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

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.

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.

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  • Let's Get it On!

    Chapter 1
    Son of the Gun

    Tiger father begets tiger son.
    -Chinese proverb

    His eyes tell me he’s had enough. Not his midsection, bruised and tenderized by a round of short, sobering body shots and unmerciful knees. Not his legs, discolored and swollen from a steady attack of low kicks from his opponent. Not his broken nose or forehead, sliced open and dripping red from a perfectly placed elbow shot.

    It’s his eyes. I look into the fighter’s eyes, and they tell me he’s scared. He doesn’t know how to get out of this predicament, but he continues because that’s what a fighter does.

    It’s in this moment that I know the fight is over. I know he won’t come back. This is when what I do counts most.

    I am a mixed martial arts referee. The first of my kind in the United States, I started with the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1994. Before MMA was even considered a sport, back when it was called No Holds Barred and Ultimate Fighting, I officiated the fights. A one-off pay-per-view spectacle evolved over eighteen years into something followed and cherished by millions of die-hard fans worldwide, and I’m lucky to be able to say I was a part of it.

    In its simplest definition, mixed martial arts is the execution of multiple combat sports’ disciplines with the goal of knocking out, submitting, or outscoring an opponent before he does it to you. Fighters jab like boxers, kick like kickboxers, throw knees and elbows like muay Thai stylists, take down opponents like wrestlers, and contort and trap appendages in chokes and holds like jiu-jitsu practitioners. They can perform one or all of these elements in a matter of seconds to win, which makes the sport excitingly unpredictable. A bout can stay on the feet or go to the mat or even dabble in a little of both, wherever the greater athlete or tactician chooses to take it.

    There are no guarantees in MMA other than that no two fights ever look the same. An experienced champion can get knocked out by an underdog’s single punch. An overwhelming favorite can make a mistake, and his opponent will capitalize.

    For me, MMA is competition. There’s nothing like witnessing two well-trained fighters engaged in battle. There’s an artistry to it. Like a choreographed ballet, when it’s done right, with two well-matched partners, it’s beautiful. It’s poetry in motion, and I can’t take my eyes off it. It’s my sport.

    Some people don’t understand MMA. They say it’s dangerous, brutal, and barbaric. They don’t understand the motivation because they personally fear the thought of being in a fight, the rush of adrenaline that will make them shake uncontrollably, the possibility of pain or being dominated with no way to end it.

    My job is to stop the competition at just the right moment, in that split second when a fighter becomes overwhelmed and can no longer protect himself. It can happen in the blink of an eye, with one punch, kick, tug, or squeeze. Sometimes I’ve called a fight right on the money. Other times I’ve missed that crucial moment, the one that decides whether a fighter will walk out of the cage on his own accord.

    Thankfully, my life prepared me for these moments. I grew up around violence and made not one but two careers out of controlling it.

    As a twenty-two-year LAPD veteran, I’ve stared down the barrel of a gun thinking my next move could either save or destroy a life. In situations like these, I’ve learned to think quickly. I push aside the nerves and distractions and just act.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    July 25, 2011
    Penned for the ultimate UFC fan, this exciting book details McCarthy's rise to referee—from early big-time MMA events to early retirement to his recent return. The son of a tough-as-nails LAPD officer who invented the modern SWAT team, McCarthy describes memorable events of his childhood, such as beating up the kid who stole his new bike, as well as his experiences in high school, and his college career as a water polo player. He recounts his stint as a steroid-fueled weightlifter, his romance with his wife (don't worry—he's not exactly a romantic), his heroic role in the L.A. riots as a newly-minted police officer, and finally, his beginnings as a referee of Mixed Martial Arts, which quickly earned a bad reputation for being "no holds barred." Each of the bouts he refereed is detailed from memory, which readers will enjoy. This is a testosterone-fueled, adrenaline pumping joy ride, and fans will surely be thrilled to meet the man they know so well from TV.

  • Booklist

    August 1, 2011
    McCarthy grew up in the shadow of his father, who wasn't large in stature but, as a longtime member of the LAPD, commanded authority and respect and taught by example the importance of personal discipline. Eventually, McCarthy became a cop, too, honing his own don't-crack-under-pressure mentality before retiring after 22 years on the force. Having dabbled in various forms of martial arts, McCarthy was tapped by UFC founder Rorion Gracie to referee a bout. It was a shrewd move, as McCarthy's unique blend of self-confidence, formidable size, and unapologetic authority combined to make him a preeminent referee. In fact, he refereed all but two major UFC events from 2001 to 2007. McCarthy was there to help design the future of mixed martial arts, including writing the initial rules and regulations of the sport in an effort to ensure its legitmacy and safety. Plenty of personal anecdotes help turn this story of a fledgling (and often maligned) sport into an engaging memoir.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2011, American Library Association.)

  • Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated senior writer, author, Blood in the Cage (May 2011) "Great storytelling, great insight, and a great history of the UFC’s rise. A subtle reminder that, much as we like the mano a mano of the sport, the third man in the arena can make all the difference."
  • Jake Rossen, ESPN.com (April 19, 2011) "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."
  • Royce Gracie, UFC Hall of Famer "In all my fights over the years, there's no one I'd rather have had in the cage or ring with me than 'Big' John McCarthy. He's the original and still the best."
  • Randy Couture, UFC Hall of Famer and six-time champion "'Big' John McCarthy has long been MMA’s best and most knowledgeable official. He's been in the most amazing seat from the beginning in every arena this sport has ever been in—the hot seat in the cage!"
  • Mauro Ranallo, MMA commentator "The only thing bigger than his authoritative presence is his knowledge of the sport he helped build."
  • Chuck Liddell, UFC champion and Hall of Famer "'Big' John has been around from the UFC's very beginnings and has experienced this sport from a perspective few will ever know."
  • Booklist (August 1, 2011) "Plenty of personal anecdotes help turn this story of a fledgling (and often maligned) sport into an engaging memoir."
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Let's Get It On!
Let's Get It On!
The Making of MMA and Its Ultimate Referee
"Big" John McCarthy
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