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MMA Referee Big John McCarthy

Updated on June 6, 2014

Let's Get It On with Big John - The Most Famous MMA Referee in the History of the Sport

Big John McCarthy has been recognized as the most influential MMA referee since the early days of the Ultimate Fighting Championships. He has been in charge in more than 600 bouts worldwide and was one of the original authors of the MMA rules and regulations that are used today. His knowledge of the sport and larger than life personality has made him one of the most recognized and popular figures in MMA, both as a referee, and commentator.

The nickname of Big John came about because of his stature. McCarthy stands 6'4" and weighs 240 lbs.

Big John McCarthy Gym
Big John McCarthy Gym

Pre-MMA Career

Big John McCarthy bio and trivia.

In 1985 McCarthy became a police officer for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), following his father, SWAT team legend Ron McCarthy. Big John worked the mean streets of Hollywood for 23 years, during which time he took on some of the department's most dangerous assignments.

In August 1993, McCarthy was awarded his Tactics & Self-Defense Instructor Certification by the LAPD, and has been teaching for the department ever since. He is also an instructor at the Fullerton College Police Academy.

McCarthy had been training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Rorion at the Gracie Academy in Torrance, CA in the early 1990s. John had participated in 4-5 amateur MMA bouts but never competed professionally. In 1993 McCarthy expressed interest in fighting for the UFC but his trainer Rorion Gracie advised against it.

According to a recent UFC interview, his nickname was given to him by UFC co-founder & promoter Art Davie. McCarthy recalls that the nickname began when he forcibly lifted Davie off the ground and held him in the air.

Due to his prior experience in law enforcement, McCarthy was seen as a fitting man to referee. He debuted at UFC 2: No Way Out in 1994.

John McCarthy LAPD Video - On police duty with shotgun during LA riots.

Rioters are you ready? Police are you ready? Lets get it on!

UFC Flag

UFC Mixed Martial Arts  3-by-5 foot Flag
UFC Mixed Martial Arts 3-by-5 foot Flag

As Real as it Gets - Officially licensed 3' x 5' flag with attached D-rings. The imprint is 100% show through to the backside with a long lasting color-fast die. Fly on a flagpole or hang it on a wall. Flags come poly-bagged with header and graphic displayed. Made in USA.


New Book from Big John! - Let's Get It On!: The Making of MMA and Its Ultimate Referee

"A no-nonsense, hands-on account of the blood and sweat that lifted MMA from the sports blacklist and turned it into a billion-dollar industry. McCarthy didn't just observe history—he helped make it." —Jake Rossen,

Let's Get It On!: The Making of MMA and Its Ultimate Referee
Let's Get It On!: The Making of MMA and Its Ultimate Referee

An intimate profile of the legendary mixed martial arts (MMA) referee, this first full-length autobiography of pop culture icon “Big” John McCarthy details every aspect of his life—from his strong-handed Los Angeles upbringing to his involvement in the naming of the sport, his role in its regulation, and MMA’s rise in stature. The narrative follows “Big” John through his 22-year career as a Los Angeles police officer, where he taught recruits arrest and control procedures as well as survival tactics, then his 15-year career as MMA’s premier official in the chain-linked cage. A fixture of the sport, “Big” John started refereeing at UFC 2 in 1994 when MMA was in its infancy and went on to officiate at every major UFC event but two until 2007. Following a one-year hiatus as a color commentator and on-camera analyst for MMA and boxing events, he returned to MMA refereeing in 2008. In his own words, "Big" John relates his insider’s perspective from the midst of many of the sport’s greatest moments—from Tito Ortiz–Ken Shamrock I at UFC 40 in 2002 to Randy Couture–Tim Sylvia at UFC 68 in March of 2007—along with his account of the birth of the sport in America, its evolution, and MMA’s ongoing struggles for acceptance.

Big John McCarthy Ref
Big John McCarthy Ref

A Funny Incident in the Ring

Interview with

Big John recalls an incident in UFC V: Return of the Beast, in which Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock faced each other in The Superfight.

"Ken was fighting Royce and it went down to the ground, where they stayed for a long time. Ken was receiving instructions from his father Bob at the side of the Octagon, and it got to the point where Bob was so frustrated by the drawn-out battle, he says, 'God damn it, Ken, why don't you just kiss him? It's friggin' embarrassing.' Ken looks at his father as though to say, 'What the hell are you telling me?' He turns back to Royce, and Royce says, 'Please don't do that'. I'm in the middle of it and I start laughing. I think, 'Oh my God'. I'm sure you can see it on the video. Things like that happen all the time."

Read Full Interview Here

Where did he get that catch phrase anyways? - Big John interview tells all.

Big John McCarthy talks about how he got started refereeing, the origin of his famous catch phrase "Lets get it on!" and some of his favorite fight moments.

Big John McCarthy in Action - Pete Sell vs Scott Smith battle!

John mentions this match in the previous interview as being one of his favorite fights to have witnessed from inside the octagon. Scott Smith and Pete Sell have some great chemistry, high-fiving each other at times and fighting to an incredible KO finish. This fight took place during the Ultimate Fighter season 4 finale.

Buy Affliction Shirts from Amazon

Big John McCarthy Funny
Big John McCarthy Funny

Interview with Pro MMA

John talks to excerpt.

PRO MMA: Were you ever on the TV show "Cops?"

BIG JOHN MCCARTHY: No, I was never on Cops, thank God.

PRO MMA: When you look back from how the sport of MMA began and when you were in there refereeing those early UFC's, did you ever have any idea that it would be where it is today?

BIG JOHN MCCARTHY: No, I didn't. At first when the whole concept came out and Rorian was putting it together, I loved the concept because I believed in the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and I thought that people were going to like it, and it was unique. And really a whole lot of people didn't catch on that fast before it happened, and then when it happened everybody jumped on and thought it was cool, and then the political pressure happened and they tried to kill it. It went through a lot of hard times and you tried to work through those and do the best that you can but never thought it was going to be enormous sport or entity that it is now.

Read Full Interview Here

Fight Life Videos - Short videos featuring John.

An interesting series of short interviews and viedo clips reflecting on the life, career and thoughts of John McCarthy. A must watch for any fan.

UFC Champion Replica Belt - Live the dream!

UFC Belt
UFC Belt

* Replica belt measures 38" x 8" long

* Championship belts of past and present

* Authentic replica belts manufactured by UFC

Big John McCarthy on Vacation
Big John McCarthy on Vacation

Taking Time Off

Big John McCarthy Retires!

After reffing over 500 bouts and rising to become most recognizable referee in all of mixed martial arts (and possibly in all of sports) John decided to retire from refereeing to pursue other ventures such as his MMA School in Valencia California, writing his autobiography, furthering his career in broadcasting and sitting on his couch playing video games.

John's last time in the octagon came on Dec. 8, 2007 when he watched over Roger Huerta submitting Clay Guida with a rear naked choke.

Big John Visits EA Sports - Funny Video

Return from Retirement

McCarthy returned to refereeing in Nov. 2008 working with various promoters such as Affliction yet was not given any UFC officiating duties until August 2010 at the UFC on Versus 2 event fueling previous rumors that McCarthy had had a falling out with UFC president Dana White.

Big John Action FIgure

Round 5 World of MMA Champions UFC Series 3 Action Figure "Big John" McCarthy
Round 5 World of MMA Champions UFC Series 3 Action Figure "Big John" McCarthy

Every MMA fan will recognize 'Big John' McCarthy's signature delivery, 'Let's get it on!' before every bout. Now he comes to you 6-inches tall and fully collectible! The figure features McCarthy in his signature refereeing attire of a black shirt, black pants, and latex gloves.

adam carolla and big john mccarthy
adam carolla and big john mccarthy

Adam Carolla Show Podcast

Big John is a guest on this entertaining podcast.

Comedian and tv and radio personality Adam Carolla sits down with UFC referee Big John McCarthy for an action packed 45 minute podcast. They discuss the LAPD, the history of MMA, memorable UFC knock outs and much, much more.

LIsten to Podcast

MMA Books

Total MMA: Inside Ultimate Fighting
Total MMA: Inside Ultimate Fighting

This thorough history provides fans with the whole story behind the Ultimate Fighting Championship, including profiles of MMA's greatest stars such as Ken Shamrock; the immense popularity of mixed martial arts events in Japan; the influence of the Fertitta family, whose Las Vegas connections opened the door for the UFC to succeed; and, finally, Spike TV's role in making mixed martial arts a national obsession.

Fedor: The Fighting System of the World's Undisputed King of MMA
Fedor: The Fighting System of the World's Undisputed King of MMA

In Fedor, the undefeated, undisputed heavyweight MMA champion of the world unveils for the first time his trademark striking and grappling techniques through descriptive narrative and more than 2500 step-by-step color photographs.

Training for Warriors: The Ultimate Mixed Martial Arts Workout
Training for Warriors: The Ultimate Mixed Martial Arts Workout

Discover the training secrets that have produced World Champions in MMA, Submission Grappling, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and Judo. More than 750 color photos will show you how to perform hundreds of exercises designed to specifically target each area of your body.

Mixed Martial Arts: The Book of Knowledge
Mixed Martial Arts: The Book of Knowledge

Mixed Martial Arts outlines the revolutionary system of fighting used by world-renowned fighter BJ Penn. Penn, one of the most technical and decorated fighters in the world today, illustrates fighting techniques that teach you how to mix strikes with takedowns, ground and pound an opponent into submission, fight against the cage and formulate strategies based upon your personal attributes and strengths.


What do you think of Big John McCarthy?

funny big john mccarny
funny big john mccarny

Quick Poll

See results

MMA Workout

The Pit Workout
The Pit Workout

The Pit Workout DVD consists of three hour-long workouts by Chuck Lidel's trainer John Hackelman. The first is upper body, the second lower body, and the third both upper and lower. No equipment is needed (a punchbag is optional), so it can be performed anywhere.

This will get you into shape! Anyone who says it's easy is not doing it's as simple as that! And simplicity is the key to The Pit. The exercises are tough and are broken up with hiting or kicking the bag (or shadow boxing if you don't have a bag handy).


Share your stories, sightings, thoughts, rants, raves...

Shout Out For Big John McCarthy!

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    • golfgpswatch lm profile image

      golfgpswatch lm 

      5 years ago

      Is he still refereeing UFC events?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Big john... you are the man!! best referee in MMA PERIOD.

    • ceejaycmarshall profile image


      6 years ago

      I love Big John!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      The Royce Gracie - Ken Shamrock story is great!

    • Violin-Student profile image


      6 years ago

      McCarthy was great. Herb Dean, too. Thanks for this page.

      That's My Two Cents

      --Art Haule

    • Chris-H LM profile image

      Chris-H LM 

      7 years ago

      I'm not a huge MMA fan, but you've put together a really nice lens here. Just want to say "Good job!"

    • fizanali profile image


      7 years ago

      You've build a great squidwho lens I liked it :)

    • poptastic profile image

      Cynthia Arre 

      7 years ago from Quezon City

      Nicely done SquidWho on Big John McCarthy. ~Blessed~

    • Timewarp profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Montreal

      Greetings MMA fans, hope you enjoyed this look at Big John McCarthy!


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