MMA referee John McCarthy leaves cage for Bellator broadcast booth


John McCarthy, one of the most experienced referees in mixed martial arts history, is moving to the broadcast booth.

Bellator MMA officials announced Tuesday that McCarthy will join the promotion’s broadcast as a color commentator in 2018. His first event will be Bellator 192 on Jan. 20 in Los Angeles.

McCarthy told ESPN he does not consider himself retired from officiating — he is actually scheduled to oversee a boxing event later this month — but his role will change drastically thanks to the announcement. He characterized the Bellator deal as “long-term.”

“I had a few MMA assignments, and I contacted the athletic commissions and let them know I won’t be able to do those,” McCarthy said. “And I’m not going to be able to take any new assignments right now in MMA. That’s a thing of the past as far as this moment right now.”

It’s a significant blow to MMA officiating as a whole, as McCarthy is widely recognized as a top and reliable official. He actually played a major role in drafting the Unified Rules, which have governed the sport since 2011.

Since his officiating debut at UFC 2 in 1994, McCarthy has been a regular presence at events for various promotions around the world. He’s officiated some of the biggest fights in the sport’s history, but that will cease for now, as he will not officiate any Bellator or UFC event.

“If you’re asking me if I’ve officiated my last UFC fight, I don’t think the UFC wants a Bellator commentator officiating their fights,” McCarthy said. “That’s totally understandable. Have I officiated my last UFC fight? As of right now, yeah.”

McCarthy joins a broadcast team that includes veteran play-by-play announcers Mike Goldberg and Mauro Ranallo, and color commentator Chael Sonnen.

“I first want to say how grateful I am for the opportunity I have been given to work with the incredible team Bellator has assembled,” McCarthy said.

“It is always so hard to leave something you love, but I have always wanted to step away based on my terms rather than someone else’s. My goals are to work as hard as I can to meet the expectations everyone will have for me and to hopefully someday exceed them.”

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