Most helpful positive review
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
MMA Icon Offers Insider's Perspective
on September 13, 2011
Most pro sports referees fade into the background and they like it like that. Few NFL refs are noticed, unless they blow a pass interference call. Major league baseball umps vie for notoriety with outlandish gyrations on strike-out calls, but please just try to name one. NBA refs only make headlines when they are caught betting on games, perhaps during their sentencing hearings. If fans know your name as a ref in most sports, that's not necessarily a good thing.
Not so in mixed martial arts.
Here we have a cast of characters almost as well known as some of the fighters.
These refs in this increasingly popular sport are well known, somewhat celebs in their own right. Many have their own "signature" way of starting the fights. Some are understated and quietly professional, like Mario Yamasaki. Some just bark, "Fight!" Others, like Steve Mazzagatti, yell "Let's hook em'-up!" Perhaps the most iconic MMA ref tag-line, though, belongs to "Big" John McCarthy and his patented start to each contest, as he shakes his hand and exhorts the two fighters, "Let's get it on!"
Big John has been around since the start of MMA and the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC). Now along comes his long-awaited autobiography, co-authored by Loretta Hunt. Hunt is one of the nation's premier MMA journalists. She attained some unintended notoriety of her own a few years ago in a well-publicized dust-up with UFC Emperor Dana White, who launched into a profanity-laced tantrum after one of Hunt's journalistic forays.
In a sense, the story of Big John is the story of modern MMA. He was there at the beginning, from UFC 1 when a slender dude in white pajamas somehow was able to choke out and submit a succession of incredible hulks.
So ... does Big John "get it on" in this book? Does he give us the inside scoop on the modern world of mixed martial arts? From his vantage point inside the octagon, does he bring us there in a credible way?
To get to the good stuff, you first have to wade through about 100 pages of back story on Big John's upbringing. This is not bad, because it gives you a context for his interest in athletics and combative sports. As a member of the LAPD during the time of the Rodney King race riots, he became interested in non-lethal ways to control suspects. This led him to intersect with Rorion Gracie who, at the time, was popularizing his own variant of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Southern California. In turn, this growing collaboration with the Gracies gave McCarthy a front-row vantage point regarding the very first UFC events. He was, literally, "present at the creation" of the modern UFC and the phenomenon of mixed martial arts.
Little known fact: before becoming the iconic ref for MMA events, Big John wanted to compete in UFC 2. Rorion Gracie nixed the idea, though, as he did not want Big John potentially having to fight Royce. Instead, he suggested that McCarthy wait until after Royce's reign ended, then get involved as a competitor. In the meantime, McCarthy continued reffing, grew increasingly comfortable in the role, and abandoned any thoughts of entering MMA as a competitor.
Another little-known fact: the yardstick of "intelligently defending yourself" is a phrase and standard coined by McCarthy in the early days of MMA.. Before the ref had the power to stop a one-sided fight, he had to rely on the fighter either tapping out or the fighter's corner literally throwing in the towel. Stubborn corners often refused to do the latter, creating situations where Big John genuinely feared for a fighter's safety. Concerned about this, McCarthy prevailed upon Rorion Gracie to tweak the rules to enable the referee to end a fight when, in the ref's judgment, one of the fighters was not "intelligently defending himself." This made MMA safer, which in turn likely hastened its acceptance by a growing number of state athletic commissions.
Much of the meat of book involves Big John going back, event by event, through the early days of the UFC. For some, this may be a tedious journey. For others, it is an interesting perspective on the early years of some fighters who are now luminaries but who were relative unknowns at the time, including Randy Couture, Vitor Belfort and B.J. Penn. He notes the way the sport was professionalized once Zuffa and the Fertita brothers purchased the franchise. This circumscribed the role which McCarthy had played during the SEG/Meyrowitz years of UFC ownership. Further, McCarthy found himself pulled in opposite career directions, trying to balance his police career with a growing involvement in MMA.
In the final phase of LGIO, McCarthy traces the fall-out he had with Zuffa and the UFC. His take is that much of it started over a misunderstanding about travel logistics to an UFC event in London. As a jumbo-sized humanoid, McCarthy asked to be upgraded to business class for the marathon flight from Los Angeles to the UK. By the time this was relayed to Dana White and the UFC brass, they got the impression that McCarthy was holding them up by demanding a first-class upgrade. From there, the relationship frayed. Still, in time, Big John returned to the UFC fold, exited his self-imposed "retirement" and is once again one of the most recognizable features on the UFC/MMA landscape.
McCarthy comes across as an earnest, no B.S. kind of guy, with no taste for bureaucracy or office politics. If you are a UFC or MMA fan, you will enjoy this book. You may never view Big John the same after you read this book and hear him exhort the fighters, "Let's get it ON!"