‘Big’ John McCarthy Not Retired from Refereeing But No Longer His Main Focus

'Big' John McCarthy discusses his move to Bellator MMA as the new color commentator

It’s tough to imagine the biggest fights happening in mixed martial arts without “Big” John McCarthy serving as the third man in the cage to referee the action taking place.

Considering McCarthy has been refereeing fights since the earliest inception of the UFC, it’s understandable why he’s widely recognized as one of the best officials to ever work in the sport.

In fact, numerous athletes will go as far as requesting McCarthy as referee thanks to his years of knowledge, incredible track record inside the cage and ability to call the action right down the middle no matter the magnitude of the event.

As much as McCarthy loves his job as referee, he will now be stepping back from that role to accept a new job with Bellator MMA as he will now become the full time color commentator for the promotion starting with the broadcast on Jan. 20 as part of the launch of the Paramount Network.

According to McCarthy, the timing to join Bellator couldn’t have been any better after he suffered an injury last year that put him on the sideline for several months. Add to that, McCarthy says that he was already prepared to cut back on the amount of events he worked in 2018 not only due to the injury but also thanks to the countless hours he spent in airports and traveling on planes while working all over the globe.

“I got hurt in July. I hurt my neck really bad and ended up having a couple of operations and I was not the same,” McCarthy explained. “The injury degraded me to where I even had a hard time lifting my arm up. So I ended up getting the operations and I pulled myself out of officiating fights, walked away for a couple of months basically and my first fight back was the New York show on Nov. 4 for the UFC. I learned something off of that injury and what I had to go through, if you’re not healthy, you can’t do this. I don’t want to do it when somebody else can do it better.

“That was part of the whole decision making process of taking the job. I was traveling, I think I got close to 300,000 air miles [last year]. That’s a lot. That’s you living inside an airplane a lot and I was getting tired of it. I had already decided with my wife that I was going to scale way back and not do as much travel and then this opportunity came up. It’s a lot less travel, it’s a lot less being at airports and I can tell you if I want to go referee somewhere, I can do it. It’s available to me. But my whole purpose now is to be a color commentator for Bellator MMA and do the best job possible I can do for them.”

Now McCarthy makes it clear that he’s not shutting the door on refereeing in MMA now or in the future but his work rate will be cut down rather dramatically with his new job at Bellator.

McCarthy says that he’ll still work as an official for certain shows — outside of working directly for Bellator or any direct competitor such as the UFC — but he’ll still be available at times to help with fights internationally when time permits.

“Would I say I’m stepping away from refereeing entirely? No,” McCarthy said. “I can go referee places but obviously I’m not going to be refereeing for other direct competitors of Bellator. You can’t do that and they wouldn’t want me and that’s understandable. That’s just the way it is.

“I’m never going to say I’m retired because I have people all the time that have charity events. Am I going to go referee for them? Absolutely. Can I go internationally and referee? Yes, I can. Is it what I’m going to focus my attention on? Absolutely not.”

His focus is now on broadcast duties for Bellator MMA where McCarthy will make his debut on Jan. 20 at one of the biggest cards for the promotion in recent history.

The event will feature a welterweight title fight between champion Douglas Lima and former UFC contender Rory MacDonald as well as the launch of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix with a fight between Chael Sonnen and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.

All of that is exciting to McCarthy, who can’t wait to get behind the microphone to start his new job later this month.

“With commentating, it’s new, I love the people at Bellator that I get to work with,” McCarthy said. “I get to work with Mike Goldberg, Mauro Ranallo and it was an opportunity when I looked at it, it was going to be hard for me to pass up.”

▶️ Follow us on Youtube for the best & latest MMA content ▶️
Bellator MMAExclusiveJohn McCarthyLatest news

Damon Martin is a veteran mixed martial arts journalist who has been covering the industry since 2003 with bylines on FOX Sports, CNN, Bleacher Report and numerous other outlets.