The Issues of Referee and Judge Certification

July 1, 2009

‘Showdown’ Joe Ferraro has an excellent piece up at Rogers Sportsnet that details his experience with ‘Big’ John McCarthy’s referee certification seminar, C.O.M.M.A.N.D. (Certification of Officials for Mixed Martial Arts National Development).

The course is broken down into three areas and participants require a passing grade of 90 percent (at minimum in all three) to be certified. As it stands today, the course has a 75 percent failure rate, as participants simply do not make the grade to officiate or judge in MMA.


Would-be referees must know and identify over 25 takedowns, 35 submissions, 25 positions and seven sweeps, reversals and transitions. They also must know the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts inside and out.


After the identification of the aforementioned moves and keen knowledge of the unified rules, participants are also trained and tested on in ring / cage mechanics. This is comprised of what is required by an official before, during and after a bout. It’s not just about positioning (which is HUGE when refereeing) but dozens of other variables that are key to the safety of the athletes who put it all on the line.


All of this knowledge is paramount for one to be proficient in officiating and without it I do not understand how commissions around the world allow men and women to step into the cage/ring and ref without proving they have this type of knowledge.


If the four major sports leagues — the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL — mandate that officials are properly trained before being allowed to step onto the playing surface, why doesn’t MMA do the same? If this sport is expected to be taken seriously then this type of certification must be the bare minimum an athletic commission requires from an applicant prior to receiving their license to ref or judge.

Payout Opinion:

It would seem as though we’re finally starting to see the issues of officiating, judging, and bout scoring come to the front of the MMA hot topic list.

Just ask yourself: what good are the rules and regulations that MMA has put into place – those designed to protect the health and integrity of the sport and its fighters – if the individuals enforcing them are incompetent or unqualified?

Yes, the sport is growing – and that’s great for a lot of reasons – but the flip side of that growth is the increasing complexity of the issues surrounding governance, regulation, officiating, and judging.

MMA cannot afford to rest on its laurels; it must adapt to the many new challenges that it faces, including the issues of consistent officiating and judging.

And, believe me, as MMA ventures more and more into the mainstream, the quality of officiating and judging WILL become an issue. Look no further than the MMA competitions of the last week: the awful officiating displays at Strikeforce; the late stoppage in the Rizzo-Yvel fight; or the controversy of Tibau-Guillard, Guida-Sanchez, and Blackburn-Garcia.

While I’m not yet prepared to advocate that ‘Big’ John’s COMMAND is the answer – not that his course probably isn’t the best out there right now – I will say that a universal testing and certification program for both officials and judges is something of a no-brainer. It would afford the sport, its fighters, and its fans the consistency that they’ve all been longing for. It would also help to further cement the legitimacy of the sport in the eyes of its critics.

Got something to say?

You must be logged in to post a comment.