John McCarthy explains Bellator commentator move, plans to still officiate boxing


Jimmy Smith’s move from Bellator set in motion John McCarthy’s return to color commentating. A chokehold also made an assist.

Two weeks ago, the veteran referee sent well wishes to Smith after news broke of the longtime commentator’s departure. One day later, McCarthy received a call to audition for Smith’s job.

“I thought about it, and it was like, yeah, that’s an opportunity that I would absolutely do,” McCarthy today told MMAjunkie after the Viacom-owned promotion announced his hiring for Bellator events this year.

Two days later, McCarthy flew to Los Angeles for what he thought was an audition. Bellator President Scott Coker described it as a “work session” with Mike Goldberg.

“We knew that he was someone we wanted,” Coker said. “So it was about coming in and working with Goldie.”

For McCarthy, it was the chance to work hand-in-hand with a group of people he’d long respected in the industry. His relationship with Coker stretches back to 2006, when Coker held his first MMA event in now-defunct Strikeforce.

“I’ve always respected Scott for being the person he is,” McCarthy said. “He’s super honest. He’s loyal. He is a martial artist. He understands the martial arts, and he understands the way a martial artist is going to look at something, and why. The fact that he’s the guy I’m working for, that had a huge part in why I took the job.”

There were other considerations, as well, besides the opportunity to work with a major promotion in a public-facing role. In July, McCarthy badly injured his neck while demonstrating a D’Arce choke, requiring two surgeries that kept him away from refereeing.

McCarthy, 55, didn’t want to be the guy who hung around longer than he needed to, especially if he couldn’t physically separate men or women in the cage. He jumped at the offer to commentate, a role he briefly flirted with in 2007 when he was hired to call an event in now-defunct Affliction MMA.

Strapping on the headset for the first time in over a decade for his Bellator audition, McCarthy said it was like starting over again. But he knew all of the fighters presented in the work session and remembered a few tricks from his brief time in the job, like using flashcards for information.

The more nuanced part of the job, knowing when to talk and when to hold his tongue, will probably be a work in progress.

“My job is to take the softballs that a Mauro Ranallo or Mike Goldberg are going to give me and polish it up so fans understand exactly why a guy is being successful and what he’s doing, and not take over the broadcast,” McCarthy said. “It’s absolutely a challenge. That’s part of the reason I took the job. I know it sounds egotistical, but truthfully, in MMA refereeing, where was my place to go? I’d been there, and I’d done it. I’d done the biggest fights, been part of incredible shows. What’s the only direction for me to go? The only direction is down.”

As the founder of COMMAND, an officials training school recognized by the Association of Boxing Commissions, McCarthy’s new job raised questions about a conflict of interest should he continue to referee or judge events. As it turns out, McCarthy doesn’t plan to step away from refereeing and officiating – he just doesn’t plan to work in MMA.

“This is me stepping away from officiating, because I have to give all my time and energy and everything I can give to get good to Bellator, and that’s what I’m going to do,” he said.

McCarthy’s stance is that he can continue to work as an official in boxing, because there is no crossover between the sports. He cites boxing officials employed in the blockbuster between UFC champ Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather as evidence of the separation. He also plans to continue teaching MMA judging and refereeing with COMMAND, though he plans to delegate more of his duties to his teaching staff.

“My job is still to educate fans and other officials,” McCarthy said. “I will absolutely be teaching courses every now and then, and putting out information that is correct and technique and mechanics that help other officials be successful at what they do.”

At Bellator 192 on Jan. 20 and Bellator 193 on Jan. 26, McCarthy will start his new job as a color commentator, joining a team which includes Chael Sonnen, Goldberg and Ranallo. On Jan. 27, McCarthy will serve as a judge for a boxing card.

“That’s part of combat sports,” McCarthy said. “That’s officiating, and I’m going to be a part of that still to this day, because there is no crossover. If you look at Mayweather vs. McGregor, there ain’t no crossover when it comes to boxing and MMA. And so that’s something that I will continue to do, because I love it. It gives me that opportunity to work for the commissions and be a part of something I really enjoy doing.

“As far as MMA, if you’re asking me if I’m going to be working the big fights for another promotion. No. They’re not going to want me. I am with Bellator. I don’t expect any other promotion to go, ‘You’re sticking John McCarthy with us – he works for Bellator.’ I wouldn’t do that to them. That’s just common sense.”

For more on Bellator 192, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.



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