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John McCarthy on Benson Henderson stoppage: 'I'd make the exact same decision 100 times'

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Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Big John McCarthy last officiated a UFC bout in Nevada in 2007, a long time for one of MMA’s most revered referees to stay out of the "fight capital of the world."

That will all change on Sept. 27, when McCarthy will join the rotation of officials at UFC 178 at the MGM Grand. Yahoo’s Kevin Iole reported that McCarthy was coming back in mid-August. McCarthy had been vocal about his distaste for the Nevada Athletic Commission and its former head, Keith Kizer. But with a new regime in place, and plenty of changes underfoot, McCarthy likes the new direction of things.

On Monday, the tenured referee appeared on The MMA Hour and talked about returning to Vegas.

"For me it’s very nice that they even considered me," he told Ariel Helwani. "I just look at it as it’s a great opportunity to go work with the best fighters there are in the world, fighting in a place that is the fight capital of the world, and I’m just lucky that I got this opportunity again."

Asked how fences were mended, or how he ended up on UFC 178, McCarthy said that Iole actually knew about it before he did.

"Eventually I received a call from the Nevada State Athletic Commission and they asked me if I would want to come back," he said. "I said absolutely, I’d love to, and they said well we’re going to make that happen. So I filled out another application and sent that in, and now I’m going to be licensed in Nevada and working there occasionally -- I can’t say how much -- but occasionally I’ll be working there and hopefully do a good job for them."

In the last year, the NAC has made some wholesale changes to how they do business by bringing greater scrutiny on PED use. In February, the commission abruptly banned therapeutic use exemptions (TUE) on testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), which had long served as a controversy in the sport.

And under new Executive Director Bob Bennett, the commission has intensified its actions in weeding out cheaters, with fighters such as Chael Sonnen (two-year suspension) and Wanderlei Silva (punishment pending for dodging a random drug test).

When McCarthy was asked about the new direction of the NAC, he said he likes what he’s seeing.

"I can only say that everything I’ve seen of what is occurring there is all proactive and very good for the sport," he said. "We need athletic commissions to be proactive. You got a lot of fighters that are coming out and talking about drug issues and things like that. And are there guys out there cheating? There are. And that’s going to be the way it is, and that’s okay, but it is definitely important than an athletic commission is doing everything within its power to keep that to as much a minimum -- or to catch the people as they’re trying to do it -- as much as possible.

"They’re going after this, they’re doing random tests. All of that is fantastic because it keeps people in check. It’s not going to keep everyone, but a lot of people are going to stop doing things that they shouldn’t be doing because they realize this could take my livelihood away. They can keep me from fighting."

Though he hasn’t been in Vegas to referee a UFC for a long time, McCarthy was in Tulsa, Oklahoma a couple of weeks back at UFC Fight Night 49. In the main event, Rafael dos Anjos stopped Benson Henderson in somewhat controversial fashion.

Though it appeared that Henderson was knocked out in a flash moment from a knee and subsequent left hand, by the time McCarthy jumped in to stop if Henderson was recovering. That brought on some scrutiny from fans, who thought the fight was stopped prematurely.

When asked about it on the show, McCarthy said he’d do exactly the same way if it happened again.

"This is what it comes down to, a referee is not there to make the fans happy," he said. "I am there for the safety of the fighter. It all comes down to…there’s many things we have to live with in our life, but when a fighter goes unconscious in a fight, and you’re in a position where you see it, and you realize he’s unconscious, there are times when a fighter can hit the ground or be hit again and wake back up. But if you’ve come in to stop the fight, the fight’s over and you’re doing it for the safety of the fighter. Because you can’t predict the future. And to sit there and say, well you can wait and let that person get hit and see if they come back…and then stop it, that’s not what you do for the safety of the fighter. You’ve to make a decision.

"Benson got hit with several things that hurt him, and when Benson is just a tough fighter. When he got hit with a left/right hand that hurt him, and he stood his ground and started firing back, and then he got hurt with a knee that ended up putting him down and when he tried to get up he got hit with the left hand, and when he got hit with the left hand, he went unconscious. I saw him go unconscious, and that was the reason the fight came to an end and I would make the exact same decision 100 times.

"It’s the right thing to do, even though fans at times look at it and go, ‘no, you should have let it go.’ As a fan, I understand what they want, but you can’t have everything. And when you have a fighter in that position, we have fighters that get damaged, based upon things that happen after they’re unable to defend themselves. And as the referee, there’s no referee that wants to be responsible for that. And I’m not going to let that happen."

McCarthy said he wasn’t sure yet which fights he’d be refereeing at UFC 178, which has a flyweight championship bout between Chris Cariaso and Demetrious Johnson in the main event.