(Matthew Polly is our resident big shot book writer, and his new book Tapped Out is being released on November 17th. So close yet so far! For now enjoy his review of another MMA book, Big John McCarthy’s “Let’s Get It On”)
Hopefully, the return of “Big” John McCarthy as a referee for UFC on Fox 1 marks the official end of his banishment from the Octagon and his permanent return to his rightful place as the best referee in the sport. It is certainly a position he has earned. McCarthy has been part of MMA since before UFC 1 and inside the cage since UFC 2. He is responsible for most of the early rules, helping turn spectacle into sport. Shit, he coined the term “mixed martial arts.”
But then he did the unforgivable. He quit the UFC and joined the Fight Network—a Rebel Alliance outpost in the remote, frozen tundra known as Canada. Even worse as a pundit and commentator, he expressed his views, suggesting that Dana White plays fast and loose with the truth and the Nevada State Athletic Commission has a tendency to hire (boxing) referees who are unqualified for MMA matches. After the Fight Network collapsed, he tried to get his old job back but was treated like a pariah by the NSAC and Dana White, who doesn’t seem to realize that being called a liar is a badge of honor for a fight promoter.
While in exile, Big John followed a time-honored tradition and wrote his memoir with the help of skilled MMA journalist Loretta Hunt, who knows a little about what it’s like to be on Dana’s bad side. The book has something for everyone. For hardcore fans, Big John recounts in detail his life as a referee and as a Los Angeles police officer. For TUF noobs, he provides a very, very extensive refresher course on the history of MMA, going into such detail that by page 226 he was still describing UFC 14 and I began to worry that this 418 page book was only the first in a trilogy.
By the end of the book, it is impossible not to like Big John. Sure, he might be a little short-tempered and rough around the edges, but he is fundamentally a good man. He loves his wife, his kids, and his parents. He believes in fairness, impartiality, loyalty, and trust. And he is self-critical, spending nearly as much time writing about his few mistakes in the cage as he does his many, many successes.
Which raises the question: Can a good man write a good memoir? The most entertaining memoirs tend to be written by chatty, catty, gossipy, vindictive, self-centered narcissits (see Donald Rumsfeld). Since the very beginnings of MMA, McCarthy has had the best seat in the house and clearly knows where all the bodies are buried. But if you are looking for dirt, read Dana’s mother’s screed, because Big John ain’t talking.
(More after the jump)
He mentions that Pride officials tried to seduce him to their promotion with the promise of big bucks but only on the condition that he throw his first fight to their champion Nobuhiko Takada. But he is too diplomatic to point out that clearly Mark Coleman took the Devil’s deal.
When the UFC (under the management of SEG) was heading towards bankruptcy, its only hope of getting back onto cable was to convince the NSAC to sanction MMA. But two NSAC officials decided it was so brutal that they voted against it. McCarthy finds it ironic that one of the officials was Glenn Carano, the father of Gina. But he is too diplomatic to delve into the irony that the other was Lorenzo Fertitta. Having helped eliminate any hope of a turnaround, Lorenzo bought the UFC for the fire sale price of $2 million and convinced his old buddies on the commission to reverse their votes and sanction MMA—instantly increasing the value of his investment. Isn’t that ironic, don’t you think?
There is a reason politicians wait until after they are out of office before writing their memoirs: they have nothing left to lose. Unfortunately for the reader, Big John does. Of his falling out with Dana, he writes: “It’s taken me a long time to be able to say this, but I now take full responsibility for what happened between me and Zuffa.” This bit of legalese sounds less like wisdom-gained and more like a verbal submission. There’s no shame in that. No one wins when they go up against Zuffa. (Their lawyers broke Randy Couture’s will to fight.) But it is a little depressing.
So as I was reading I couldn’t help but wonder what juicy stories Big John would have told if he had waited until after he had really retired and didn’t have to worry about “providing for his family.” He has written a solid book, but it is not great one. And it could have been, if Big John had just waited. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the sequel.