The UFC's best-known referee sounds off on the MMA bouts that have been burned into his brain.
Conventional wisdom states that every story has at least two sides. With that in mind, when the tale involves the most memorable bouts in MMA as witnessed from inside the cage, odds are it’s the third side of the story that will come closest to giving the unbiased truth about what really happened.
“Big” John McCarthy has been just inches from the action as the third man in the cage for many of the biggest fights in history. The sport’s original official sat down with Black Belt to discuss his 10 most memorable moments in the cage. They’re presented below in no particular order.
Date: March 11, 1994
Event: UFC 2: No Way Out
Fighters: Johnny Rhodes and David Levicki
“During the first round, Rhodes ended up spending most of the time stuck in Levicki’s guard. This was in the early days of MMA when the fighters often wore the uniforms from their particular style in the cage, so Rhodes was wearing gi pants with nothing more than a jockstrap on underneath. Levicki kept trying to adjust his guard and was pressing his legs down to keep Rhodes off him.
“The problem with the maneuver was that in the process, Levicki was also pushing Rhodes’ pants down, and I found myself facing a full moon in the middle of the fight! I reached down and pulled Rhodes’ gi pants back up to cover him, but the wardrobe malfunction continued to happen again and again for the rest of the fight. It made the third fight I ever refereed one I wish I could forget, but it’s burned into memory forever.”
Date: November 11, 2006
Event: The Ultimate Fighter 4 Finale
Fighters: Pete Sell and Scott Smith
“I loved the way both fighters interacted throughout the fight. They were beating the hell out of each other, but [they] were doing it with smiles on their faces and were giving each other high-fives after each good exchange.
“The ending was not too bad, either: Smith’s out-of-nowhere knockout punch to Sell in the second round, just moments after Smith took a hard punch to the liver, has been on the highlight reels ever since. They were two warriors who left it all in the cage in that fight, and you couldn’t ask for more.”
Date: June 26, 2010
Event: Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum
Fighters: Fedor Emelianenko and Fabricio Werdum
“This is one of the most memorable fights because it was the first true loss Fedor ever had inside a ring or cage. Werdum did a great job of utilizing his jiu-jitsu to attack Fedor with beautiful setups and transitions from one submission attempt to another.
“I also admired the way Fedor handled himself after the loss, stating, ‘Every man falls down; it’s how you get up that counts.’”
Date: December 19, 2009
Event: Strikeforce Evolution
Fighters: Cung Le and Scott Smith
“This fight was another miracle comeback for Scott Smith. Cung Le was undefeated in both sanshou and MMA coming into it. For two rounds, Le hit Smith with just about every kind of kick/punch combination you can think of, and [he] hurt Smith several times.
“But as he’s done so many times before, Smith was waiting for the opportunity to land that one game-changing punch — and he got his chance, hurting Le and ending the fight with a barrage of punches that broke Le’s nose. In MMA, the tide of the battle can turn in an instant, and in this fight, another undefeated record bit the dust.”
Date: June 6, 2003
Event: UFC 43: Meltdown
Fighters: Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell
“Randy Couture was [over 40], and many people thought the odds were entirely in the favor of the younger fighter, Chuck ‘The Iceman’ Liddell. It also looked like a mismatch because the fighters’ careers seemed to be going in different directions: Randy was coming off a few tough losses in the heavyweight division, while Chuck was the rising star in the light-heavyweight division.
“But Randy fought a beautiful fight and caught Chuck off-guard with a straight-forward attack that utilized good footwork and straight punches that landed before the wide, arcing punches thrown by Chuck ever reached him. It was a great fight that brought Randy Couture back into the spotlight with his first light-heavyweight championship victory.”
Date: May 10, 2002
Event: UFC 37: High Impact
Fighters: Murilo Bustamante and Matt Lindland
“This was a fight where I screwed up big time. Bustamante put Lindland in an armbar, and I saw Lindland tap. I moved down to stop the fight, but then Lindland yelled at me that he didn’t tap, and it made me second-guess myself. I didn’t stop the fight.
“I immediately realized that I should have — and learned a valuable lesson in the process. Unfortunately, Bustamante had to beat Lindland twice in the one fight on this night to finally get the win he earned. This is the one fight where in the end, I did care about who won because I felt I had screwed Murilo Bustamante by not being decisive.”
Date: October 14, 2006
Event: UFC 64: Unstoppable
Fighters: Anderson Silva and Rich Franklin
“In my opinion, this was one of the most dominating performances in a championship fight ever. Rich Franklin was a very good champion who had defended his title several times in a convincing fashion. But Anderson Silva utterly dominated Rich in the clinch, throwing knees to the body that were unbelievable. Silva’s middleweight-championship run started in this fight, and he’s never looked back.”
Date: March 11, 1994
Event: UFC 2: No Way Out
Fighters: Royce Gracie and four opponents
“I have never seen anyone accomplish the same feat. It was, and is, truly amazing. Having to get yourself ready to fight four times in one night and then to come out of it basically untouched and undefeated is an absolutely remarkable achievement.”
Date: November 22, 2002
Event: UFC 40: Vendetta
Fighters: Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock
“This was the show, and the fight, that made me believe that MMA and the UFC were going to make it, despite all the tough times and controversy the sport faced in the early days. There was so much hype around the fight and so much electricity in the air as the fighters were making their way to the octagon. I stood inside the cage and said to myself, ‘This sport is going to be huge.’”
Date: April 30, 2011
Event: UFC 129: St-Pierre vs. Shields
Fighters: Mark Hominick and Jose Aldo
“This fight for me was similar to the UFC 40 fight with Tito and Ken, only magnified by a factor of three because it was at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. When the lights went down and Mark Hominick started his walk to the cage, the place was going crazy. The 55,000 fans in attendance were louder than you can possibly imagine.
“The fight itself was the kind where one fighter shows so much skill while the other fighter shows so much heart. Jose Aldo is a beast, and Mark showed his heart and went after him with everything he had until the last second on the clock ticked away. Jose won by decision, but the main thing that everyone will remember is that it was an epic fight by two great fighters on the biggest stage in North American history.”
About the author: Patrick Bamburak is a professional musician, recording artist and martial artist who studies combat isshin-ryu karate under Black Belt Hall of Famer Gary Alexander.