For a time, Josh Rosenthal was one of the most prolific referees in high-level mixed martial arts, but his last memorable moment in the cage came last July, when he presided over Chris Weidman's crushing knockout of Mark Munoz at UFC on FUEL 4. He was the third man in the cage a few more times heading into the fall, when he appeared in the octagon for the last time at UFC on FX 5's Jake Ellenberger vs. Jay Hieron fight. After that, he disappeared.
His name resurfaced again on Wednesday, when it was reported that he had pled guilty to federal drug charges that could put him away for as much as 10 years.
Since referees are rarely discussed unless involved in controversy, Rosenthal's absence was hardly noted on the MMA front, but as it turns out, two weeks after helming that Ellenberger-Hieron fight, the U.S. government filed its case against him. According to public records of the case, which was first reported by MMA Junkie, Rosenthal was charged with conspiracy to manufacture, to possess with intent to distribute, and to distribute marijuana, all felonies.
The charges stemmed from an investigation that lasted from February 2010 until April 2012, when federal agents raided an Oakland, California warehouse owned by Rosenthal and associate Jeffrey Weller, who was also charged.
According to the legal documents obtained by MMA Fighting, police found more than 1,000 marijuana plants in one of the city's largest-ever pot seizures.
Because of the scale of the operation, the case was later referred to the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Faced with legal trouble, Rosenthal let his refereeing licenses lapse in two of the most active MMA states in the nation, California and Nevada.
Representatives from both commissions confirmed to MMA Fighting that Rosenthal did not renew his licenses in either state after the end of 2012. Both states ask prospective officials if they have ever been convicted of felonies, making it unclear if Rosenthal would be able to return to the role in the future.
Of course, he has much larger concerns now. His sentencing hearing will take place on May 17, after a continuance from the original May 7 date. He faces at least 10 years to life in prison, a $10 million fine, at least five years to life on supervised release, and a $100 special assessment fee.
Rosenthal had officiated thousands of fights over the course of his career for various promotions, with memorable bouts including Dan Henderson's war against. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 139, Anderson Silva tapping out Chael Sonnen at UFC 117, and Brock Lesnar coming back to defeat Shane Carwin at UFC 116.
Rosenthal, who is represented in court by attorney Ted W. Cassman, will be sentenced by U.S. District Court judge Saundra Brown Armstrong.
[Editor's Note: After the publication of this article, Rosenthal's attorney Cassman told MMA Fighting that Rosenthal does not face a mandatory minimum of 10 years.
"As reflected in the written plea and stated in open court at the time Mr. Rosenthal pleaded guilty, [he] is Safety Valve eligible and does not face a mandatory minimum sentence. In fact, the plea agreement expressly allows Mr. Rosenthal to ask the court for probation," he wrote in an email.]