Gettin’ Called Up
by Michelle D. Drake, special guest contributor, November 9th, 2012
I’ve been an MMA referee about a year and a half. By now, I know it all, I’ve seen it all, I’ve done it all. And if you believe that, I have some magic beans for you to plant in your garden. But seriously, to make the above statement true, it would have to be said by someone other than myself. In reality, I do know a lot, I have seen a lot, I have done a lot but I’m far from seasoned. I have been tested by trial and fire and have managed to keep my cage and fighters safe under my watch.
Much like any referee with half an ounce of ambition, I’ve been waiting for “the call.” The call with a voice on the other end of the line telling me I’m officiating the next UFC. I’d tell the person calling I’m ready to do it: Cocked, locked and ready to rock. Little would I know how un-ready I really am. Read on…I’ll tell you how I know this.
July 28 I served as referee for Invicta FC 2 in Kansas City. I found out a month before-hand I’d be co-reffing with none other than Big John McCarthy. After I took a week for my nerves to calm down I was pretty cool and excited about getting the opportunity to work with BJM. The week leading up to the event I wasn’t so cool! I was terrified. My main fear was making a mistake in front of “the man.” I tried everything to calm my nerves; mediation, working out, sparring, yoga…everything, but all in vain. Nothing worked. I knew I had to not let my anxiety get the best of me and I had a job to do.
When I first met BJM in the hotel lobby I was thrilled! He was every bit as cool as I had been told he is. Don’t be fooled by his size and serious face…he’s a big ol’ teddy bear with an endless sense of humor. He’s very down to earth and easy to talk to. After and quick “get-to-know-each other” hello and handshake, we headed over to the hotel where the fighters were gathered for the rule’s meeting. Again, nothing spectacular about this rule’s meeting except for the fact it was BIG JOHN MCCARTHY giving it! There were a few laughs, serious moments and questions asked. Afterwards, we had great conversations and discussions on the ride back to our hotel. Ok…I’m ready to do this.
Saturday night. It’s go time. After the usual referee check-list is complete and paper-work is filled out, I get my bout assignments. I see I’m set to kick off the evening’s event with the first two fights. First fight starts. All is good, until…a foul. It was in that moment I realized Big John McCarthy was watching every little move of mine. I couldn’t mess this up. Fortunately, I got it right. He gave me props about catching the foul and added some advice to make things go smoother next time as well as remind me to, “Just slow down! There’s no rush in there.” I was glad I didn’t screw it up and stink up the place with a bad call!
I’m not gonna lie, I was shitting my pants nervous all through the end of the first fight and knowing I had to stay in the cage and ref the second fight didn’t help calm me down! In between the 1st and 2nd fight I had a little self-talk moment. I told myself to calm down, this was MY cage, MY fight, MY fighters and all had to be taken care of and controlled my me. It was MY time to do work and get things done. After that I was pretty cool and collected. My nerves were gone and I did my job. BJM was very generous in his advice and compliments to me.
Here’s my advice based on my experience from that night: Don’t rush getting into the big show. Take your time. Get seasoned. Now, I get it. It’s not that you’ll do a less than perfect job. It’s not that you’re not a good ref. It’s not that the crowd, media, lights, cameras or DFW (Dana White) will effect you. It is working with the big name referees that will play with your anxieties. It’s wanting to not mess up in front of them and wanting their approval that you’ll end up over compensating and/or you’ll miss small, crazy, stupid shit. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you won’t either! I thought that because John was right there I’d be on top of everything and wouldn’t miss a beat. For the most part I didn’t but after every fight I reffed he had some little morsel of advice to help me and pointed out things I hadn’t even thought about. If you think working with BJM, Herb (Dean) or Josh (Rosenthal) would be hella cool, you’re right…it is. But it’s also daunting and overwhelming as you don’t want to make a fool of yourself in front of them. Be patient with your reffing career. Let it develop wisely. Make sure you’ve experienced all the crazy shit and know how to handle it before even thinking of going to “the big time” shows. Take your time. You will be sorry if you rush it and make an ass out of yourself because you didn’t know how to handle something.
I don’t want to confuse anyone by letting them think I felt as if I wasn’t ready for “the big time.” I’m simply saying, I get why it’s so important to be seasoned and test by fire first. Also, I get how doing a big show with a big name co-ref effects one mentally.
All this said, BJM is no longer “the man, the myth, the legend,” to me. Not to take anything away from him, but I rarely get star-struck and since he’s no longer a “star” to me, he’s just John. Not even Big John. Just John. My over-sized, softy, teddy bear, co-ref John who just so happens to be one of the baddest referees on the planet! I look forward to working with him again and next year I’ll take his referee course.
Until then, I’ll continue to work hard, learn more, train a lot and keep ‘em safe.
Your shadow in the cage,