Sports Business

Q&A: How Loretta Hunt Got 'Big' John McCarthy Out Of The Cage

Loretta Hunt has been covering mixed martial arts as an author and journalist since 2001. During that time, she has been cage side at more  than 500 MMA events worldwide and has penned more than 3,000 articles chronicling the sport’s growth.

Hunt’s first book, the memoirs of UFC legend Randy Couture, Becoming The Natural: My Life In and Out of The Cage (July 2008, Simon & Schuster) was released to critical acclaim.

For her second MMA book, she worked with legendary referee “Big” John McCarthy on his autobiography, Are You Ready? Let’s Get It On (Sept. 2011, Medallion Press), whose title echoes his trademark intro before fights.

Big Lead Sports spoke with Hunt about covering MMA and working with McCarthy.

Big Lead Sports: In fight sports, there are so few referees names that fans come to know. Mills Lane in boxing is one, ‘Big’ John McCarthy in UFC is another. What sets John apart?

Loretta Hunt: I always say John was the quintessential MMA referee before the sport even knew what that was. Being there from UFC 1 in November 1993, which marks the birth of the sport in the U.S., John was a guiding force in pushing MMA forward. He was fully committed to the sport, its fighters and their safety in and out of the cage. He had a confident, authoritative air, but was also patient, understanding and a believer in the sport. This is something the fighters picked up on early, and if you have the respect of all of the fighters, it goes a very long way.

BLS: What is the story behind the way John and Jeff Blatnik were instrumental in defining the sport as MMA?

LH: It was the morning of UFC 8, and Semaphore Entertainment Group, the UFC’s first owners, were waiting to hear if a Puerto Rico court would allow the event to go on that night as planned. As John and Jeff sat awaiting word at the hotel. They discussed how the names “No Holds Barred” and “Ultimate Fighting” didn’t help the public’s negative perception of the sport. John suggested “mixed martial arts” because that’s what he’d written down on his LAPD work permit when he’d asked permission to referee at UFC 2. Jeff loved the name and started using it during the pay-per-view that night and afterward until it stuck.

BLS: He has been referee for some of the greatest UFC battles. Which was his best and why?

LH: I think of John as so much more than a referee, so it’s hard for me to name his best performance. Honestly, the fights where you don’t notice John reffing is where he shines. A good referee doesn’t take your attention away from the fighters, but is there at just the right second to step in if he has to. John gets this right much more often than he gets it wrong.

BLS: What is the biggest surprise in the book?

LH: I think fans might be surprised by the non-MMA details: water polo in high school and college, 22 years as an LAPD officer, and all the smaller details that directly and indirectly prepared John to become an MMA referee. I think John was born to be an MMA referee, before MMA was even invented in the U.S.

BLS: What was the impetus for writing the book?

LH: John and I shared a deep interest in documenting sharing MMA history with the world. John is a unique individual in a very unique, young sport. He’s a referee, but he’s also a history-maker and now a historian.

BLS: What makes him such a compelling personality?

LH: Over 18 years, John has remained the one constant in the UFC, while hundreds of fighters have come and gone. From a fan’s standpoint, there’s is a great familiarity with John and an ultimate trust in him. he’s proven himself time and time again and evolved with the sport. Fighters, fans, promoters and commissions know John will do the best job he can in the ring or cage, and I think the fans notice that.

BLS: How did John mold the MMA business of today?

LH: In the earlier days of the UFC, SEG came to John often to get his opinion about everything from matchups to business decisions. These were decisions that helped steer the UFC in positive directions. John doesn’t work in that capacity anymore, but he’s become a teacher in the “art of the call” to the next generation of officials with his COMMAND course [Certification of Officials for MMA National Development] (www.mmareferee.com). Through trial and error, John taught himself how to referee an MMA fight. Now he’s passing that knowledge on.

BLS: What do you think he will be most remembered for during his time in the Octagon?

LH: John will be remembered as the original – the first of his kind in the sport – which is very special. Not many people get this moniker in life. I’m hoping Let’s Get It On will enlighten fight fans as to why John is such a treasured figure in MMA for all of his contributions in and out of the arena.

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