“Big” John McCarthy Discusses His New Book

McCarthy details early days

“Honestly, Loretta was the reason I ended up doing the book,” laughs “Big” John McCarthy, the iconic MMA referee, speaking about his friend and co-author Loretta Hunt.

Laughs probably isn’t the right word; “booms” is a more apt description of McCarthy’s baritone.

“She kept asking me, saying, `I want to write a book with you because you know what happened. All the stuff that’s out there, you know what really happened.’

“The real purpose was to try and shed some light on the way things really came about, why they came about in that fashion, and who was responsible for doing these things. There’s people that have kind of started following MMA since The Ultimate Fighter show and they think that’s where everything came from, and that’s okay. But there really was a history before it, and there really was a lot of people responsible for making MMA happen, so we just wanted to put out what happened and how.

“I think in general it’s good to know where we came from so that we never take for granted what we have in the present and the future, and so we learn from our mistakes; that’s why history is documented everywhere,” added Hunt, the veteran MMA journalists who joined McCarthy on this project. “Every sport has a very rich history, and mixed martial arts will be 18-years-old in November in America, but some day when we look back 40, 50 years from now, MMA will be 68-years-old and I’m here now in this time, and part of the reason I became a journalist in MMA is that I dig all this stuff. I dig documenting our past.

“I loved going back and watching the first UFCs. I got to sit with John and watch UFC 1 and 2, and that will probably be one of the greatest thrills of my life — watching UFC 1 and 2 and turning on the tape recorder and letting John McCarthy just remember things like the guy in the crowd. To me, all that stuff is very thrilling. It’s also just very important, and I don’t want people to get lost in the shuffle.”

In both the book — Let’s Get It On! The Making of MMA and its Ultimate Referee, available now through Medallion Press — and their interviews about the effort, McCarthy and Hunt are quick to give credit to the various people who have helped shape this sport along the way.

“(John) gives Jeff Blatnick a lot of space in this book, and talks about him,” explains Hunt of the man who first stepped into the cage at UFC 2. “John’s very careful to give people where credit is due. John didn’t invent everything in this sport when it started; he came up with some things and he was a part of the invention of some things, but John is very careful to give credit where credit is due.”

“They’re the ones that are truly responsible,” McCarthy says of a list that included Blatnick, Rorion Gracie, Bob Meyrowitz and Art Davie. McCarthy also gives both Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta a great deal of credit for taking the UFC to where it is today, and shared his opinions on the “Zuffa Myth” when he spoke with Heavy MMA last week.

“I don’t blame Dana for it,” offers McCarthy, the “it” being the skewed history of the UFC that some fans of the sport and the organization have come to learn and embrace since the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. “A lot of people will sit there and say they’re trying to re-write history; I don’t think that they’re trying to re-write history. When someone says, `You’ve done a great job,’ he says, `Well, thank you,’ and he’s right and he has done a great job; the UFC has put MMA where it’s at.

“Now that’s been a lot of people over a long period of time getting it to that point. Dana and Lorenzo are the ones that have made it as big as it is, and I give a ton of credit to Lorenzo Fertitta because he’s a guy no one gives credit to. He’s done so much for the sport; he’s the reason the sport is as big as it is. Not that Dana doesn’t do a ton of work and work very hard at it, but it was Lorenzo’s money that gave Dana the opportunity to have his job and do what he does.

“It was Lorenzo putting his money out there and sticking with it when he was way in the hole, and allowing things to keep going. I honestly believe his business sense is one of the things that has helped Dana, because people don’t give Lorenzo credit because they don’t see him and he pushes Dana out there, but trust me, Lorenzo is a very smart business man and he’s the reason it’s as big as it is.

“But even before him, there were people that were financially risking their livelihood to keep the UFC going, and those things needed to be said, and people needed to know about those people.”

McCarthy is one of those people.

Hunt explains that showing the contributions McCarthy made and acknowledging his place in the fabric of the sport in North America was one of the goals she set out with when they started this project.

“I wanted everyone to know what a great asset he was to the sport, in the early days especially; we’re talking the days before Zuffa even got involved. I wanted to do it in a way where we weren’t hitting people over the head, saying John should get all this recognition. I was just hoping that with him sharing his history and him sharing his stories people would come to that conclusion on their own.”

While some people may argue that penning an autobiography contradicts the subject’s desire to stay out of the spotlight, McCarthy ventured into this project more to detail the history of the sport. Unfortunately for him, he is an integral part of that history, something the book accurately portrays, whether he likes it or not.

“I don’t like to step forward. I hate it; I really don’t like it. It’s uncomfortable for me. I love MMA and I love doing anything I can do to help MMA, but as far as me personally, I don’t need to build me. That’s not an interest; I don’t want to do publicity, I don’t want to be famous, I don’t want to do movies. That’s not who I am.”

That is so much the case that the 39-year-old admits there were a number of times during the more than two years that he and Hunt spent putting the book together that he wanted to change his mind. Now that the finished product is on the shelf, however, he’s pleased with the reception and gives credit to Hunt for collecting his his stories and memories between the covers.

“It took a while to get it going, and then when it finally did, even through it, I was saying, `I wish I never did this. I wish I never did this. This is driving me crazy.’ It was one of those things that if I could have stopped, at a lot of points I would have. I would have said, `I’m done. I’m not doing it,’ but I didn’t have that choice once I signed on the dotted line with the publishers, so I was kind of stuck.”

“In the end, I thought that although it was a lot harder than I thought it would be to actually do the work and sit there and go over it — figure out what you could put in, what you couldn’t — I thought Loretta did a really good job of putting it all together.

“The one thing that I’ve really appreciated is that everybody who has read it has really,” McCarthy continues, trailing off to find the right thought. “I’d say, `Don’t lie to me, man. Tell me what you really think,’ and they’d say, `I love it. I’m telling you it was really a great book,’ so that makes me happy that people are enjoying it. When you write something, you think, `What are people going to say?’ Because you don’t know and you want people to like things; it’s human nature. You want people to say you’ve done a good job.”

The duo has done that and then some.