No one else in the mixed martial arts world has the institutional knowledge veteran official John McCarthy possesses.
McCarthy began officiating at UFC 2 in 1994 and has been involved in the sport in various capacities ever since.
While the Zuffa-era UFC often gets credit for the sport’s legalization, pioneers such as McCarthy and the late Jeff Blatnick tirelessly worked on the sport’s ruleset and regulatory issues during the dark days of the late 1990s, when the sport was nearly legislated out of existence. By the time the Fertitta brothers purchased the company, the legwork done by the likes of McCarthy put the UFC in position to take the next steps.
So there must have been a sense of deja vu last week as the UFC attempted to do an end-around to keep next weekend’s UFC 249 going during a global pandemic. UFC president Dana White attempted to move the show to the Tachi Palace Casino Resort on tribal land near Fresno, Calif., a venue which hosted MMA events for years before California began running commission-regulated events in 2006.
But the UFC’s attempts at running the show despite statewide stay-at-home orders attract the attention of Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Gov. Gavin Newsom, and the event was canceled this past Thursday.
Speaking on Josh Thomson’s “Weighing In” podcast, McCarthy, now a Bellator commentator, said he understands the impulse to want to save the card but thinks the UFC picked the wrong fight at the wrong time.
“You can win battles and lose wars,” McCarthy said. “And that’s what in the end has happened here is politically, you need to understand, when you’re going against the government, you’re probably going to go against something that in the end is probably going to cause you a problem. And if you think that you could beat that? We couldn’t beat it in the past. It was a lot of problems and it caused problems for the UFC in the past, caused problems for the sport, and you start getting senators, you’re getting governors coming down on you?
“There’s lot of power there, man. And eventually Disney and ESPN said this is bad publicity, this is bad for us, we’re going to shut it down. It wasn’t Dana that shut it down, it was his bosses that basically shut it down.”
Like, well, just about everyone who follows MMA, McCarthy was excited to see Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson, and can understand why White would be inclined to do whatever he could to keep the show going. But once Nurmagomedov fell out, McCarthy believes White may have let a personal sense of wanting to prove doubters wrong cloud bigger-picture business sense.
“This became almost this whole point of now, ‘I said I was going to do something,’ being Dana, ‘and I’m going to prove that I can do it.’ And his whole thing was the Tony-Khabib fight, and I’m kind of in there with him. Let’s just be honest, I want to see that fight. And it’s been shut down four times and man, I don’t want it to be shut down a fifth time.
“I know what’s right, in that, there’s a pandemic going on. It may not be a problem for a young person, athlete-wise. But you’re going to have a problem where they have people they’re coming back to, and if they get sick and give it to someone else, there’s just bad issues involved with that.”
For more from McCarthy on UFC 249, watch the video below.