and that’s what he did.

03-19-2009, 06:38 AM
Part 3 . . . .

Sherdog: Intelligent defense is something that has been talked about a lot lately. I personally have combed the unified rules looking for a definition. I can’t really find one.
McCarthy: [Laughing] That’s because I came up with it a long time ago.

Sherdog: Is it really just a subjective thing?
McCarthy: Sure it is. Come on, there is no way … when I came up with that, it was right at the beginning. I was trying to get people to understand. Look, when I did UFC 2, the whole thing was, I wasn’t supposed to stop the fight. I was supposed to let the fight go until the fighter tapped out or the corner threw in the towel. But it quickly became apparent that when the fighter was hurt or unconscious, they can’t tap out. And some of these corners had so little knowledge of what they were looking at, or their fighters had told them, “Don’t you throw in the towel.” So they weren’t going to do it. They weren’t going to protect their fighter, and I was stuck in a quandary of having people that are being hurt, and I’ve got people that are not doing the right thing to help me out so that I can help the fighter out. I can’t do this job.

I said, “Look, I need to be able to stop the fight if this fighter cannot intelligently protect himself.” They said, “Well, OK, that’s fine. If they’re hurt to the point where they’re out, you can stop the fight.” So I use that term. If you cannot intelligently defend yourself, I am going to stop the fight. There’s going to be variances in it. There is nothing that can be written absolute in terminology that is going to make it to where everyone goes by the same quorum of, “This is what it is.” I know based on all of the fights I’ve done and what I am looking at, I look at certain things. When I teach people, I teach them about body position and what the fighter is telling you.

I see fights go on all of time. You watch UFC 95 -- there were fights that were going on, and I know the fighter has quit. The fighter that is losing has gotten to the point where he’s stopped. He’s stopped fighting; he is surviving. And is he intelligently protecting himself? Absolutely not, and it’s time to get him out of the fight because he has mentally given up in the fight. He is telling you that by his body motions and what he is doing, but [refs] let those fights go on. There are people out there that say they should until these guys can’t move. Well, that’s ridiculous. When it comes to being able to perfectly articulate what “cannot intelligently defend himself” is, there’s never going to be this absolute.

But you’ve got to have enough smarts as far as if a guy is face down on the ground and his hands are down, he is taking blows to the side of his head, and he is not moving -- that man is not intelligently defending himself. It takes no training to do what he is doing. Intelligent defense, on the other hand, is if you look at someone who does get hit and goes backwards and their feet come up and their hands are out, they’re in a position to intelligently defend themselves. Are they going to? I can’t say that. But at least they’re in a position to do it. And they’re trying to show that, “I know I’ve got to do something.” And as the punch comes, they’re in a position to at least deal with it. If they don’t deal with it well, then we might have to stop it with the next punch.

Note: Interviews were conducted Feb. 25 and March 11. Some answers were edited for length. In part two tomorrow, McCarthy discusses whether he’s an enemy of UFC President Dana White, changes to the unified rules and additional weight classes.

03-20-2009, 06:18 AM
Part 4. . . .

In part two of this exclusive interview, the most famous referee in mixed martial arts, Big John McCarthy, discusses whether he’s an enemy of UFC President Dana White, changes to the unified rules and additional weight classes. McCarthy also talks about Affliction, Strikeforce and whether he’ll ever referee the UFC again.

Sherdog: You were in the news after you had suggested some new rules be added to the Unified Rules at the ABC convention last year. The suggestions were sweeping the Internet and then sort of just went away. What happened with that?
McCarthy: It kinda did just go away, didn't it? You know what, people can say whatever they want, I was made to be the scapegoat of that whole thing. That's fine. I didn't say anything about it. It was voted on by the Association of Boxing Commissions, which is basically all the commissions in North America, both the U.S. and Canada. They passed unanimously. There was a lot of talk that these were "John McCarthy's rules."

Well, that's not true; that's a lot of things I didn't want to do. A lot of people had input and say and when it came to weight class change, I admit I wanted one weight class change. I wanted there to be a weight class between 205 and 265. I think it's ludicrous to say that because the guys are bigger, you can have that big of a spread. If you have a 220-pound guy and he's going against a 265-pound guy the day he weighs in, but he's 280 pounds the day of the fight, you're talking about a 60-pound gap.

Sherdog: You made an analogy talking to me before that we wouldn’t allow a featherweight to fight a light heavyweight. You said no one would allow Urijah Faber to fight Quinton Jackson, and I can see your point.
McCarthy: Who would sit there and say, “That's fair, that's okay”? They wouldn't do that. The more skilled guys get, the better guys get, that weight difference does make a difference. That was the one I was pushing for. All the other ones, I'm not going to say who put them in, but in the end, it was put on me. I know the truth, and there's other people out there that know the truth. There's e-mails, and there's film of it all -- those things are out there. The truth is there. I just didn't come back to defend myself.

Sherdog: Dana White was one of those people to say these were your rules.
McCarthy: Dana can only go off what he's told. He’s going off of, "Why is John doing this?" It's not John. I wish I could do things the way I wanted. It’s not that way at all. I was one person who was asked to help change the rules. There are still rules I want to change, rules inside the Unified Rules that I think are ridiculous.

Some people are always going to think everything is a huge impact. Some people are gonna say a downward pointed elbow strike is a dangerous, deadly act. Prove it to me. I have yet to see it. Heel kicks to the kidney -- I can sit there and throw a right roundhouse kick to the kidney, but I can't do a heel kick [from] the guard? Come on. Which has the power? Which is going to do the damage?

Nick Lembo has been a part of the rules committee for MMA in the new ABC convention in July. They'll go over the rules and they're gonna vote on it, and we'll see if there's any changes. There may be, there may not.

Sherdog: Will you be a part of that?
McCarthy: I'll be at the ABC convention to do an instruction forum and be a part of things, but no, I have nothing to do with the rules committee.

03-20-2009, 06:19 AM
Part 5. . . .

Sherdog: Going back to Dana White. He called you an enemy. I think part of that was the fact you did some commentary on the first Affliction card. Were you employed by Affliction?
McCarthy: No, I wasn't employed by Affliction. I was employed by The Fight Network, who made a deal with Affliction for the rights to broadcast in Canada -- the rights to broadcast Affliction “Banned.” They gave Affliction the rights to use me. I never made a dime from Affliction. I made my normal salary from The Fight Network. Yeah, I was offered a job, decided it wasn't the right thing for me to do, and that's my decision. But as far as me working for Affliction, the second Affliction show came up, I refereed it. Why did I referee it? Well, the California State Athletic Commission gave me a license. They call me and ask me to work this show, and I accept it as though it's any other show, and who paid me? The California State Athletic Commission. Dana can look at it that way, but he'd be wrong.

Sherdog: Affliction and maybe Strikeforce are really the only competition for Zuffa and the UFC here in North America. What are the roles of those companies in MMA? And do you think that they are serious competitors with the UFC?
McCarthy: When you're saying competition, I don't know that anyone is competition for the UFC. A good fight is a good fight, so me personally, I will go and watch anything that's a good fight. The UFC is definitely the brand. Affliction has come out and put on two shows and done a remarkable job if you ask me. That's off of two shows.

People talk about losing money, and I'm sure they have, but you look at the history of the sport and how promotions came up. When the UFC first started, it made money right away and that's why they stayed doing it, then went into some bad times and Zuffa ended up buying it for next to nothing. When they bought it, they put a lot of money into it and started losing money. They were trying to get people to understand what the sport was and trying to get people hooked on it, and they were failing miserably, losing a lot of money, but that's because Lorenzo Fertitta and Frank Fertitta have a lot of money. No one wants to lose money, but they were able to sustain a lot of losses most people couldn't sustain.

Look at the pay-per-views the UFC is doing. They're doing remarkable numbers -- 800,000 buys, a million buys. That's remarkable in today’s economy. But when they started out, they were getting 35,000-40,000 buys, and it was horrible. Finally they put together UFC 40, Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock fought, and it bumped it up to 150,000 buys and it was a huge thing at the time. In their first show, Affliction did that -- 100, 110, 115,000 and the second show did more than that. When Pride came to the U.S., they put it on live for people to watch, and they did terrible numbers -- 35,000, 40,000. No one has done great numbers except the UFC, and now Affliction comes out and does very respectable numbers. You've got to give them credit.

Strikeforce isn’t using that pay-per-view format. You're going to see a difference in Strikeforce from the UFC in the fact that the UFC is a self-contained bubble in their matchmaking, their commentators, their fighters; everything is housed within the Zuffa sphere. It's not like NBC buys the Super Bowl and so NBC brings in their commentators and they talk about what they want. Well, that's what you're going to see with Strikeforce because with them being on Showtime, they'll be able to put on the commentators they want, but if they get on CBS, they're going to have a different view journalistically covering the sport than Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan. And I think Mike and Joe do a phenomenal job. I love listening to them, but it'll be a little different because of the complexity of who is in control

03-20-2009, 06:20 AM
Part 6. . . .

Sherdog: You’re obviously well educated on the sport. You know all of the aspects of in-ring competition and are clearly knowledgeable in the politics and business sides of things. Have you been approached by anyone to possibly start a promotion?
McCarthy: That offer has been there for me. It's been there several times, and I've always said in the end, thank you but no. It's partly because I'm a chicken and a coward, but if I'm going to do something, it needs to be the right way. Everyone wants to go out and compete with the UFC, and I personally believe if you go out to compete with the UFC, you're stepping into an arena you can't win. If you go and jump on the back of the giant, the giant is probably going to squish you. I just never thought that was the smart way to go about starting and running a promotion, and I've turned down a lot of money. I look now and think "What the hell did I do?" but I'm smart enough, I'm old enough and I've had enough things in life where I realize money isn't everything. It's more about the people you meet, the relationships you form and life experiences that you feel good about. That's what you take with you; you can't take the money with you. I turned them down, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't take one if it was the right thing, but so far I haven't found one that was going to be successful and work for me.

Sherdog: Will we ever see John McCarthy as the third man again inside the UFC’s Octagon?
McCarthy: You know, TJ, I don't have any control over that. I don't hire myself. Dana's got problems with me, and that's fine. Dana hears things from people, I hear things from people. Most of them are probably bull. I've seen things where I say something, then someone repeats it and it's not even close to what I said. I'm sure if I got on the phone with Dana, we would talk for five minutes, and we could work anything out. I'm a pretty stubborn person, he's a pretty stubborn person. So is that phone call going to happen? I doubt it.

If I'm wrong about something, I've never had a problem admitting I'm wrong. I've been wrong many times. But sometimes people get mad and the madness carries on, and that's just the way it's going to be.