Big John McCarthy Explains Move from Refereeing to the Bellator Broadcast Booth

January 10, 2018

“Big” John McCarthy is no stranger to sitting behind the microphone, but he’s best known as the third man in the cage or ring for some of the biggest fights in the history of mixed martial arts.

McCarthy has been a stalwart of the fight scene since first appearing during the earliest days of the UFC, long before the promotion was selling out arenas with superstars like Conor McGregor or Ronda Rousey.

As a referee, McCarthy has played an integral part in many huge fights over the years, but now he’s taking a break from his officiating career to take a new role as color commentator with Bellator MMA.

McCarthy was announced as the new color commentator for Bellator MMA on Tuesday, as he takes over the role previously occupied by Jimmy Smith. According to McCarthy, the deal to join Bellator came together rather quickly after Smith’s departure, and soon after he got the call about the job, he was in Los Angeles auditioning for the role.

“It came together really fast,” McCarthy told about his new deal with Bellator MMA. “I got a tweet from Jimmy Smith putting out that he was separating and he and Bellator were going their own ways and he wished everyone luck. So I contacted him right away and said ‘what’s going on’ and he explained that it was a mutual thing and that he was going to be good with it. I hated seeing him go, but one day later I got a call from Scott Coker and he said ‘we’ve considered putting you as someone to audition for the color commentator role; is that something you’d be interested in?’ and I thought about it. Yep, I would.

“Two days later, I was in L.A. doing demo stuff and luckily I was picked to be able to get the job. Now I’m part of Bellator MMA and I’m super excited to be here.”

While the job offer was rather sudden, McCarthy says the timing couldn’t have been any better after he had already decided to scale back on the amount of events he would be working as a referee in 2018.

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“I got hurt in July. I hurt my neck really bad and ended up having a couple of operations and I was not the same,” McCarthy explained. “The injury degraded me to where I even had a hard time lifting my arm up. So I ended up getting the operations and I pulled myself out of officiating fights, walked away for a couple of months basically, and my first fight back was the New York show on Nov. 4 for the UFC. I learned something off of that injury and what I had to go through. If you’re not healthy, you can’t do this.

“I don’t want to do it when somebody else can do it better. I wanted to be able to walk away on my terms at the right time, feeling that I’m sitting on top of the heap right now and there’s only one direction for go in officiating. With commentating, it’s new. I love the people at Bellator that I get to work with. I get to work with Mike Goldberg, Mauro Ranallo, and it was an opportunity when I looked at it, it was going to be hard for me to pass up. Yeah, I’m stepping away from something I love and I won’t be a part of the big fights that I was doing for other promotions, but you can’t have it all. When I looked at the big picture, this was the right thing for me to do.”

As far as officiating goes, McCarthy says he’s not retired from refereeing in MMA, but that is no longer his top priority.

Instead, McCarthy will still serve as an official when time permits, just like his upcoming gig as a judge at a boxing match in California later this month. But he will no longer be a full time official nor will he be working for Bellator or any direct competitor in that same capacity.

“Would I say I’m stepping away from refereeing entirely? No. I can go referee places, but obviously I’m not going to be refereeing for other direct competitors of Bellator. You can’t do that and they wouldn’t want me and that’s understandable,” McCarthy said. “That’s just the way it is.

“I’m never going to say I’m retired because I have people all the time that have charity events. Am I going to go referee for them? Absolutely. Can I go internationally and referee? Yes, I can. Is it what I’m going to focus my attention on? Absolutely not.”

Refereeing became second nature to McCarthy over the years, considering he’s been doing the job almost since the inception of the sport, but commentating will be something largely new to the veteran fight expert.

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In a way, that’s what is most exciting to McCarthy about the job because he not only gets to remain a part of the sport he loves, but he also gets to venture in a new direction in his career.

“Am I excited? I’m thrilled. I get to work with guys that are my friends, so that really helps. Am I scared? Hell yeah,” McCarthy said. “There’s nothing wrong with having fear. It’s allowing the fear to dictate your decision and not do it; then there’s a problem. I know there are going to be people out there who say I absolutely suck. So what?

“I know if I put in enough time and work, I can do this and I can do it well, and I can bring certain elements that other people just can’t bring.”