Thursday, February 22, 2018

John McCarthy was supposed to fight in the earliest UFCs, but the LAPD officer and hand to hand instructor ended up being the referee, and in time came to define the role. With nowhere to go up, and a body that was not getting younger, in early January McCarthy, 55, took on a color commentary role for Bellator MMA. That meant he could no longer officiate high-level bouts.

He’s no longer refereeing 100 cards a year, and can spend more time with his wife and grandchildren, but the career change isn’t easy.


“I will never not miss being a referee,” said McCarthy recently to ESPN Staff Writer Greg Rosenstein. “Look, I’m getting older. I have a bad neck. I’m all messed up and it’s giving me problems. I didn’t want to do as many shows. I didn’t want to travel near as much as I was, so this let me slow things down.”

“My knowledge is different in the fact that I know the rules inside and out — I wrote them. I know what the referee is supposed to do, what the fighter is supposed to do. A lot of fighters who are really good fighters, they don’t understand all of the rules.

“I’m going to look at the fights maybe a little bit different than they will because they are going off of what they like to do. And I don’t care what I like to do. I care what the fighters are doing. I’m going to talk about why they are being successful and what the other guy needs to do to stop that success.”

McCarthy made his broadcasting debut at Bellator 194 last Friday night, after weeks of preparation.

“I have to improve on everything,” he said. “It wasn’t easy to watch. I made mistakes. There are things where I go, ‘Oh, I called that wrong.’ It’s all part of trying to put information out fast. I need to slow it down and talk about what I’m seeing. If I make a mistake, fix the mistake and roll with it. The same as a referee.”

“My goal is to be the very best that I can be at color commentary and to be able to educate fans so they truly know what should be going on in a fight. Why a fighter is doing that, why a referee made a call. I want them to know the sport better.”