Many casual observers of the sport of MMA ask how they can become involved in officiating the sport, but like any profession, there are requirements and education needed for it to happen. Let’s take a look at some of the key components.

What requirements does someone need to become an official in MMA?

Referees, judges, inspectors and other officials’ positions have very minimal requirements to become licensed and even used in events. Some regulating bodies require more than others, thus supporting an ongoing regulation challenge in MMA: everybody plays by their own set of rules.

Currently, some commissions require initial training and/or some sort of background in the sport. This information would be gathered in the application process. Many regulators have and continue to grandfather in their current licensed officials from other combat sports with little to no education or training in MMA required. This is where a large part of the challenges lie in MMA officiating.

There are many initial training classes and advanced workshops available to help educate officials. However, if it is not required or offered from their licensing commission, a high percentage of working officials will not seek this out on their own. This creates another challenge: outdated officiating. In a rapidly evolving sport, even the most “experienced” officials have fallen behind due to not keeping current with updated procedures, rule changes, and so on.

Nowadays, more regulating bodies are recognizing a need for continuing education not only for the officials, but for their commission staff. A few progressive commissions are getting on board and requiring more training. On the other side, most other regulators do not follow up with continuing education, coaching, workshops, post-event meetings or any real evaluation system to help grow their officials.

Who educates the officials?

Many of the regulators claim to conduct “in-house training.” This is normally someone from the commission staff or an active licensed official conducting a meeting for that organization’s officials. Third-party sanctioning bodies offer “training” as well. Often, the individual(s) conducting these meetings may be active in the sport, but are not qualified to teach. Hence the next challenge: qualified trainers. There are only a handful of experts that are truly qualified, experienced, updated and (importantly) perform at a high level in regards to MMA officiating that can actually teach the correct, current information.

Unlike the other professional sports organizations that set and enforce rules for every team in every state, MMA does not have one governing body. Each state or tribe has their own version of a regulating body. Each one of these individual organizations oversees combat sports through their particular laws, rules, regulations and medical requirements. With many differences in rules from state to state, there is no uniformity for anyone involved, including officials’ requirements.

Organizations such as the NHL, NFL or NBA have processes that all representing the sport have to follow. All professional sports organization officials (outside of combat sports) have strict requirements, provided mandatory ongoing training programs and a level system for officials that include strong performance evaluations.

None of this exists in MMA… yet!

Stay tuned for part two of this piece, as we take a look at the MMA officials’ evaluation process…

For more information on MMA rules or officiating, check out Combat Consulting or follow Rob on Twitter: @hindsmmareferee

Photo: Hinds prepares to referee a bout in the UFC’s Octagon (Combat Consulting)

About The Author

Rob Hinds
Guest Contributor

Rob Hinds has refereed over 4,200 MMA bouts and judged more than 750. He has refereed for organizations on all levels including: UFC, Bellator MMA, Invicta FC, KOTC, IFL and Adrenaline MMA. Rob has an extensive background in martial arts, including both lengthy amateur and professional fight careers. Along with being a tenured referee and judge, Rob dedicates much of his time to researching and updating rules, regulations and procedures to keep not only himself, but the sport's officials current.

  • Jeff Malott

    Great subject!
    Every MMA official should be looking into these subject matters with their own state commissions.
    Thanks Rob!