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Big John McCarthy’s book & interview: real context & true history

By Zach Arnold | September 22, 2011

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Click on the book cover to buy it on Amazon

I am a big fan of MMA history, especially since I covered so much of it while the boom period was happening in Japan and when UFC started in the States. Whenever I get review copies of MMA books in the mail, generally I end up very pleased with what I read (like I was with Jake Shannon’s book on Catch Wrestling). When Let’s Get It On arrived in the mail, there was no doubt that the book would deliver. Naturally, it was everything I expected (and more). Given the high turnover rate of MMA fans online over the last five years, it is a real pleasure to read a book from someone who was a pioneer of the sport and can smarten up newer fans on what the true history is about the evolution of the UFC.

You should buy the book, especially if you have a Kindle and can get the book for $8.

One pleasant surprise on the book front is that BJM did an extensive 40-minute interview with Eddie Goldman that I would strongly suggest you check out. If you have not read the book yet, then the interview will probably give you some good reasons as to why you might be interested. And if you did get the book, the interview goes into great detail on some pressing issues in the sport right now.

The history of the UFC and how BJM got involved is something that newer MMA fans will be quite intrigued by, especially the background on the study of martial arts at the LAPD & the Rodney King riots (along with training with Rorion Gracie).

Rules, regulations, and training

A few minutes into the interview, Eddie asked BJM about the current structure of governance in MMA and how it’s the wild west in so many different countries in regards to rules, drug testing, and quality of officiating.

“There’s no perfect answer for anything. Everything is about, when it comes to officials — be it MMA or boxing, getting people that are knowledgeable, that understand what they’re looking at, and are accepting of the fact that if, you know, they can do something that isn’t right and need to be corrected on it and are man enough to step up and say, you know what, I could have done that better. And to take criticism or just take any person’s advice and not personalize it and make sure that you always look at if there’s a way that I can do something better then let me look at that way and let me do it the next time so that I’m better at what I do because everybody throughout, you know, any type of officiating there’s always room for improvement and we all need to improve no matter who it is.

“The sport is continuing to evolve and the officials need to evolve with it and if you don’t evolve then you’re going to get left behind and you’re going to end up making mistakes and those mistakes can cost a fighter the fight, it can cost a fighter, you know, the threat of injury that they can’t come back and fight again and those are the things that you’ve got to always try to avoid.

“So, you know… what we’re trying to do now is we’re trying to come together as a group with a lot of the top officials and we’re putting in exactly why officials should be doing things. The mechanics of being an official most people don’t understand, what we call the mechanics of refereeing — where you should be, why you should be there and the understanding of what the fighters are doing are going to help set you up for those positions and if you don’t understand them then you’re not going to be set up.

“And there are shows that you can see officials that know what they’re doing and absolutely put themselves in the right position at the right time and things will actually flow for them and you’ll see it. And then you’ll see another official at the very same event who doesn’t understand those things and is going through the motions but doesn’t understand why they should be moving somewhere and it takes them more time to react and those are all seconds that can cause a fighter the ability to never be able to come back and fight again because you don’t know which blow is going to be the one that hurts them to the point that they can’t recover.

“So, our whole purpose is the safety of the fighters and through that purpose we should always all be working to improve and don’t be thin-skinned if someone has an idea or a way of doing something better than the way you’re doing it, then let’s all learn it and let’s do it that way.”

One example brought up during the interview is when a fighter has a submission on an opponent and the opponent verbally submits or taps out in order to get the fighter to give up the hold without the referee calling for the stoppage. (Rousimar Palhares, line one.)

Concussions, health & safety

As we learn more about the human brain and medical science evolves, the issue of concussions continues to gain prominence in regards to officials who have a thankless job in stopping fighters from obliterating the brain cells of their opponent.

“The one thing that’s really changed that, you know, no one knew before, nobody, you know, doctors didn’t know and it’s the one things that’s really come out with MMA is… in boxing, when a guy got hit and he was knocked out and he was knocked out going down and hit the ground and then, you know, the ground woke him up. Well, he was given time to actually get himself back up and, you know, get to a standing position and the referee may let him go, may not. In MMA the one thing we’ve realized is fighters can throw a punch, knock someone completely out with the punch, and then come back with another punch along the way and actually knock them back into consciousness. And, you know, I think if you would have asked doctors beforehand, hey, if I have someone who’s unconscious from a blow and you hit them with another blow, is that going to bring them back? They would have said absolutely not, it’s just going to increase the severity of that concussion and of what had occurred previously.

“But we know now, you know, I’ve had plenty of fights (and) every referee has fights where you have someone that they get hit with a punch and you’re coming in because they’re knocked out, guy ends up hitting them with another shot, and brings back them back into consciousness. It happened with Dan Henderson against Fedor, you know, people can sit there and say what they want. I was right there. Fedor went out with the uppercut that hit him from underneath and he got hit with two shots to the head, didn’t do anything, he got hit with a hammer fist to the side of his face and it brought him back into consciousness and he rolled. And Herb (Dean) was absolutely right in stopping the fight when he did because he saw a fighter when he was out. And it doesn’t matter if he gets knocked back into consciousness. It’s a matter of when a fighter goes unconscious, they cannot physically defend themselves and we’re going to stop the fight. When a fighter can’t intelligently defend himself, the fight’s over.

“We’re always learning. Fighters are always going to be going after… in MMA, when you have someone get hit and they go down, we don’t walk away from them, we go after them because we can end the fight, we can get our win and that’s what fighters are going to do. It’s up to the referee to be in position to properly stop the fight and sometimes that just isn’t going to happen. It doesn’t matter if the guy does everything right, the way someone falls a certain way or a position, he can be close and the guy’s going to get the extra punch in but you always work at putting yourself into the right positions so you can try to get in there before they get that secondary blow.”

BJM stood up for various athletic commissions and said that AC directors are doing the best job they can given the limited resources at their disposal and that states look at the AC’s more or less as cash cows. When the ACs don’t bring in the cash, then you end up with political & financial pressure.

Promoters vs. promotions and the issue of matchmaking

Mirroring the thoughts of Dana White, BJM said that one set of rules for MMA should be used throughout the world. He believes that instead of promoters having their own titles that there should be an independent sanction body to control belts and make title fights.

“The whole thing with promoters and, you know, the belts and everything and you’re going to have, you know, the Art of War champion, the UFC champion, the Bellator champion, all that… you know that’s something, truthfully, no promoter should be in charge of belts. It should be, you know, sanctioning bodies is what legally can have control of belts because when you have a promoter that has control over their belt you really don’t have the ability to put sometimes the best fighters together, you don’t have that. And so, you know, you could have the UFC who has the best fighters but… they’re going to put and Dana goes a good job and Lorenzo does a great job, they put the fights that people want to see together for the most part. But there’s always going to be that person outside of it and they can’t fight in the UFC because of contractual obligations to somebody else or something like that… when really you want to see the best fighters go in together and all of that still needs to be cleaned up and cleared up and this is a sport, this is not a single promotion.

“If it was just the UFC, well, then, the UFC is doing everything right. They’re doing a great job of promoting the sport, they’re doing a great job taking care of their fighters, they’re doing a great job of protecting the fighters. You know, when the UFC goes to Brazil, the fighters are being taken care medically, they’re being taken care of everything, there’s no problems. But if you take that same fighter and take them out of the UFC and take them to Brazil, they might not be having any medicals, they might not be having any type of person that is overseeing, you know, the person that they’re competing against and the record comparisons and the match-ups and all that and that’s what athletic commissions are for. To make sure that, you know what, the fans are going to see a competitive fight, it’s not going to be a train wreck and that the fighters are comparative in their skill levels so that its not as dangerous for those two fights going against each other as it is for one very skilled person going against a person that lacks the actual technical skill to be in that ring with that person he’s going against.”

He is skeptical that MMA will see a sanctioning body any time soon given the political clout of Zuffa in the sport and also amongst a growing number of politicians. So, how could change be forced upon UFC if they got too big for their britches?

“It would be great if those fighters could compete against fighters that are in the UFC but right now with the structure the way the sport is, it’s not going to happen because the structure of the sport is based upon promotions. We have promoters in boxing and we have promotions in MMA and those promotions are controlling the sport as far as who’s going to be able to fight who and they have their own belts, they all have their own belts and that’s going to end up having to come down to federal regulation as far as, you know, the ability to control the belt and who controls belts is really going to be the call of, you know, the federal government somewhere along the way when it comes to MMA because that’s the only way that things are going to change as far as putting those fighters together because the UFC…

“There’s no way that any promotion’s going to come in… Bellator could get all the money in the world and they’re not going to overtake the UFC, they just don’t have the structure to overtake them and the structure comes from not only what they’ve done but, you know, the people that believe in them and believe in the UFC comparatively. The UFC has marketed itself, has done an incredible job of to where they are the Kleenex, they are the Xerox of MMA. When people say MMA, they think of UFC.”

I cherry picked some topics from BJM’s interview with Eddie, so I would recommend that you check out the full interview in its entirety because it’s a great listen. You will enjoy it. As for the money question at the end of the interview, you will want to hear BJM’s reasoning as to why he wrote this book now and why the timing made sense. The answer is as detailed and historically caring as you might expect it to be.

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 3 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

3 Responses to “Big John McCarthy’s book & interview: real context & true history”

  1. david m says:

    All I can say about BJM is that in the Dreamcast version of the UFC game (which was amazing, btw), he was the unbeatable boss at the end and I always found his takedowns and ground and pound to be unstoppable. Kudos to him.

  2. […] Big John McCarthy’s book & interview: real context & true history – Fight Opinion […]

  3. […] books this year, including Jake Shannon’s book on Catch Wrestling and Loretta Hunt’s book on Big John McCarthy. He, appropriately, will be the referee for the UFC on Fox title fight between Cain Velasquez and […]

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