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Legendary MMA referee John McCarthy to join Bellator broadcast team

John McCarthy (MMA Fighting) Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

“Big” John McCarthy is making a big move.

The legendary mixed martial arts referee will be joining Bellator MMA as a member of its broadcast team, the promotion announced Tuesday. McCarthy will start his duties as a color commentator at Bellator 192 on Jan. 20 in Los Angeles. It will be the first Bellator card on the newly re-branded Paramount Network.

McCarthy is the most recognized MMA official in history. His career goes back to well before the Unified Rules of MMA were codified — his first referee gig was at UFC 2. McCarthy also helped pen the Unified Rules in 2001.

“It is always so hard to leave something you love, but I have always wanted to step away based on my terms rather than someone else’s,” McCarthy said. “My goals are to work as hard as I can to meet the expectations everyone will have for me and to hopefully someday exceed them.

“I cannot think of anyone I would rather be working with than [Bellator president] Scott Coker. Scott has always been a person I admire because of his honesty, loyalty and love for the martial arts. I want to thank everyone from Bellator and Viacom for the trust you are bestowing upon me to keep the commentating of Bellator MMA at the highest levels of the sport.”

McCarthy briefly left his role as a referee in 2007 to pursue broadcasting work with The Fight Network and the Affliction promotion. But he returned to the cage afterward, reclaiming his spot as the most respected ref in the sport.

Last month, Bellator announced that it was parting ways with longtime color commentator Jimmy Smith. McCarthy will be a color analyst along with Chael Sonnen, who recently signed an extension for his non-fighting role with the organization. He joins a broadcast team that also features play-by-play men Mike Goldberg and Mauro Ranallo.

“With the addition of ‘Big’ John to our broadcast team, we have put together the premier group of MMA commentators ahead of our Jan. 20 debut on the Paramount Network,” Coker said. “With John and Chael providing analysis, you’re getting two people who have spent more time in the cage than they have spent with a headset on, and that will translate to a positive viewing experience for Bellator fans.”

McCarthy is a retired Los Angeles Police Department officer and has been the third man in the cage for some of the biggest fights in MMA history. He also runs the COMMAND course that trains judges and referees, which is recognized by the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports.

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