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The Five Best Referees in MMA

#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?

#2: John McCarthy

(Fedor Emelianenko vs. Andrei Arlovski @ Affliction: Day of Reckoning, 1/24/09)

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!

Cagepotato Comments

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lucklucciano- June 18, 2013 at 11:03 pm
mma borned in brazil...ufc born here,,,rorion gracie...our referee teaches other referees... mr roberto thomaz is the best referee in all world..no doubts....if you want look the sherdog and youtube videos.... guiness world record...
lucklucciano- June 18, 2013 at 10:47 pm
sorry friends...but you are so wrong!!! top central referee: 1- mr roberto thomaz - brazil( world record 600 professional fights and more than 120 amateurs )
2- mr paulo borracha brazil
3- mr big jonh
4- mr herb dean
5- mr miguel repanas

mario yamasaki and steve mazagatti sucks..dana white ask in twiteer ...
5- mr miguel repana brazil
theqavish- September 2, 2011 at 5:51 pm
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Jason Statham- August 21, 2011 at 8:40 am
i think this is correct.
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Magic Wandy- July 9, 2011 at 12:41 am
What? No Dan Mirgliotta?
Chiggs- June 19, 2009 at 9:27 am
"WWWWhat is that What is that??? Is it a Broken Arm???" Fuckin Joe...hilarious shit, Also anyone see Joes latest stand up?? Mutha fucker thats funny shit..
geamma- May 26, 2009 at 8:51 pm
I love BJM but he made the worst referee error EVER in mixed martial arts at UFC Japan. Those that were watching the Ninja Turtles and GI Joe at the time will be interested to know that during the Sakuraba / Conan Silveira fight Following a barrage of blows by Silveira, Sakuraba dropped for a low single leg takedown, only for the fight to be prematurely ended on a KO. Referee John McCarthy had mistakenly thought Sakuraba to have been knocked down. A loud protest followed from the crowd and an angry Sakuraba attempted unsuccessfully to take the microphone and address the Japanese audience. However, after reviewing tape, McCarthy changed his decision to a no-contest. Tank Abbott, who had earlier defeated Yoji Anjoh, dropped from the tournament due to an injured hand, leaving Sakuraba and Silveira to face off once more that night in what would be the championship bout of the tourney. This time, Sakuraba claimed the victory, submitting Silveira with an armbar. Afterwards, Sakuraba famously stated, "In fact, professional wrestling is strong". With the victory Sakuraba remains one of the last UFC tournament champions to date.
Anonymous- April 11, 2009 at 5:49 am
yuji shimada hands down
Anonymous- March 20, 2009 at 8:26 am
At least the Sakuraba situation got fixed Herb Dean looked like a retard in the Ford Spratt fight Spratt was obviously hit with an illegal strike because of Dean's incompetence and he didn't know what to do that's a fail and really dude nobody remembers UFC Japan that's like when Big John was the only referee
Anonymous- March 19, 2009 at 3:54 pm
I can't believe the article didn't mention Yves's roll in the Machida/Ortiz fight.
Anonymous- March 17, 2009 at 9:03 pm
You have to be kidding. Herb dean is the biggest screw up for a ref I have ever seen. He is always ready to stop the fight. Its a freaking joke
The Mauler- March 17, 2009 at 5:57 pm
Remember UFC Japan. Big John stopped a match when Sakuraba shot in for a single leg, thinking he had been knocked out. 'WTF!' was not working for Sak when he protested, Big John stood firm. Luckily he overturned it once he viewed the video evidence, and Sakuraba was reinstated in the later rounds of the tourny.

Now that was one bad call
Anonymous- March 17, 2009 at 10:35 am
Herb Dean #1? Did you happen to catch the Ryan Ford Pete Spratt fight or did you see the early stand up in the Cro Cop Gonzaga fight he's nowhere near the best
Anonymous- March 17, 2009 at 3:06 am
Haha, Herb Dean rocks
Word- March 17, 2009 at 1:02 am
Herb "smokes the mean green" Dean is for sure the best ref as of today.
CJ- March 17, 2009 at 12:02 am
Dean is the best. The fighter's safety is more important that seeing brutal finishes. His priorities are straight.
Anonymous- March 16, 2009 at 10:44 pm
herb dean sucks. big john is the best by such a huge margin. its just a fact. how about herb deducting points from marquardt for not really hitting thales behind the head. ive seen herb dean wave the fight off to the fans and everyone else before even letting the fighters know and letting the fighter keep punching while hes waving his arms in the air.
diaz 420- March 16, 2009 at 10:35 pm
bad list

I'd go..
4 Herb Dean
3 Josh Rosenthal
2 Yves Lavigne
1 John McCarthy

Yves is awesome dispite the fuck up at 96. Herb is good but has a big list of fuck ups
Anonymous- March 16, 2009 at 8:42 pm
Herb is one of the best refs out there, he deserves this kind of recognition. Good for you Herbie!!!
My Toe Steel Toes- March 16, 2009 at 7:41 pm
Herb Dean at No. 1? Are you fucking retarded CagePotato? Fuck you CP, you just lost a loyal reader you fucking idiots!
Criminally Negligent - March 16, 2009 at 6:32 pm
I don't think the "late" stoppage in Brown v. Sell was as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Sell was still on his feet in a quasi defensive posture with his hands up. Hell, his hands were up higher than Coleman's were when Coleman fought Rua. The worst part about the Sell fight was that Lavigne did a half stop in the middle but then (wisely, i think) pulled back. A stoppage that is a little late is still better than a stoppage that comes way early.
SARS- March 16, 2009 at 6:02 pm
Herb and BJM should ref every fight from now on...

Shimada is also very good with the exception of Wand vs. Iron head..damn near let Fujita get killed in that one
The Irish Wolfhound- March 16, 2009 at 5:52 pm
Lol i love Herb, he just seems so chilled about everything, he's like Bob Marley's clone in terms of personality.
Kimbo is Crap- March 16, 2009 at 4:32 pm
"its fucken broken" hahahhahaha fuck yeah herb dean.

and i hate how people say the pete sell fight was called the biggest mistake ever but when a ref lets a dude take 12 unanswered elbows and the dude wins with an armbar after getting his shit back its the best ref job ever. i think after 3 unanswered elbows, the fight is done just like what kendal grove did last ufc. these two judgements contradict themselves.

thats basically telling me if pete threw a big fedor over hand right and knocked the dude out, yves would be 100% correct for not calling the fight early.
Rault- March 16, 2009 at 3:08 pm
Pride refs werent considered cause nobody knows who the fuck pride refs are. Also, Big John is without a doubt better than Herb Dean.
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