#5: Josh Rosenthal
(Nick Diaz vs. Thomas Denny @ EliteXC: Unfinished Business, 7/26/08)
With his trademark half-smirk during faceoffs and soft-spoken vibe, Josh Rosenthal brings some much-needed positive energy to the mean-muggin’ atmosphere of MMA. And though his stoppage in the first Chael Sonnen/Paulo Filho fight at WEC 31 drew controversy — in the eyes of Sonnen, at least — he’s one of those guys you rarely hear about because he just does his job in a quiet, dependable sort of way. Could 2009 be Rosenthal’s breakout year?
#4: Mario Yamasaki
(Tito Ortiz vs. Chuck Liddell 2 @ UFC 66, 12/30/06)
Mario Yamasaki fell into the referee gig when a UFC trip to Brazil (where Yamasaki was born) highlighted their need for another ref in addition to Big John McCarthy. Since he was a lifelong martial arts enthusiast and jiu-jitsu expert, Yamasaki was a good fit. His biggest problem as a ref might be that he looks a little too much like Steve Mazzagatti, and that can be a career-killer. The difference is that Yamasaki gives fighters a chance to recover, but also knows when to stop a bout (despite maybe one or two notable exceptions, depending on who you ask), as he did when he mercifully ended the second Tito Ortiz-Chuck Liddell fight – a decision he was criticized for by Ortiz, and no one else.
#3: Yves Lavigne
(Marcus Davis vs. Paul Taylor @ UFC 75, 9/8/07)
Okay, so the Brown/Sell fiasco at UFC 96 was one of the worst reffing performances in MMA history; there’s no arguing that one. But bad calls are an extremely rare occurrence with Lavigne, who’s been handling business in the Octagon since UFC 58. In fact, the French-Canadian’s usually-razor-sharp judgment is also responsible for one of the best bits of MMA reffing — the Davis vs. Taylor scrap at UFC 75, where the Irish Hand Grenade was rocked by a kick, then took about a dozen unanswered blows from Taylor on the ground. Lavigne came within a ball-hair of stopping it, then backed off, allowing Davis to regain his composure and grind out an eventual win by armbar. He’s also the guy who saved Matt Serra from getting all his ribs broken in his rematch with GSP. So give the homme a break, aight?
The former undisputed #1 baddest-ref-in-the-world drops to #2 for inactivity. Since “retiring” in December 2007, Big John has popped up for third-man duty at Strikeforce: Destruction last November and Affliction: Day of Reckoning in January. We know he’s been at it for 15 years now, and he has other things to deal with these days, but we’re bummed that we don’t get to see BJM on a regular basis anymore. Is it possible that McCarthy and the UFC can reconcile in time for UFC 100 in July? (For an old-school blast from the past, check out Big John’s first televised appearance — the Pat Smith vs. Scott Morris scrap at UFC 2. Eventually, he’d get better at the whole fight-stopping thing.)
#1. Herb Dean
(Frank Mir vs. Tim Sylvia @ UFC 48, 6/19/04)
With his laid back approach and ‘I got rolling papers if you got weed’ personal style, Herb Dean has been a standout referee on the MMA scene for years. He gets the top spot here because he doesn’t screw up often, doesn’t draw attention to himself, and has an established track record of doing right by the fighters’ safety, even if they don’t like it. Exhibit #1 for that claim is his stoppage of the Tim Sylvia-Frank Mir fight, in which he can be heard to exclaim ‘Oh, shit!’ when he sees Big Tim’s arm go. Despite Sylvia’s insistence that his arm was fine (it wasn’t, obviously), Dean handled the situation perfectly, telling him as nicely as he could that his arm was broken. The same is true of his stoppage in the second Ken Shamrock-Tito Ortiz bout. Shammy whined about it and the powers that be gave him another go with Ortiz, but don’t we all now wish we’d just taken Herb Dean’s word for it that Shamrock was done?
You can now follow the ever-changing referee Top 5 on CagePotato’s Power Rankings page. What fun!