Exclusive Interview: "Big" John McCarthy

By Percy Crawford


Exclusive Interview: "Big" John McCarthy

UFC’S Most Prominent Ref Speaks Out!

Boxingtalk recently caught up with the 3rd man in the octagon for the UFC, “Big” John McCarthy. In this must read interview, McCarthy discusses where the phrase “let’s get it on” comes from as well as some of the greatest knockouts and upsets in his time as a UFC ref! You also don’t want to miss what he has to say about Chuck Liddell’s dominance and Randy Couture’s comeback! Check it out!

PC: How has everything been going?

JM: Everything has been going really good; thanks.

PC: You are an official in the UFC, a California police officer and an instructor at your training academy. How do you balance everything?

JM: I don’t. I don’t ever go home; that’s how I balance it. I get up at about 4:00 in the morning to be at work at 5 for the LAPD. I work until 4:00 in the afternoon and then I drive to my gym and stay there from 4:15-4:30 until about 10:30-11:00 at night. I drive home and get there at about 11:30. I go to sleep and its right back up at 4. The only time that changes is when I have UFC or some other thing to do and then that gets pushed to the side. Kind of boring, huh?

PC: You are certified in grappling and you are a Jiu Jitsu specialist. Have you ever thought about competing in the octagon?

JM: You know, a long time ago it was something I thought about and thought it was something I wanted to do. I’ve been blessed because being a referee was something I did in the beginning because I was asked to do it. But if I had fought so long ago, I would be so far out of the picture now and not involved. I think the most important thing that I’ve done is never look back and wonder if. Things turn out for me in a way and I’ve been blessed and I couldn’t ask for things to be better. I’m very happy with the way things are.

PC: Several months ago, yourself, Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture attended a training symposium for Narcotics officers. How did you think that turned out?

JM: I thought it turned out great. It was called CNOA (California Narcotics Officers Association). The event draws somewhere around 2,000 to 2,500 officers. It turned out great. They had a dinner for everyone and put Monday Night Football on one big screen and UFC 65 on another one. It was very nice. The officers were real appreciative.

PC: Who approached you with the idea to officiate in the UFC?

JM: Rorian Gracie!

PC: You’ve been a part of the UFC since UFC 2. They’re now on UFC 67. Are you surprised at the growth of the sport?

JM: I always believed it was exciting and people needed to understand the kind of guys who was in the sport. The last 2 to 3 years, it has just blown up. It’s gotten bigger than I ever thought it would. You go to a show, you have 15,000 plus people there and another million homes watching it on PPV. You figure 3 to 4 people to a home on average. I never thought it would be as big as it is right now.

PC: How close to fight time do you get the call to officiate a match?

JM: Generally, normally and usually you don’t find out until about 4:30 the night of the fight. The athletic commissions usually have a meet time with the officials and they will generally hand out assignments at that time. The last event, UFC 66, they assigned Mario Yamasaki to the main event and we knew about that a month ahead of time. Normally it’s about an hour at most before the show starts.

PC: I’m sure you’ve pulled over either a fan of yours or the UFC, being an officer. Is it difficult being an officer and a celebrity?

JM: I’m not really on the street much anymore. I train officers and do all kind of technical stuff. I go out at least everyday to get something to eat and people recognize me and they stop me. People are great. They love the sport, they love the UFC. It’s a pleasure to talk to them. It doesn’t bother me in the least. I’ve had some funny things happen when people realize it’s me. I don’t wear a normal police uniform. I usually go out in military fatigue or something. I don’t wear a normal uniform.

PC: You’ve took the phrase “Let’s get it on” to new heights. What made that your slogan when you first started in the UFC?

JM: The promoter of the UFC at the time, was a guy named Art Davie, wanted me to start each match with some type of phrase and hand signal. I asked what he wanted me to say and he said he didn’t care, it was up to me. I said, “I have 2 guys standing across the cage that are going to beat the shit out of each other. What, you want me to ask them, are you ready; are you ready? Let’s get it on.” He said, “That’s what I want.”

PC: You’ve been a part of every big UFC event there is. Which one sticks out in your mind as the biggest spectacle?

JM: That’s such a hard question because every show just gets bigger and bigger. There were certain fights that I could say I looked forward to because I thought they would be great fights. Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture trilogy was great. The energy was great and the crowd was great. When Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock fought for the first time, the energy was amazing in there. That was the point when you could tell it was becoming a true sport. Matt Hughes and George St. Pierre had the crowd in Sacramento going nuts. The last one with Tito and Chuck, you know the crowds are so incredible the venue is so filled with electricity. It’s exciting!

PC: In a huge match such as some of the ones you just mentioned. Would you rather get the nod to officiate the fight or sometimes would you rather sit back and watch at ringside?

JM: It’s a good question and there are 2 sides to it. I will take every fight they give me. If they gave me every fight on the card, I would take it because I like doing my job. I like being a ref and I like being part of the fight. I’ll take every fight, but if you’re going to ask as far as watching it; it is different watching the fight than officiating it. You see it differently. It’s a different look to it. If I officiate a fight, I always go home and watch the fight. I like to see if I done something wrong or if I thought something was unusual in the fight and I want to go back and see it, if it’s something I missed. But I’d take every fight thy give me.

PC: I hate to put it like this, but what’s the best knockout you’ve ever saw?

JM: Ah! The best knockout I’ve ever seen? There were 2 long ago, but Tank Abbot had two. He knocked out John Matua at UFC 6 and Steve Nelmark at Ultimate Ultimate 1996. Those were two huge knockouts. Brad Kohler knocking out Steve Judson was a huge knockout. Those were big ones. As far as highlight reel knockouts, I don’t want to say enjoyed, but Mirko Cro Cop has a couple. He has one against Igor Vovchanchun and the one recently against Wanderlei Silva which was highlight reel knockouts.

PC: What do you think of the additions of Mirko Cro Cop and Quinton Jackson to the UFC? 

JM: I think it’s great. They’re bringing in Mirko and Heath Herring both to the heavyweight division. They’re both outstanding fighters and they will add a lot of class and skill to that weight division. Quinton is such an absolute character. He’s so funny. He says things that are absolutely hysterical to listen too. He says he fights for money and give him his cheese and then the man can fight. I could remember back when I saw Quinton’s first professional fight. I was there and I talked to him before and after the fight. I walked up to him and told him, “Put in the training and you’re going to be something special.” He has definitely proved me to be prophetic in that because he is something special. His first fight was an ass kicking contest with Marvin Eastman, who he is fighting at UFC 67. He took multiple kicks to the head and just shook it off. He can fight!

PC: What would you consider the biggest upset that you’ve saw in the UFC?

JM: There’ve been quite a few of them, but the latest one is Joe Lauzon beating Jens Pulver and knocking Jens out. I would have never thought Joe would knock him out. I could see Joe possibly submitting Jens, but I never would have thought he would knock Jens out. That had to be the biggest upset I think I’ve ever seen.

PC: What do you think of Randy Couture’s comeback to the heavyweight division to fight Tim Sylvia?

JM: I’m torn in it. I admire Randy and I think the world of him and he has the skills to come back. When Randy stopped fighting, he didn’t stop training. He’s been training; he’s been working out. I did his match that he did in PSL (grappling tournament) when he went against Jacare. He did well and Jacare did very well. He shut down everything Jacare was trying to do and he looked well doing it. He wasn’t in great shape doing it because he was getting tired, but he has all the skill in the world to come back. Age is always something people will bring up. If it’s one thing that worries me about it, it’s not his skill set or what his mind has because that’s going to be there. One thing that happens to you because I’m older is you do start to lose some of that explosiveness. He’s fighting a big guy. People say bad things about Tim, but he’s a handful. He’s a big guy, that’s in good shape; he doesn’t get tired. Everyone talks about you take him down you’re going to beat him, that’s not true. Tim is a tough guy on the ground.  He has a lot of skill and it’s not a grappling match, it’s a fight. Even when he’s on his back he could hit people and they have a hard time hitting him. He presents a lot of problems. Randy coming back, best of luck to him. I wish him the best, I wish Tim the best. Should be an interesting fight.

PC: Has Chuck Liddell’s dominance over the last couple of years surprised you any?

JM: Chuck is not surprising at all. Chuck has exactly what he needs to be successful. He’s got all the skill set you need to be an outstanding mixed martial artist. He has unusual standup because he don’t hit people from angles that a true boxing aficionado would look at and say he’s sloppy, he throws crude punches, but one thing I’d say about Chuck; the man can hit. When you’re in the ring, you can hear his punches. He punches hard, he has heavy hands. When he hits someone right, they usually go down. Chuck is on top of his game right now. I don’t know if he has peaked or not, but he’s improved every year that he has been in the UFC and he’s better this year than he was last year. I had my ideas of what I personally thought Tito needed to do to try and win that fight, but I thought he looked pretty good. He moved well on his feet, his stand-up looked good, but he couldn’t get inside and do what he needed to do to Chuck. I thought Tito looked really great, but Chuck was way too much for him.

PC: I think stylistically, Tito just don’t match up well against Chuck.

JM: Everyone can sit there and say what they want about MMA and boxers, but Joe Frazier gave Ali fits. Ken Norton gave Ali fits. George Foreman walked through both of them and Ali made Foreman look silly. Styles make fights!

PC: Big John, it’s an honor speaking with you. Is there anything you want to say in closing?

JM: Thanks to everyone who keeps watching mixed martial arts. Stay tuned because 2007 is going to be incredible!


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