There are many questions I get asked on a regular basis but, fortunately, I never get tired of repeating my answers. The question I am asked probably more than any other is, ‘How do I get started as a referee and judge in MMA?’
Personally, when I started refereeing over 10 years ago, it happened entirely by accident. I was due to fight at a particular event, I got injured and had to subsequently withdraw from my scheduled bout. The promoter was let down last minute by another official and he asked me to step in. I didn’t have time to think or say ‘no’ and the rest, as they say, is history.
I remember feeling instantly comfortable with the fighters, as we shared the same changing areas at some of the shows I’d fought on previously. Afterwards, they all said they felt safe and comfortable with me too as they knew me as a martial arts practitioner and fighter, and therefore felt secure with me being the third man in the cage. I do not believe in modern MMA that it is imperative to have competed in the sport to be a good referee, but this was over 10 years ago when MMA was still basically in its infancy in the UK, and a little extra experience went a long way.
Having experience of training in at least one element (but preferably more) of MMA is essential. Simply being an experienced fighter, no matter how talented or tough you are, is not enough. You still require many other attributes necessary to be a good official – being authoritative, assertive, alert and quick-thinking are all boxes that need to be ticked. This is the message I try to emphasise to people looking to take their first step into the world of MMA officiating.
But perhaps the most important piece of advice I give on this subject is something that holds true in any industry – you simply have to put the hours, days, weeks, months and years into building your profile, your experience and your reputation. There is no job on earth where you can expect to be ‘qualified and competent’ simply by having spent some time around the profession. That is to say, I cannot be a doctor or nurse by casually hanging around a hospital for a few weeks. Looking for shortcuts or trying to obtain a position based on who you know will ultimately impact upon you further down the line. There are no hiding places and it all comes out in the wash in the end.
Are you a practitioner in any martial art? No? Well, now is the time to start. Have you sourced or contacted a local MMA show or promoter to enquire about offering your services for free, so you could shadow judge, time keep and get to know the workings of event day, weigh-ins, rules’ meetings, medicals and fighter briefings? No? Well, what are you waiting for? Do it! Get dedicated, apply yourself and you will succeed.
I personally encourage and develop new blood in the mixed martial arts scene by holding seminars for would-be officials to attend. We need new referees and judges. The sport is growing and the demand for new and competent officials. Remember, experience is a place that you graduate to and not from.
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