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MFC’s Mark Pavelich points finger at “celebrity referees” charging additional fees

There is no lack of criticism in the world for MMA referees who often draw fire after errantly stopping fights or for a questionable approach to fouls. From fans to fighters to promoters, for the most part, everyone involved with the sport has voiced concern about the state of officiating at some point in the past. However, a recent rant by Maximum Fighting Championship founder and head Mark Pavelich brought to light an interest issue it’s likely few outside of the backstage ranks were aware of.

According to Pavelich by way of a press release, his problem is not related to the actual performance of referees but rather, as he put it, because “certain referees are charging anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 just to show up, bark out a catchphrase, and supervise a fight.” Further elaborating on the source of his ire, Pavelich continued, “But these fees aren’t being paid by any commission. They are paid by a show owner or promoter. And quite frankly it’s sad that some promoters feel obliged to pay them and put them front and center on a poster.”

Pavelich then questioned the principle involved, though never mentioned any refs by name, asking, “How can you not call into question the ethics of these referees? Would you not expect their loyalties to be torn when some promoter is willing to pay them 10K, and that same referee is then calling the action when the promoter’s top fighters are in action?”

The outspoken owner of Canada’s top MMA promotion finished with a message directed at the governing bodies who oversee and assign referees.

“It’s time for the commissions governing MMA to put a pay structure in place for all referees. They would be paid according to their experience, the level of competition they have overseen, and even feedback from notable fighters and insiders. There are a number of very good referees out there including those that have worked recent MFC events. But even they shouldn’t be allowed to just toss out a price tag, or have a commission toss out one for them. There should be a pay scale in place – here’s what you get paid (plus reasonable expenses) … take it or leave it.”

“You don’t see referees in the NFL or NHL tossing around numbers, and then getting paid according to their individual requests,” Pavelich concluded. “They are paid a set price by a league (in MMA’s case, a commission), and the best ones are hired for more high-profile games and playoffs.”

MFC has existed for a decade North of the Border with a major upswing in activity after the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts took off in 2005. The company most recently promoted “MFC 29: Conquer” two weeks ago in Winsor, Ontario with names like Marcus Davis, Hermes Franca, Douglas Lima, and Ryan Jimmo in action.

  • Rece Rock says:

    Wow… Never really thought it was like that, I thought refs just got what the commission rate pays and if anything maybe room n board stipend from the promotion. But 5000 or 10000 for a night of work… Wow. Can only imagine 3 guys that could ask that kinda money and they don’t seem like the type that would be doing something like that cause it obviously effects the integrity of officiating and the sport. But I guess everyone has a price. Maybe I’m just naive.

  • MickeyC says:

    “Dont seem like the type” what do they seem non human to you. Who in the world do you know that is gona turn down extra money for doing the same job? Now I am not saying that they are all letting the money effect their professional judgement, I dout many turn down the cash. Especially since as of right now it’s not illegal. I’m sure it’s seen just as locker room bonuses. What would worry me is that the more famous refs would only work for the organizations who give extra. It could all be done by each stae athletic commison. Refs in general should not be able to pick shows, they should be blindly assigned to each stae santion fight. Wheather it be UFC or untelevised local show.

  • Rece Rock says:

    Yeah MickeyC the guys whom are deemed the “celebrity” refs in my mind are the same guys that own MMA gyms, own officiating training academys, lobby to commisions to amend rules and strive for better officiating.. they write books on officiating and sell mma merchandise… yeah I don’t think they seem like that type… When I say type I mean the type of guys who on one hand are trying to raise the bar when it comes to officiating BUT at the same time taking a large chunk of change from the promotions to show up… yeah there human and yeah they need the income BUT I thought they were the cream of the crop because they do the right thing and whether or not the $ causes there judgment to sway getting paid above and beyond a commission pays you or the travel/food/ board stipend the promotion pays is ethically & professionally WRONG… so yeah I didn’t think they seemed like that type… Like the article says no other professional sport on the level of a NFL or a NHL would ever allow additional payment from a franchise or a division to have certain refs officiate, It just doesn’t even sound legal let alone the business ethics of it…

  • fanoftna33 says:

    Big John posted a great blog about this subject on another site. His view is that if a commision hires refs then the refs take what they are offered for pay, BUT if a promoter calls and wants a certian ref then it is the refs right to ask for whatever theyf eel is a fair amount of $, and since the promoter may use that ref for posters and such the refs feel this is fair practice.
    Dont really know the whole situation here but sounds like everything else that is debated, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

  • Yourdaddydevilandlord says:

    Let’s not dance around the subject, this is totally about Big John McCarthy, with his catchphrases, hanging out and training with the fighters, etc. I’m going to assume this had something to do with John not being inside an octagon there for so long, Dana refused to sweeten the pot for a commission appointed referee and told him to fuck off. Am I right? I’ve never heard a better explanation for why he wasn’t doing UFC fights, despite being an appointed official not employed by the UFC. As far as this one promoter goes, how many refs could he possibly be talking about, with his catchphrase and being a “celebrity ref”, as if such a thing should even exist. Is he talking about Herb Dean? He is too low key and I don’t really think of him as having a catchphrase. Mazagatti, he is only famous for being an incompetent fuck up so if he gets assigned anywhere I recommend he just shut the fuck up, be happy he is getting paid at all and hope he doesn’t cost anyone a fight or get someone killed. Yamasaki or that tall chick? They might ask for a bit of a cost of living stipend or something but even they know they don’t qualify as celebrity refs.
    No, “Let’s get it on!” and talk about who this has got to be about, the one and only Big John.

  • Angry Mike says:

    If Pavelich doesn’t want to pay specific refs, then he shouldn’t call them. Assuming that we’re talking about McCarthy, why shouldn’t he get paid? He’s a big name and a good ref, and his presence gives events some additional interest and legitimacy. If a promoter doesn’t care who officiates, leave it to the commission to send whoever they have. It sounds to me as if Pavelich wants something for free, or at least a cut-rate price.

  • Rece Rock says:

    Herb Dean is just as much a celebrity Ref if not a bigger celeb then Big John these days… and what mma fan doesn’t know Mario Yamasaki, Josh Rosenthal, & Yves Lavigne. I’m not saying what the MFC promoter is saying is right I’m saying this practice in general is just a bad idea.

    Now if a promotion is in a location where there is no atheletic commission and there is no sanctioning body and the show is legit then I can agree and def. see a ref being hired, flown in being paid whatever his rate is and given what ever salary or fringe benefit both parties deem fit.

  • Rece Rock says:

    Yourdaddydevil..Just FYI…McCarthy worked the WEC 46, UFC on Versus 2, UFC 121… obviously working a recent SF event under Zuffa’s ownership…So what ever bad blood there is or had been can’t be that big of a deal at this point anyway.

  • Makington says:

    Obviously this is just speculation, but I assumed that the reason Big John wasn’t officiating in the UFC was because of a fight with Dana, or something more Dana’s fault. I never gave it much thought but just kind of assumed it because if there’s one thing I know about Dana, it’s that he loves the blame game. If Big John was refusing to ref fights unless Dana put a little extra in his pockets it seems like Dana would be having a Twitter field-day. I have seen a lot of interviews with Big John though and he genuinely seems like he cares about the sport and has been doing a lot of work on his own time to help the sport and to help make it more mainstream. But for all I know it is Big John he meant.

  • Angry Mike says:

    A while ago McCarthy resigned from the Nevada Commission to pursue other interests including commentating and his school. When he tried to get back on, he was denied, supposedly because there were no openings. There was speculation about political motivations at the time, but I never heard that UFC or White were involved. Historically they’ve always kept a distance from the refs and the commissions to keep people from suggesting that they’re fixing fights or influencing the officials. The Zuffa events McCarthy recently officiated may not have been in Nevada. Or maybe he finally got back on Nevada’s list. There were a number of pieces about this stuff on this site, so maybe you can track down the details in the archives.

  • Angry Mike says:

    P.S. The stories about McCarthy’s problems in Nevada were reported on this site in 2009. Type in “Big John McCarthy” in the “Search this website” option at the top of the page and you can pull them up.

  • MCM says:

    I’m pretty sure McCarthy is only sanctioned in California now.
    And from what I’ve read on other sites, it sounds like Pav is getting some bad info from a disgruntled Canadian Ref. BJM has a pretty interesting response posted around the web.
    As far as the idea of paying extra for “celebrity refs”, the only reason to request these guys is for their celebrity. If a promoter wants to use their name, they should have to pay for it.


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