GARDEN GROVE, Calif. -- If you thought "Big" John McCarthy had a look on his face during Friday night's Kimbo Slice-Dada 5000 fight like he couldn't quite believe what he was watching, well, you may have been right.
"I honestly thought it would be over within the first round," said McCarthy, who officiated at Saturday night's WSOF 28 here in Orange County. "And you know, when we got to the end of the first round, I thought, ‘Oh my God, this thing's going to go all three rounds.'"
The dean of mixed martial arts officials, McCarthy has forgotten more fights than even the most voracious fans have ever watched. McCarthy practically invented the role of MMA referee, after all, getting his start at UFC 2, helping to craft the current unified rule set, and officiating thousands upon thousands of fights all over the world.
So when McCarthy found himself assigned to the Bellator 149 co-feature bout between Slice, the 42-year-old special attraction who had fought just once in the past five years, and Dada, a street fighter with just two pro bouts legally known as Dhafir Harris, at Houston's Toyota Center, he was ready for anything.
Both fighters got visibly tired early after a first-round ground stalemate. But McCarthy was going to call the fight down the middle like any other bout and wasn't about to do the competitors any favors. That led to frequent restarts and standups, including an instance in the second round of a rare standup call with a fighter, Slice, in full mounted position.
"I always tell them, 'I'm going to stand you up unless you do something,'" McCarthy said. "I'm telling Kimbo, ‘Kimbo, do something.' And he's just tired. He's not trying to punch, he's not trying to go for a submission, he's just trying to catch breath and let time go by."
This marked just the second time in McCarthy's career he has called for a standup from a full mount. The other? UFC 17 in 1998, when Jeremy Horn did nothing with a dominant position against Frank Shamrock in a UFC light heavyweight title fight.
"Jeremy was tearing Frank up," McCarthy said. "And it gets to the point, he gets full mount, and he just sits there, and Frank is underneath just holding on, and he's not doing anything.
"I said, 'C'mon Jeremy, you've got to work,'" McCarthy continued. "And it goes for about a minute and a half, and I said, ‘Jeremy, you have got to do something or I'm going to stand you up.' And he doesn't. So I stop and stand them up."
Shamrock retained what was then referred to as the middleweight title, but is actually the current UFC 205-pound belt, via kneebar at the 16:28 mark, and McCarthy couldn't help but ask Horn afterwards what he was thinking in the heat of the moment.
McCarthy recalled: "I went to the back afterwards, I said, "What in the f--- were you thinking? Did you not hear me? He goes ‘Oh yeah John, I heard every word.' I said, ‘What were you thinking?' He goes. ‘Honestly?' and I said, ‘No I want you to lie, Jeremy.' And he said ‘Honestly, John, holy s---, I'm mounted on Frank Shamrock and I don't want him to do anything to me.' I went, ‘That's all I needed to know, man.'"
In the case of Shamrock-Horn, you're talking about a Hall of Fame caliber fighter in Shamrock and a respected vet of nearly 120 fights in Horn.
Kimbo vs. Dada, on the other hand, was something entirely different. The bout, which Slice won via TKO in the third round, was wildly mocked online before it was revealed that Harris had a cardiac scare after the fight and was rushed to the hospital.
But while McCarthy obviously doesn't wish any ill upon Dada 5000, it was his job to call what's in front of him as a referee, and stop it at the appropriate time based on the available information.
"There was never anything that landed that was hard," McCarthy said. "They didn't hit each other with any hard shots. ... Look, there are people that paid money to see this fight. This is not just about you laying on somebody because you're both tired. That's your fault for coming into the fight in that condition."