The main purpose of a referee is to make sure that everything inside the Octagon goes according to the rules. At first glance, that might seem like a trivial task, but it’s only because the real complexity is hard to grasp.
Protecting the Fighters
It takes skill, knowledge, and practice to be able to make complicated decisions in an unpredictable and fast-paced environment. What makes the job of a referee even more under-appreciated, however, is the weight of responsibility that they have over the fighters.
A cage is a dangerous place, and with that comes the risk of injury and even death. ‘Big’ John McCarthy, a legend in the world of UFC who was an official referee from the early days of UFC 2 till UFC 77, emphasizes that each referee has an obligation to prevent fighters from getting hurt.
What It Takes
McCarthy teaches a special training course called COMMAND and in it, he makes sure he is ruthless in his assessment of students’ readiness. Depending on it are careers and lives of the fighters.
The referees have to understand the ins and outs of over a hundred techniques. They have to have experienced them, too. For example, if a referee doesn’t know exactly what side control is and the extent to which it can harm the fighter, then he is not ready for the cage.
They must also be quick on their feet in order to see the fight clearly. Every step matters because a mistake in positioning can lead to disastrous consequences.
With all the responsibility on their hands, one would think the referees are fairly compensated and appreciated. Unfortunately, the salaries rarely exceed a few thousand dollars – and even that can only happen at the highest levels. Most judges and referees are lucky to earn a couple of hundred bucks per fight, which is hardly a sustainable income.
On top of that, referees are subjected to the blame of the crowd, one that demands spectacle but does not understand the dangerous nature of the Octagon. If the fight is stopped early, the fans’ expectations are disappointed. Thus, the right decisions often go hand-in-hand with being a kind of a scapegoat to the fans, and that is the burden that referees have to carry for their honorable work.
Regardless of your expertise and level of interest, it is always useful to question your assumptions and look beyond the facade. We hope that the next time you watch a UFC fight, you will appreciate the work of those who make sure the event doesn’t end in tragedy. The work might not be glorified, and yet it is invaluable to the integrity of the sport.