(Video courtesy of Sportsnet)
Heading into Ontario’s inaugural MMA show at Casino Rama in Orillia this weekend, the event’s head official “Big” John McCarthy, who will also work UFC 129 later next month in Toronto, made a few media appearances in the Canadian province to help educate fans and the general public about the rules and regulations of the sport.
McCarthy made a stop at Sportsnet for a taping of Primetime Sports where he spoke at length about the differences between refereeing boxing and MMA.
“I also referee boxing. [In both sports] you’re in there for the safety of the fighters and you’re in there to enforce the rules. The safety of the fighters is number one. Your whole job is to try to make sure that both fighters come in and are able to perform at an even platform as far as there’s no advantage to one fighter over the other and get them both out of that ring or that cage in a safe way so they can go back and do it again if they want. That’s what you’re looking for,” McCarthy explained. In MMA you’re making split-second decisions much more than you are in boxing. Boxing gives the referee time, based upon the rules, to make decisions and come up with, ‘This is what I’m going to do in this scenario.’”
McCarthy points out is that although both sports are similar in several ways, the fact that MMA allows a fighter to follow up with strikes after an opponent is knocked to the canvas makes the sport much trickier to make judgment calls, given how quickly decisions have to be made by officials.
“If you look at a knock down in boxing, a guy goes down and I’m going to point to the ground and say, ‘He’s down.’ I’m going to force his opponent off to a neutral corner and I’m going to pick up a count and start going with a count. If a guy gets up before [I get to 10], lets say he gets up at four, I’m still going to count, ‘Five…’ I’m going to go all the way to eight and all that time I’m looking at the fighter and registering if he’s still with me, is he understanding me? I’m telling him, ‘Walk towards me,’ which gives me more time to look at him. I grab his gloves and I’m going to feel his arms…by the time we have restarted the fight or decided I’m not going to, we’ve had a good 12 or 13 seconds go by,” he points out. “In MMA when a fighter gets knocked down, I’m not forcing his opponent off to a neutral corner. His opponent’s coming after him and I have to quickly assess, ‘Can this person intelligently defend themselves from what’s occurring? Are they doing the right things? Are they able to register how to stop what’s occurring and are they able to move their body?’ And we make a split-second decision, ‘I’m going to stop it now,’ or ‘I’m not,’ more often in MMA than in boxing.”
The longest serving MMA official says refereeing seems easy to people who claim to know the rules of the sport, which is why fans and analysts are quick to criticize when a questionable call is made. McCarthy, whose COMMAND refereeing course sees less than half of its registrants pass the required final exam, warns that unless you’ve been in a ring or a cage calling a fight, you likely won’t understand just how many factors play a role in determining when a fighter has had enough.
“When I talk to them in the back, I’m going to talk to them about when I’m going to stop the fight and how I’m going to do it and what I expect of him. It’s too much, even for someone that’s very skilled, to deal with. He’s got someone that’s going after him, he’s in a bad situation and to have to answer a question, ‘Are you OK?’ or anything like that is ridiculous. If for the most part, they’re landing on your arms and he’s defending himself well, I’m going to let the fight go. He’s not going to hear me say anything, because he’s doing a good job of defending himself,” McCarthy told The Canadian Press. “Handle your business, do what you need to do to get out of your predicament. If your opponent comes after you and he’s swinging shots and they’re not bouncing off your arms and they’re bouncing off your skull and they’re causing you damage, if you can understand me at the time, I’m going to be calling out his name, I’m going to say, ‘Move! Get out!’ When I say that, what I’m telling him is, I need him to either try to move his position because I need him to move so his opponent has to change what’s he doing, or try to take away what his opponent is attacking him with.”
He says that it isn’t necessary that the fighter on the defensive escapes a bad situation, it’s that he or she continues to attempt to do as much.
” It’s not that I care that he’s successful, because he’s not always going to be successful. What I care about is that he has tried. I care that at least he’s trying to move his position; he’s trying to reach out and trying to take something away. He’s thinking. Because if he’s thinking, it’s telling me he’s OK in the fight and I’m going to let the fight go on, but if the fighter can’t move, because his opponent hasn’t left him any choice or he doesn’t have the skill to escape and he’s just absorbing damage, I’m going to come in and I’m going to stop the fight.”
“A lot of people say ‘Wow, Josh Rosenthal let that fight go and Shane was bombing Brock.’ Every time Josh told Brock fight back or move, Brock tried. And so he’s going to let that fight go on. And that’s what we’re looking for. It’s when [it] is not working or has been damaged due to what has occurred in the fight, and he’s been concussed and he’s not effectively doing something to protect himself, it’s time to get him out of the fight to keep him safe so he can come back and fight again.”