“Big” John McCarthy, once the best, biggest, and only UFC referee, will not be making a triumphant return to the Octagon this Saturday for UFC 104. McCarthy inserted himself into the news cycle last month with the same subtlety he inserted himself between Brian Johnston and Reza Nazri at UFC 11, busting Johnston’s nose in the process.
There’s no doubt McCarthy has plenty of allies in the insular MMA media. And there is no doubt that some old school fans would get a kick out of seeing him in the Octagon again. But Dana White and the Fertitta brothers own the UFC; the UFC means big money for the state of California. If they don’t want McCarthy, and they don’t, he’s not going to ref UFC events. It’s that simple. McCarthy found that out in Nevada, where he failed to even get a license to be the third man in the cage. And he found out again in California this week: despite being assigned to almost every major show in the state, he wasn’t assigned to this one.
Part of the problem is McCarthy’s inability to stay in his lane. He’s been a member of the media with The Fight Network. He has his own action figure. He clearly sees himself as a celebrity, and maybe he is. His job, though, is to officiate the bouts. Not to give unsolicited opinions about the fighters. Not to give unsolicited opinions about the calibre of the judging. He needs to be focused on the fighter’s safety and enforcing the rules-and nothing else.
When the bell rings this weekend, when Michael Buffer is doing the Buffer 180, when Joe Rogan is talking about Pat Barry’s “K-1 level kickboxing”, when Machida is flowing smoothly around the cage no one will be thinking about “Big John.” In the end, it doesn’t matter who the referee is – in a perfect world the referee would never become a part of the narrative at all. McCarthy doesn’t seem to understand that. And that’s why he won’t be in the Octagon Saturday.