McCarthy details injury that moved him towards broadcasting

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Bellator MMA recently announced that they had contracted with the father of MMA referees, John McCarthy, to join their commentary team. It means that while ‘Big’ John is not entirely retired from reffing, he will not be reffing shows like Bellator or the UFC for the foreseeable future. During a recent appearance on Ariel Helwani’s The MMA Hour, McCarthy described the injury that spurred his career change.

He was teaching a student how to do a Darse choke, and served as the uke. McCarthy is one of the strongest men I have ever met in the sport. I once saw him teaching an armbar, and he stood talking and walking, with the uke hanging in mid-air as the talk continued. Everything was entirely ordinary, but the next morning McCarthy had no feelings in his thumbs, and suffered pains shooting from his neck to his arms. It didn’t pass.

His C5, C6 and C7 vertebra were broken and pinching down on his nerves. McCarthy underwent surgery in August, but the pain continued.

“I hurt my neck really bad,” said McCarthy, as transcribed by Marc Raimondi for MMA Fighting. “I actually got paralyzed on one side of my body.”

“The [nerves] that were leading into my arms just were crushed. My thumbs were completely numb, my fingers were numb. I had that burn coming down from my shoulders.

“It just was a serious problem.”

A second surgery in September fused the vertebra, with spacers to protect the nerves. The pain was gone, but McCarthy was not the same.

“I’m not the same person,” he explained. “I used to be able to do things, I could grab someone and pick them up. Those days are gone for me. … It taught me a lesson and it made me realize how fast I can absolutely lose what I love doing.”

McCarthy took a long break from reffing, and has resumed, when he got a call from Bellator president Scott Coker.

“You gotta take chances in this world,” said McCarthy. “There was no place for me to go in the officiating world. I mean, I loved what I did. But I didn’t want to be the guy that hung on too long and I didn’t want to fall. I didn’t want to start going down and I didn’t want someone telling me, ‘Man, you need to get out, you’re not doing things right.’ It was a chance for me to get out on my own terms.”

“Somebody is telling me something. That’s really why this whole move came about.”