By Jason Moles
Somewhere in the back your mind is a Mt. Rushmore of MMA, one for fighter and one for non-fighters. On the latter, you’d undoubtedly have Dana White in addition to your pick of Charles “Mask” Lewis Jr., Bruce Buffer, or Joe Rogan. However, you only get to pick two of the guys I’ve listed because the second spot on the mountain is reserved for the most recognized referee in all of MMA, “Big” John McCarthy.
No one has had a bigger impact on the sport of mixed martial arts without having actually fought someone or having the last name of Fertita or White. Few have stepped inside the Octagon more times than McCarthy and almost no one has helped grow the sport from birth to the dark ages and into the mainstream arena that it is in today. And you thought he just asked the fighters if they were ready and raised the winner’s hand?
“Big” John McCarthy was kind enough to sit down with CagePotato recently to discuss his new book ‘Let’s Get It On!‘ which can be purchased as of yesterday on Amazon. The book is 50% MMA history lesson, 50% autobiography, and 100% worth every penny spent to own a copy and every minute spent reading. So, without further ado, let’s get it on!
CagePotato: Can you tell us how you got the nickname “Big”? Was someone you know a big fan of Big John Stud or something?
Big John McCarthy: (Laughing) No, you know what – my mother used to call me that for a while but Art Davie is the one that put that out there. There was an incident where I was joking around with him and I picked him up over my head. He started screaming. “Big John put me down!” From that point he always called me that and people just got used to it so it stuck.
CP: Why did you decide to write this book? Was it because you wanted to share the history of the UFC?
BJM: It was exactly that. You know if it weren’t for Loretta Hunt bugging me to death about writing the book it never would have been written. The one thing she told me that really convinced me to go ahead with this is that there is a huge history within the sport of MMA that people don’t know. There are a lot of things that have gone on, and basically people look at MMA from the year 2005 when The Ultimate Fighter series came out and think that’s how it all got started. But there’s a lot of people that deserve credit for getting it to that point.
Lorenzo Fertita – I think he deserves a ton of credit. He really put his money where his mouth is and took on a lot of personal debt to help see this thing survive and get people to buy into MMA. At $40 million in debt he still kept going.
Bob Meyrowitz – He did much of the same thing – invested a lot of his own money. He kept trying to keep this thing going even though he wasn’t making any money.
Jeff Blatnick – This is a guy people need to know about. The sport borrowed his credibility, he was an Olympic gold medalist in wrestling and came to UFC 4 and fell in love with MMA.
There are a ton of people who helped get the sport where it is today — some at the beginning, others at the end — that people just don’t know about. That’s why I decided to write the book.
CP: You copyrighted your catchphrase “Let’s get it on!” much in the same way that Michael and Bruce Buffer did with “Let’s get ready to rumble!” and “It’s time!” respectively. Was that really necessary and have you ever had to pursue legal action against someone using your phrase without permission?
BJM: Is it necessary? I don’t think so. It’s one of those things where people force you into things because they want to take part in something, or be part of something. It forces you into doing something – but have I ever sued anyone? No. I’ve told people, “Hey, don’t do that.” That’s something I have to do to keep this thing copyrighted. I know Michael has sued people over using his line and won because you can’t do it without permission, but no, I’ve never done that.
CP: You followed in your dad’s footsteps and joined the LAPD at a young age. With such a busy career nabbing bad guys, how did you get involved with the UFC?
BJM: I got involved in the UFC because of the association I had with Rorion Gracie. I started working out with the Gracie’s before there was a UFC and when it came about, I was Royce’s sparring partner for the fights getting him ready and then it was the very first fight in the UFC between Gerard Gordeau and Teila Tuli that got me the position to be the referee. It was supposed to be that the referee could not stop the fight; the fighter was to tap out or the corner was to throw in the towel. Well then Tuli gets kicked in the mouth and punched in the face and he’s down. Then [referee] Joao [Alberto Barreto] came in and stopped it and said he couldn’t continue fighting. Then there was a conference of sorts between the Joao and Rorion who was upset because he didn’t want refs stopping fights. That’s how I got my job, because you have to have compassion for another person and they needed a steady guy.
CP: Alright, I have to ask and I’m crossing my fingers hoping you’ll tell me. Which fighter crapped themselves and who did you tell to go back to the locker room and take a shower?
BJM: You know what? That’s gonna stay with me. I’m sorry but I owe it to the fighters not to do that to them. As I was doing the book, I did not want to infringe upon the relationships I had with fighters or put them in a position where they felt like they couldn’t trust me. Stuff happens all the time in fights and back in the locker room and it’s embarrassing for that person. If they want to share it, they can share it, but I’m not gonna.
CP: Of all the people you’ve met, who are you the most grateful for knowing? Who do you wish you never met?
BJM: (Laughing heartily) Oh wow! You know I don’t think I could put one person down that I’m most grateful for knowing. There are several people who have been in the martial arts for a long time that I take great pride in the fact that I know them and I respect everything they’ve done in the martial arts.
Helio Gracie is somebody I felt honored to meet, spend time with and roll with. To me, he’s an incredible man who lived an incredible life and did incredible things. So that’s a special person on my list.
Chuck Norris is someone else; Chuck Norris is the real deal at everything he does in life. The way he’s gone about representing the martial arts throughout his life is something that I hold in high esteem. Another person that I just love as a human being is Gene LeBell. He’s been a friend of mine for a long time. Gene’s a super tough guy, but one of the nicest and most generous guy you’ll ever find.
When it comes to people I don’t like, I don’t worry about those things. That’s not what life’s about. If you know someone who you don’t like or they don’t treat you right, just move on.
CP: During the Tito Ortiz – Ken Shamrock feud, you detail an incident that occurred at a weigh-in where Ken threw a chair at Tito only to have it snatched out of the air by Dana White. You made the remark that it was a pretty good catch for a guy who didn’t know it was coming. Are you implying that White staged the altercation or am I just reading into it?
BJM: Yeah, it was awesome! No, he didn’t know it was coming; you’re reading into it. Dana didn’t know Ken was going to kick that chair and he caught it without ever expressing surprise. I mean, Ken stepped back and kicked that chair and it popped up and Dana stuck his hand out and grabbed ahold of it. It was a moment I thought was very funny and I thought he handled it very well.
CP: I guess Shamrock wasn’t training kicks with Steven Seagal or else that chair would’ve hit the mark.
BJM: HAHAHA! You’re probably right!
CP: Speaking of staged events, you’ve seen a few fixed fights over the years. Have you seen any recently, UFC or otherwise?
BJM: No – I want to make it clear to people when they hear that. There have been promotions that have put out fake fights. It’s what we call a work. It’s wrong and it should never happen. The UFC has never done that. When it did happen in the UFC, it was early on because we had tournaments where the two guys fighting were managed by the same guy. He’d say, “This guy has a very good chance of winning it and this guy doesn’t so I want him to throw the fight.” That’s when it happened. The first one I put in the book was Oleg Taktarov vs. Anthony Macias; they both had the same manager named Buddy Albin. Buddy’s the one that put them up to it and the UFC had no idea. When it happened I went to the owner, Bob Meyrowitz, and told him that [Macias] threw that fight and gave up on purpose and that he had no intention of fighting.
CP: What does C.O.M.M.A.N.D. stand for and what should fans know about it?
BJM: Certification of Officials of Mixed Martial Arts National Development. Our goal is to bring awareness to both judges and referees as far as the way the sport of MMA is evolving and what they should know about it. If they’re a judge, the way they should look at it to credit fighters for good technique. We want them to know what it looks like if a fighter’s stalling a fight. The main thing is to get everyone involved in the officiating process to be looking at things the same way and doing things the same way. We want everyone in everywhere to be on the same page because it’s good for the fighters; it’s good for the promoters; it’s good for the fans, and everyone gets accustomed to seeing the same thing. We want fights officiated and judged with consistency across the board.
CP: It’s been well documented that you and Zuffa/Dana White had a falling out a few years back. How are things now between you and the UFC and why did you feel compelled to accept full responsibility for all that transpired?
BJM: Life is about learning from your experiences. Some things you do are good or bad, or they work for you or they don’t. If I do something, I’m going to take responsibility for it. I’m not going to dwell on the past, nor do I harbor any ill feelings towards Dana White at all. If he’s gonna have hard feelings towards me, then that’s him and that’s the way it will be; it’s up to him. But I don’t think I’ve done anything bad towards Dana. I absolutely respect everything he’s done in this sport and I that he helped build and take this sport to the mainstream forefront. I love the UFC and all the fights they put on and if I’m not refereeing the fights, I’m watching them.
CP: Some fans may not know, but you helped write the first rules in the early days of the UFC and later went on to help draft the Unified Rules as well. What, if any, rules do you wish were added or done away with altogether?
BJM: HAHAHA! You know there’s rules that I don’t like or that I know are there but aren’t really doing a lot but you know what? They’re not going to change. The athletic commission is a government body and they’re going to look at a rule that’s been around for basically twelve years and find that in those twelve years it’s been working for them, we haven’t had any problems with it, so why change it?
That’s understandable because if you change something then somebody gets hurt because the rule was changed then you’re looking at a liability issue, which means someone could go and sue the state because the rule was changed which led to them getting hurt. I’m not saying it would happen, just that it could. I don’t see the rules changing much. There’s nothing really to add or take away and the ones we’ve got are working.
CP: What has been the scariest moment you experienced in the cage?
BJM: I haven’t really had any scary moments. Let’s break it down into fighting: The scariest thing that can happen in fighting, if you understand fighting and injuries, is the thing you don’t see and that is concussions. You see a guy get knocked out and the fans say,”Ohh, he’s knocked out,” or whatever, but when that happens it can have a lasting effect on someone. Concussions and brain trauma are the scariest things that can happen and it’s what I worry about the most.
*** There you have it, the one and only “Big” John McCarthy, ladies and gents. I seriously recommend you buy yourself an early Christmas present and get this book. In my opinion, it’s the best MMA book since ‘Blood in the Cage‘. ***