Referee "Big" John McCarthy -- a presence as familiar to MMA fans as bloodstains -- recently spoke to Sportsnet.ca about his attempts to improve the state of officiating in the sport, which currently ranges from good to grossly negligent. The supplemental topic was McCarthy's absence from UFC events, which apparently stems from his involvement as an on-air personality for the Fight Network, where he has made comments some considered to be critical of the UFC.
On his possible return: "That's up to the UFC. That's not up to me. … Dana [White] is the guy who runs the UFC. He has a personal problem with me. That's fine. It's his decision."
Is it really? Referees are recruited, employed and paid by athletic commissions. Those commissions likely are holding off on assigning McCarthy to officiate UFC events because they fear a potential bias (assuming he and White have an acrimonious relationship). But that's not how it should work. By that rationale, White could claim personality conflicts with any referee he's not in favor of and assemble an army of favorable officials by process of elimination.
White has also leveled personal criticisms against other referees, including Steve Mazzagatti. Why aren't they being withheld from his venues? Couldn't it be argued that they'd retaliate by screwing up a fight? And if not, why the concern about McCarthy?
Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Keith Kizer told ESPN.com that referees should use caution making judgment calls outside the ring. "A referee has to be very careful what he says," Kizer said. "If he's out there criticizing licensees, I would not be surprised if that licensee would have a legitimate objection against that official -- be it a fighter, a manager or a promoter."
McCarthy once had words for the Nevada Commission itself; Kizer refused to entertain the idea that those comments could affect McCarthy's status.
"I saw him at New Orleans at the Association of Boxing Commissions Convention," Kizer said. "Said hello to him. That was about the extent of it, pleasantries."
As it stands, McCarthy doesn't have a license to officiate in Nevada and hasn't applied for one since leaving his on-air role as analyst for the Fight Network. But if the fighters' "best interests" are supposed to be a top priority, I would politely suggest all parties desist with the Mexican-standoff model and let one of the better referees in the game do what he's supposed to.