"Big" John McCarthy has been the world’s preeminent mixed martial arts referee for 17 years, beginning with his participation at UFC 2 on March 11, 1994, in Denver, Colorado. McCarthy has refereed over 1,500 bouts worldwide, including every major UFC event until UFC 77 (excluding two), until a one-year retirement in December of 2007. His unmatched tenure put him in the middle 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.
After a one-year foray into color commentating and on-camera analysis for MMA and boxing events, McCarthy returned to his first love and reentered the cage as a referee at Strikeforce “Destruction” in November of 2008. On the eve of his return to MMA as a referee, McCarthy was named the first ever recipient of the World MMA Awards’ Lifetime Achievement accolade, voted on by the sport’s most prestigious journalists.
McCarthy was one of the original authors of the set of mixed martial arts rules and regulations utilized today, and he is a recognized historian of the sport. His advocacy of the sport has been instrumental in the passage of MMA regulations in numerous states.
McCarthy served as a police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department from 1985 to 2007. McCarthy was awarded his tactical/self-defense instructor certification by the LAPD on August 12, 1993, and taught until his retirement on September 15, 2007. In his 22 years on the force, McCarthy instructed over 10,000 recruits in arrest and control procedures and survival tactics.
In 2007, California State Senator James Battin awarded McCarthy with a commendation for his career accomplishments in the sport “for the work he has done to increase the safety, visibility, and importance of mixed martial arts.” In a separate proclamation, the California State Athletic Commission also recognized McCarthy for his “dedication and commitment to other officials in helping develop their skills and concern for athletes.”
McCarthy was inducted into the Masters Hall of Fame in 2006 for his “outstanding achievements in the martial arts” and was the guest speaker at its 2007 gala. In September of 2006, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt opened Big John McCarthy’s Ultimate Training Academy (BJMUTA), the first fully functional MMA gym in Valencia, California, where he also teaches. McCarthy drafted a curriculum and testing system for MMA referees and judges, which he unveiled at his first Certified Officials for Mixed Martial Arts National Development (COMMAND) seminar in Valencia on December 1, 2007. The program is often noted as the toughest of its kind in the United States.A pop culture icon, McCarthy has been spoofed in MAD magazine, starred as himself on the NBC series Friends in 1997, and made appearances as himself in a New Found Glory music video and the feature films The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It (2010) and Never Back Down 2 (2011).