16 Most Famous UFC Referees (Of All Time)

The UFC was founded in 1993 and the promotion would not be where it is today without the selfless and essential work of the great UFC referees. 

This list is not about the best or worst referees, but the most known names in the sport. Some are known for their great officiating, others are famous for reasons outside of the octagon, but most are remembered because of their octagon controversy – as is the nature of the sport.

Famous UFC Refs

Many in this list are already retired, but many are still current UFC referees, let’s check them out.

1. John McCarthy 

The most legendary and famous referee on the list, ‘Big’ John McCarthy has refereed since UFC 2 and has officiated over 500 MMA fights in 25 years (1993-2018), making him the most experienced referee in UFC and MMA history.

He’s known for the saying, “let’s get it on”, which he would say at the start of a fight; and it’s also the name of his biography. John’s nickname is ‘Big’, given to him by the original co-owner Art Davie after John lifted him in the air. John is 190 cm tall and weighs around 260 lbs, which made him a great referee as being as big as fighters meant he could get between them to stop a bout.

John has had a big influence on the UFC and is well known for his role in helping create the Official Rules of MMA (2000/01), which the UFC adopted early. As well as refereeing, he was a police officer for 22 years in total and was the head self-defense practitioner of the LAPD (1993) after learning jiu-jitsu at the Gracie Academy. He carried this MMA expertise and law enforcement professionalism into his refereeing.

Over his career, John refereed many UFC title fights and won the World MMA Referee of the Year Award 3 times.

After a long career, John stopped refereeing in 2018 after officiating for 20 years for the biggest MMA promotions globally. These include the UFC, Strikeforce, King of the Cage, Bellator, and Affliction.

Since retiring, he has become a color commentator for Bellator and continued the success of the ‘Weighing In’ podcast, which he launched in 2017 with former Strikeforce champion Josh Thomson. By 2022 they have amassed 111k subscribers on Youtube and are one of the biggest MMA channels.

Twitter 131k

2. Herb Dean

Arguably the most famous UFC referee ever, Herb Dean has been called the gold standard for referees in MMA by Dana White, Joe Rogan, and countless articles. He has won the World MMA Referee of the Year Award 9 times out of 12 as of 2022 and is known for being the best-paid UFC referee.

Refereeing now for 18 years (2004-present), Herb is a former fighter with a black belt in jiu-jitsu, who retired in 2007 with a 2-3 MMA record. His refereeing longevity and short fighting experience mean he knows the rules inside and out and is well respected for his excellent decision-making in the ring.

He is known for having a very calm demeanor, helping him remain focused and have high attention to detail during a fight. The best example of this was seen in the fight between Frank Mir and Tim Sylvia. Most people didn’t see Tim’s arm break, but Herb immediately saw it and quickly stopped the fight, preventing any further damage and potentially saving Tim’s career.

Herb speaks very clearly and concisely, which is necessary for a sport that has many non-native English-speaking fighters. Also, standing at 185 cm in height and weighing around 225 lbs, he’s very able in handling himself amongst the biggest fighters in the octagon, and he can intervene to prevent further damage.

Despite his praises, with fame and accolades comes scrutiny and controversy – and Herb Dean isn’t any different. His early stoppage in Ben Askren vs Robbie Lawlor, where he mistakenly thought that Lawlor had gone unconscious due to a bulldog choke, was a huge blunder that brought him a lot of heat.

Other times, Herb has been criticized for his indecisiveness, sometimes touching fighters but allowing the fight to continue, as seen in Rothwell vs de Lima – or for late stoppages meaning a fighter takes unnecessary damage, showcased in Khalid Murtazaliev vs CB Dolloway.

Twitter 91k

3. Marc Goddard

Marc Goddard is the most famous British referee in the UFC, and one of the most recognizable faces in the MMA world. He was the first British referee to officiate a UFC card and gain his license to referee in the USA.

Marc has been involved in the sport for 21 years since its inception and has refereed for 18 years. He’s a former fighter (7-6 record) and loves the sport, describing himself as ‘a referee trapped in a fighter’s body.’

Known for being extremely professional, fair, and official with the rules; he reads the fight incredibly well, is quick to react, and takes great care of fighter safety. 

On top of this, Goddard fails to be intimidated or emotional in the octagon, as evidenced in his post-fight Bellator clash with Conor McGregor, who stormed the cage and pushed Marc. Many praised Marc for his professionalism, and the event made him more famous than he already was.

However, commentators and fans have accused Marc Goddard of being arrogant and condescending towards fighters and others involved in the sport. Marc has also been criticized for not owning up to mistakes and ignoring criticism. Nevertheless, this could be a good thing as it shows he doesn’t get involved in media squabbles and prefers to take on criticism by continuing to referee at a top-level.

Another controversial moment of Marc’s came at UFC 235. During the fight, Usman was dominating Woodley on the ground and Marc eventually stood them up, and said to Usman, “it’s a fight”, believing there to not be enough action. This was the wrong implementation of the rules, as Usman was actively throwing many strikes, meaning Marc should’ve waited.

However, surprisingly he did this time apologize on Twitter and own up to his mistake by saying he used the wrong choice of words.

Twitter 50k

4. Mike Beltran

Mostly known as the UFC ref with the long beard because of his lengthy Viking style beard which is braided, 2 feet long, and reaches his hips. Unfortunately, he now has to tuck his beard into his shirt, as it was seen as unprofessional.

He is also known as an amazing referee and has worked extensively for the biggest MMA promotions, such as the UFC, Bellator, and Cage Warriors. His most high-profile bout was the classic title fight between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustaffson.

He started refereeing MMA fights in 2009 and has worked for the California State Athletic Commission since 2007. Mike’s a former fighter with a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and takes this experience with him as a referee as he understands MMA. He also has a good eye, is very alert, and rarely makes mistakes.

Mike is a huge referee, standing at 180 cm, and although his official weight is unknown, he’s likely at least 220 lbs or more due to his size – which has allowed him to effectively stop fights many times.

However, some have questioned his speed in stopping fights and this may be down to his size. For the most part, Mike has avoided any major controversial moments as a referee which is a testament to how good he is at his job.

Helped by his iconic look, Beltran has tried his hand at acting and has been in films such as The Other Side: Live or Die, Barrio MMA Kid, and TV series: Mayans M.C, and Kingdom.

Twitter 24k

5. Mario Yamasaki

Mario has been involved with the UFC as a manager since their first event in 1993 and has refereed since 1999. He is known for the love heart hand gesture he uses when introduced in the cage.

His family has a history involved in martial arts and he has black belts in Judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which led him to found the International Yamasaki Academy; the first jiu-jitsu school open in the DC area (1995).

Mario has officiated in some of the biggest UFC fights, such as Brock Lesnar vs Couture (UFC 91), where Lesnar became champion, and Liddell vs Ortiz 2 (UFC 66), which was the first UFC event to 1 million PPV buys.

Unfortunately, he’s mostly remembered for his infamous decisions, rather than the many years of selfless work he provided to the sport through refereeing and instructing.

The most controversial two were the disqualification of Erick Silva for illegal punches to the back of the head (UFC 142), and the failed stoppage between Valentina Schevchenko and Priscilla Cachoeira (UFC FN:125); which saw 230 strikes to 3 and fighter safety ignored.

After this incident, Dana White labeled his refereeing as disgusting and Mario had a three-year break as a referee. He has since resumed refereeing in 2021 but is yet to work for a top MMA promotion.

Twitter 15k

6. Jason Herzog

Seen by many as the unofficial gold standard for MMA referees, Jason has worked for the biggest MMA promotions such as Fury, Bellator, Cage Warriors, and the UFC.

Being one of the smaller and lighter referees, Herzog has lightning reactions in stopping fights and is always focused on the fight, rarely missing anything.

Some UFC referees have a tendency to give unnecessary warnings, but Herzog officiates the rules as they should be; in terms of warnings and point deductions for illegal fouls, he never misses a beat. Especially when concerning illegal cage grabs, which many other referees fail to see and penalize. 

Overall, it’s Herzog’s communication with both fighters and coaches that make him great, as it helps the fights go as smoothly as possible.

Herzog has avoided any major controversy over his refereeing decisions but was criticized in his early refereeing days for being unable to read fights, leading to indecision in stopping fights. He has since rectified this and hardly puts a foot wrong.

Twitter 17k

7. Steve Mazzagatti

Justified or not, Steve Mazzagatti is labeled as the worst MMA referee of all time, with some wondering how he made it as a referee in a sport where fighter’s lives are on the line.

Ironically, he’s a former firefighter so you’d think he would have fighter safety on his mind. Throughout his career, Steve was very indecisive and unsure about when to stop fights, often letting fighters take unnecessary damage. 

He never fully grasped the rules and allowed illegal strikes to go unpunished continually, especially eye pokes. He also gave incorrect point deductions for things not in the rules and stopped fights much earlier than they should have been.

His most controversial and infamous call was his disqualification of Jon Jones for the use of 12 to 6 elbows; giving Jones his only career loss.

Many mistakes later saw Dana White go on a 9-minute rant in which he labeled him as dangerous and an incompetent fool.

Steve Mazzagatti stopped refereeing in 2013 after his many mistakes, and refereed just three more times in 2015, but has not officiated since. Steve is not active on any social media.

8. Keith Peterson

He is mostly known for his nickname “no nonsense”, which John Anik (commentator) loves to include every time he speaks about him. Many believe it’s Anik who gave him the name “no nonsense Keith Peterson”, referring to Keith’s demeanor.

His demeanor is one of the reasons he is such a great UFC referee, as he officiates by the rules and gives warnings and point deductions when needed.

Keith has previous fight experience, winning a NAGA Championship (wrestling) and also training in Muay Thai and MMA.

He famously took a right hook when intervening in order to prevent Mark Striegl from any unnecessary damage against Chas Skelly (UFC FN:201). His fearlessness and speed in stopping fights show why he has the nickname “no nonsense Keither Peterson”.

He did however come under scrutiny when Dominick Cruz publicly claimed Peterson smelled of alcohol and cigarettes, as he believed Peterson had prematurely ended his bout against Henry Cejudo. This put Keith in the spotlight and is one of the reasons he’s so well known today.

Keith is not active on any social media.

9. Mark Smith

One of the few UFC referees without a background in martial arts, but this didn’t stop Mark Smith from becoming one of the best referees. It may have even benefitted him as he could learn the referee profession without any biases or former beliefs, and learn as a complete beginner.

Mark only started refereeing in 2014, and despite this, he’s quickly become one of the most recognized and respected referees in MMA. His previous career was as a US military fighter pilot for 23 years, and the skills he learned there have translated well into the cage.

He is a very professional referee, with great composure, focus, and clear and concise vocals that are easily understood by fighters. 

Mark has been criticized for being somewhat too official, often overusing warnings about pointed fingers or grabbing the cage. This can be a distraction and annoyance for fighters if they’re unnecessarily receiving constant warnings for fouls they haven’t yet committed.

With that being said, Smith has made a name for himself and avoided any major controversy as he continues to officiate to a very high standard. He is currently one of the most active referees in the UFC.

10. Chris Tognoni

Somehow one of the lesser-known UFC referees, Chris is now becoming more known because of his high UFC activity. He officiated the third most UFC fights in 2021 (86) and is continuing the trend into 2022.

Chris formerly worked as a teacher and coach at Mohave High School from 1990 to 2002, which helped him transition as a martial arts referee. He has been refereeing since 1997 (25 years), making him one of the most experienced referees who are still extremely active at the highest level.

In the past, he’s been criticized for communicating in a condescending tone, which likely comes unintentionally due to his former career as a teacher. He’s also often too verbal in his overuse of warnings to fighters and likes to get involved in the action.

His most controversial moment came in a fight between Ed Herman and Mike Rodriguez (UFC FN:177 ), in what came to be known as robbery of the year. Chris wrongly identified a legal shot and gave Herman a long recovery time, who then made a comeback and went on to win the fight.

With that being said, he definitely communicates effectively and frequently and his reputation has improved drastically in recent years, after a shaky start to life in the UFC.

Chris is not active on social media.

11. Leon Roberts

Originally from the UK, Roberts is an extremely experienced referee, first starting as a referee around 2002, and first officiating for the UFC in 2008 (UFC 89), in England.

He developed his passion for MMA by working in a video store and watching UFC tournaments on VHS, and was attracted to the violence of the no holds barred nature.

Roberts also trained in MMA from 2002 and went on to become a black belt instructor. He’s known for using his abilities in the cage to stop overaggressive fighters, and once neutralized a fighter by taking his back and putting him in a choke position.

Leon Roberts was extremely focused when refereeing, and had a reputation as one of the best UFC referees; he officiated fairly, decisively, and knew exactly how to implement the rules because of his vast experience.

However, Leon is another referee who had his career tainted by a horrendously late stoppage, seen in the Jose Aldo vs Petr Yan fight (UFC 251). Sadly he hasn’t refereed since this night, after a barrage of criticism from Dana White.

Leon is not active on social media.

12. Dan Miragliotta

Dan is one of the best MMA referees of all time and is also the biggest, standing 194 cm and weighing around 280 lbs or more. He’s also very noticeable for his bald head and goatee.

Dan became a black belt in shito-ryu karate aged 18 and a 5th-degree black belt in kenpo karate – and later became a senior muay thai instructor. Dan first refereed in the 1990s, when he ran his own MMA events and would sometimes officiate if he couldn’t get a referee.

While refereeing at his own events, his MMA skills and large size had him noticed and he went on to referee for the biggest MMA promotions – his first big event being at UFC 78 (2007).

Dan has officiated multiple title fights but his most known involvement was in the infamous fight between Josh Koscheck and Paul Daley (UFC 113). Dan had separated the two but that didn’t stop Daley sucker-punching Koscheck after the bell. Daley was immediately kicked from the UFC.

His most controversial moment came in an EliteXC fight between Kimbo Slice and James Thompson (2008). Here, it appeared Dan gave preferential treatment to Kimbo Slice who avoided a TKO loss in the second round and went on to win by what many have called an early stoppage.

Instagram 8.2k | Twitter 1k

13. Josh Rosenthal

Josh is recognized for being heavily tattooed and remembered for his out-of-ring controversies, rather than his abilities as a referee.

Josh’s referee career working for the big MMA promotions halted after being sentenced to 3 years for marijuana possession and intent to distribute.

Because of his conviction, some commissions will no longer license Josh to referee, depending on the state’s laws. He only refereed for the UFC two more times since his release in 2015, and the last time he officiated was in 2019.

Besides this, Rosenthal was a great referee with a pristine record. He started officiating in 2001 and his first UFC appearance was in 2008 (UFC FN:12). Many fans put him up there with the best in the business in terms of refereeing quality.

Twitter 4.5k

14. Yves Lavigne

A Candian-born referee, Lavigne’s first UFC appearance was in 2006 (UFC 58), and his referee debut was in 2003. He comes from a fighting background and is mostly known for winning the karate full-contact championship with the Canadian National Team.

Yves was involved in the early days of MMA, being a member of the commission that legalized MMA as a sport in Quebec.

As a referee, Yves is very decisive and rarely makes mistakes. When he’s made mistakes in the past, he’s always one of the first to acknowledge where he went wrong and how he could avoid making the same mistake in the future. He openly said he “screwed up” in his officiating of Matt Brown vs. Pete Sell and this is a sign of a top-class referee.

His most controversial moment was his late stoppage at UFC 102 when he missed Leben’s tap out of Rosholt’s triangle choke. Leben was already unconscious and started to convulse in the ring, and while Leben recovered, this event would bring negative attention to any referee.

Twitter 2.7k

15. Kevin Macdonald

Formerly a firefighter, Kevin Macdonald has been a referee since the inception of the sport in the early 90s. He also teaches upcoming MMA referees for the Association of Boxing Commission and has worked as an MMA judge.

Because of his background, Macdonald is known for staying calm under pressure, allowing him to officiate very well as he can remain focused on the fight at hand.

Despite this, he’s going to be remembered for his most overwhelmingly controversial decision, which was an incredibly early stoppage of Cutelaba vs Ankalaev (UFC FN:169), where both fighters were still swinging on their feet.

This event cemented Macdonald’s name on the map and he was heavily criticized by John McCarthy after it was titled the worst stoppage in UFC history. His face in the image above says it all really.

Twitter 600

16. Kevin Mulhall

Kevin has MMA experience and is a high-level Muay Thai practitioner and instructor; working as a striking coach for Jersey Fight Clubs and Pure MMA. He made his professional referee debut in 2004 and last refereed in 2019.

Throughout his 15-year career, Mulhall avoided majorly negative controversy in the ring caused by a bad decision; a testament to how good a referee he was. 

However, he did famously have an altercation with Jason High (not his doing), who pushed Mulhall after the fight was stopped in the second round against Rafael dos Anjos (UFC FN:42). Despite this, Kevin remained calm and acted very professionally; earning him much praise from the MMA community.

Twitter 100 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *