In any type of combat sport (or any sport) the referees play a big role. They are the officiator, and the outcome of a match could potentially lie in their final decision.
In the UFC, the referees are under much more pressure. A decision made a few seconds to late or too early, can quickly lead to an angry mob of fans calling for the referee to be fired.
Perhaps not enough respect is shown to the colloquial “third man inside the Octagon”. And for that reason, this one goes out to the referees.
Today, I’m going to be ranking the top 5 most famous referees, to have reffed for the UFC.
This list doesn’t necessarily rank these referees by how good they are (although it’s pretty close), but instead, by how recognizable they are. Let’s get started.
5. Mike Beltran
Look at that luscious mustache. How is he not more famous?
Mike Beltran has been an MMA referee for a good while now, since 2009 in fact. But he has been training MMA for even longer, having boxed in his youth, and currently holding a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Yes, Beltran is no slouch outside of the Octagon, and it certainly must play a role in his skills as a referee, as he often makes good calls as a ref.
One of his most prestigious fights is probably the second fight between Demetrious Johnson and Henry Cejudo for the Flyweight championship, which saw Cejudo win via split decision.
Mike Beltran put in some good work that night, as it was an evenly-matched, back and forth fight. After the fight, Mike took to Twitter to say: “Amazing night and privileged to have referee’d these two stud athletes.”
Of course, I may be a bit biased considering how much I love the flyweights. Regardless, Mike Beltran has reffed many great fights over the years, and often does a great job.
But as great as he is as a ref, his skills are still outshined by that fabulous moustache.
4. Marc Goddard
Marc Goddard is probably the best MMA referee to come out of the UK, making him very recognizable for the same reason.
One thing you’ll notice with most MMA referees is that they all have some sort of MMA background. Whether they train casually, or fought as professionals, they all have some history in the sport.
Well Marc Goddard is no different. Born in Birmingham, England, Marc Goddard fought professionally as a light-heavyweight before becoming a referee, going 7-6.
It seems Marc Goddard’s popularity has increased after an altercation with MMA superstar Conor McGregor.
Goddard was officiating a match in which McGregor’s teammate, Charlie Ward, was fighting. During the fight, it seemed Charlie Ward had knocked out his opponent just as the round was ending.
McGregor jumped inside the cage to celebrate his teammate’s win, despite the fact that Marc Goddard had not yet waved off the fight.
As Goddard attempted to control the situation, McGregor shoved him into the cage, leading to him being ejected from the vicinity.
Goddard has had some other interesting moments as a ref. Fans may remember his comment towards Kamaru Usman during his championship fight with Tyron Woodley.
After standing up Usman and Woodley from the ground several times, Goddard told Usman “It’s a fight Kamaru”, prompting commentator Joe Rogan to say, “Oh what’s that supposed to mean?”
Of course, he usually does a great job as a ref, such as his good stoppage at UFC 245 for Usman vs Covington.
3. Mario Yamasaki
At #3 on our list of famous referees (or perhaps infamous in this case), we have none other than Mario Yamasaki.
Mario Yamasaki probably isn’t anyone’s favorite MMA ref, but he’s definitely known by a lot of people in the community.
Chances are, you probably know him from his late stoppage of a bout between Valentina Shevchenko and Priscila Cachoeira. The bout was extremely one-sided, with Valentina dominating from start to finish.
During round two, Valentina was able to mount Cachoeira, and land strikes from her position. Valentina landed many strikes that were unanswered by Cachoeira, leading many to believe the fight should have been stopped.
However, Mario Yamasaki allowed the fight to continue, later stating that he, “allowed Priscila to be a warrior”. The fight was eventually stopped late in round two, but only after Priscila tapped out to a rear-naked choke. Valentina outstruck Priscila 230-3.
Many would criticize Mario Yamasaki heavily for his late stoppage, including UFC president Dana White, who claimed that Yamasaki would never ref for the UFC again (and I don’t think he has).
The fans, of course, made jokes about the incident (gotta love the MMA community am I right?). Here’s a popular one:
“If she dies she dies” – Mario Yamasaki
The quote is of course, not something Yamasaki actually said, but instead taken from the Rocky 4 movie. In it, after Ivan Drago beats Apollo Creed into a bloody pulp, and is asked about Apollo’s condition, Drago responds with the infamous quote.
So while Mario “Fight to the Death” Yamasaki may be popular (or unpopular?) for the wrong reasons, he is well known nonetheless.
2. ‘Big’ John McCarthy
At #2 on our list, we have one of the most recognizable faces in the world of MMA, the man known as ‘Big’ John McCarthy.
‘Big’ John McCarthy was an easy pick for #2 on this list, as he has been officiating for the UFC all the way back since UFC 2 in 1994. He has come to be known as the authority figure for MMA refereeing, and is what all refs aspire to be.
McCarthy was a part of MMA so early on, that he actually played a part in the growing sport’s ruleset. In the first UFC event, fights only ended by knockout, tap out, or the corner throwing in the towel (although the UFC used to advertise ‘death’ as a way to end a fight).
McCarthy actually convinced the UFC executives at the time to allow the referee to determine whether the fighter was ‘intelligently defending themselves’. This allowed referees to step in to stop the fight, leading to what is now known as a ‘Technical Knockout’ in MMA.
McCarthy has excellent decision-making skills inside the Octagon, and has officiated some amazing bouts. Unfortunately, he has retired from refereeing, and now works as a commentator for Bellator.
His biggest fight was probably McGregor vs Aldo at UFC 194, which McGregor won by knockout in 13 seconds.
1. Herb Dean
The #1 most famous referee in all of MMA should come of no surprise, as it is the veteran ref of the Octagon, Herb Dean.
Herb Dean has served the UFC as a ref for a long time, and there is a reason why he is so respected as a referee. His decisions are quick and correct for the situation, making MMA as authoritative as possible.
An example of Herb Dean’s decision-making skills first emerged at UFC 48, when he officiated the bout between Frank Mir and Tim Sylvia. 50 seconds into the first round, Mir managed to place an armbar on Sylvia.
As Mir cranked the armbar, Dean noticed that Sylvia’s arm had been broken, and proceeded to wave off the fight, despite Sylvia’s protests. Many fans and viewers thought it was an early and unnecessary stoppage.
However, doctors later confirmed that Sylvia’s arm actually was broken, with many praising Herb Dean for his ability to notice the break during the fight. Perhaps his ability as a ref can be attributed to his former heavyweight MMA career, where he went 2-3 as a pro.
But of course, no ref is without his faults. Herb Dean is perhaps most popular due to his inconsistency, sometimes being an amazing ref, and other times not so much.
His most recent controversy involved Ben Askren’s win over former champ Robbie Lawler, which Askren won via bulldog choke. Dean stopped the fight after seeing Lawler’s arm go limp, thinking he had been choked unconscious.
However, after waving off the fight, Lawler got up and immediately protested the stoppage as soon as Askren released the choke, showing that he was clearly still conscious. I personally don’t think Robbie would have gotten out of that, but what do I know right?