There are many problem areas in the young sport of MMA. Performance enhancing drugs, equipment, training methods, judging, governing bodies with questionable conflicts of interest to just name some of the things that come to mind. Perhaps one of the most influential individual positions that can be held within the sports is the referee. There have been plenty of issues with the third man (or woman) in the cage that have changed the outcome of a contest in ways that have broad impacts.

Just recently, we were reminded of that in Brazil when Eduardo Herdy stopped the contest between Silva and Dober. Dober lost the fight by tap out, when he never tapped and he was never in any real danger. It’s been argued in the aftermath that it was one of the worst calls in the modern era of MMA, possibly in the entire history of the sport.

This week we decided to pay homage to the referees that do their job, and do it well. Everyone will make mistakes from time to time, but there are some that are quality. To be a great referee is to eliminate negative story lines, to ensure that the proper fighter wins, and to protect the participants to ensure the longevity and health of both the athlete and the sport as a whole. With that, Blane, Jeremy, and Michael will be providing their list of the top five referees in the sport of MMA.

Davis’ List

5. Mario Yamasaki

Yes, he has had some questionable calls, but I couldn’t omit Mario Yamasaki from the list. He has contributed quite a lot to the sport. Refereeing as many events as he does, he is bound to make a mistake from time to time, but overall he is very consistent. If he wasn’t he wouldn’t be licensed and fighters would object if he was assigned. His signature heart hand signal is a bit strange, but it’s his and he is a referee and personality in the cage.

4. Josh Rosenthal

Out of commission for the past couple years after being found guilty on drug related charges, one can only hope that he returns to the cage soon. He wasn’t always the best referee, but he developed into a competent official over time. He could easily be in the top three if he wasn’t locked up for the past two years. Hopefully a commission will find that he has been rehabilitated and get him back in the cage.

3. Marc Goddard

Well known on the international MMA scene, Marc Goddard has been officiating for the UFC and other organizations for years. He has worked in Dubai, Ireland, England, Sweden and other countries, but it wasn’t until recently that he officiated on American soil. Recently when petitioning for a license in Nevada he was denied due to a lack of back ground check, but offered a one night limited license which he took. No doubt he will soon be a fully licensed referee in the U.S. and the sport will be better for it.

2. Herb Dean

Herb Dean has been the third man in the cage for years. He has had some questionable calls, but for the most part, he is on point. Not only is he one of the best referees in the sport, but he is also a major contributor to it. He is constantly giving back to the sport. He has a training program to develop a new generation of quality referees, he is active on social media, and overall a great advocate for the sport.

1. John McCarthy

You may know him as “Big” John McCarthy. He has been refereeing MMA from the very beginning and he would have to make some very big mistakes to fall from the number one spot. When you think of the men and woman that have built this sport up over the years, mostly you think about big promotions and their fighters. The fact is “Big” John has been there from the beginning and will always have a place in the history of the sport. To this day he is constantly traveling to ensure that he can officiate as many events as possible, for as many promotions as possible.


Klump’s List

5. Dan Miragliotta

Dan Miragliotta easily makes my top five because he is a great referee and when I met him he was awesome. He has refereed some big fights and done a great job. Anytime I see that he is the referee I always get excited and I always take out the picture he took with me at an event. By the way, he is a massive individual.

4. Yves Lavigne

Some people question his decisions, but at the end of the day, he makes more good ones than bad ones. He is a very reliable referee and always tries to make sure the fans get the best fight possible. did a great article with him and it just shows why he is a top referee in the UFC.

3. “Big” John McCarthy

Whenever you have UFC 2 on your résumé, and you are still going strong, you have to be in the top five when it comes to referees. I said Dan Miragliotta is a massive individual, but you do not get a nickname like “Big John” unless you are big too. I would love to see Miragliotta and McCarthy go at it with any of the referees on my top five as the referee. That would be fun to watch.

2. Mario Yamasaki

I love when Mario Yamasaki is a referee because I know that the fight will be fair and you wont need to worry about a bad stoppage. Did I mention that he has his signature heart hands at the start of the fight? What other referee has such a memorable start to a fight? Mario Yamasaki is a vreat referee and that is why he comes in at #2 in my top five.

1. Herb Dean

I really do not see how anyone else could be ranked at the top spot other than Herb Dean. Herb Dean may be the biggest name in refereeing for the UFC right now, but he has earned it by his great stoppages and fair calls. He is a fan favorite and for a good reason. As long as Herb Dean is a referee in the UFC, I really do not see how anyone could be ranked above him.

Ferguson’s List

5. Kevin Mulhall

I think what solidified my spot for Kevin Mulhall to be included on this list was how he handled being shoved by Jason High following a stoppage. Cool and collected. He doesn’t let the moment get to him and I’d like to see him start getting some more co-main and main events sometime in the future.

4. Josh Rosenthal

Rosenthal just recently was released early from prison and I’d love for him to come back to ref in the UFC soon. Legal trouble aside, Rosenthal was always solid in the cage and I can’t think of a single moment when Rosenthal made a head-scratching decision.

3. Marc Goddard

I honestly think Goddard should start being talked about on the same level as Dean and McCarthy. Goddard, who was a fighter himself, really has made himself known as a reliable third man inside the cage. If you tell me he’s going to be in there for title fights, I’d have no problem with it.

2. Herb Dean

Dean is probably the best ref in the game today. Constantly making the right decision and making the right calls inside the cage, Dean has made himself become the go-to referee for major fights. Let it be known that he’s the best in the game.

1. “Big” John McCarthy

Dean might be the best, but I will always put McCarthy as the face of refereeing in MMA when I’m asked to think about it. He’s as smart as they come in the business and he’s been doing it forever. Historically, he’s paved the way for most of the others on the list and he helped the UFC change it’s image from barbaric to what it is now.

About The Author

Michael Davis
Director, Business Development/Senior Staff Writer

Michael Davis is a seasoned professional in the world of finance. In recent years, he has worked for Fortune 500 companies and consulted at one of the largest hedge funds in the world. After working closely with a mixed martial arts management company, he realized he could apply his skills to the sport he loved. The culmination of his professional experience and passion for MMA have led him to his role as Senior Staff Writer and Director of Business Development at The MMA Corner.