If you have ever watched a UFC match, you know that the referee is often the most despised person in the ring. Unless the ref is a big name like John McCarthy or Herb Dean, they are hit with a lot of flak from bystanders and have their competence questioned at every turn. But are they at least getting paid well?
How Much Does A UFC Ref Make?
A professional UFC referee with two to five years of experience can earn about $250,000 to $350,000 per year, while an amateur UFC referee will earn about $15,000 to $30,000 per year.
The role of a UFC ref is very different from a referee in any other sport because UFC refs act as physical participants in the ring.
While it may take time to progress in their career, there are many referees that gain levels of fame that rival some UFC fighters. Read on to learn more about UFC refs and what they make.
How Much Does a UFC Ref Make Per Fight?
For regular matches, professional UFC referees can make about $1,000 to $2,500 per match, while amateur referees only make about $250 per match.
Pay-per-view matches tend to be more lucrative, with most referees earning up to double their regular fee and more reputable referees earning anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000.
Becoming a Professional
The gap between amateur and professional referee salaries is so wide because amateur referees often do not get the chance to participate in pay-per-view matches. Amateur referees will often spend the first few years of their career learning the basics by presiding over smaller fights.
Once they have achieved a certain level of acumen, how professional UFC referees are chosen and how much they can demand is mostly based on their reputation.
Even amongst professional referees, the pay can vary widely based on their standing amongst their peers, with some professional referees getting paid as low as $500 per match.
How Are UFC Refs Chosen?
A special license is required to become an MMA referee. Before receiving their license, all applicants are required to take a course that can last several weeks and obtain certification by passing written and practical tests, after which they can contact their state athletic commissioner and apply for a license.
As you can see, the process to becoming an MMA referee is not as difficult as you may have thought it was.
A referee-in-training will also have to undergo a sports physical to make sure they can carry out the physical aspects of their duties. The state will require each applicant to shadow a referee at three to four events, at which they will observe:
- How to check and prepare the ring
- How to explain any rules to participants
- How to deal with the judges
- How to collect scorecards
Once they have completed their training, they will be granted a license from the sports commissioner of their region, the average cost of which is about $100. With their license, they will start by refereeing at undercard events and slowly build their reputation within their region.
Undercard events are the less prominent MMA matches that support the featured match. This is a good way for amateur referees to build their experience and their reputation amongst the fighters and judges and slowly move their way up the ladder to the main matches.
Most, if not all UFC referees will have some kind of MMA background and at least be familiar with the terminology when they first start. They must also be familiar with not only the current UFC rules and regulations but the techniques and moves so that they are able to make accurate calls.
What Makes a Good UFC Ref?
A good referee should know when to make quick, on-the-spot decisions concerning the fighter’s safety. It is up to them to determine what constitutes a knockout and stop the fight in a timely manner, as the wrong call can lead to lasting injury and death.
A good ref should be well-versed in current UFC rules and regulations and make proper calls regarding what constitutes a foul and when to initiate disqualifications.
In the ring, the actions of the referee dictate the tone of the game and they are there not to please the crowd, but to maintain the integrity of the match.
What Can Blacklist A UFC Referee?
The biggest thing that turns fans and participants against a referee is a bad call. The quickest way for a referee to jeopardize their reputation is by making an unfair disqualification or failing to stop a fight when a fighter is in danger.
They can also provoke ire by stopping a round too early when a fighter is still able to fight.
Some of the referees most notorious for making bad calls and invoking the ire of fans include:
Peoples, in particular, is disliked due to his outrageous antics during fights, which draws attention away from the actual players.
How Is a UFC Referee Different from a UFC Judge?
A UFC judge plays the role of the observer from a birds’ eye view, as they are the ones who dole out and deduct points based on the fighter’s performance and rule violations if there are any. They are also the ones who determine the winner of the fight if both parties are still standing at the end of the match.
A referee also has the power to deduct points but does not have the authority to declare a winner. A UFC referee is a physical participant in the ring and there have been many instances where the referee has saved the life of a fighter by interceding when necessary.
As you can see they are similar, but play different roles in determining the outcome of a fight.
Do UFC Refs Know How to Fight?
Because maintaining safety by protecting the fighters and knowing how and when to stop a fight is the biggest priority for an MMA referee, UFC referees will share the following traits:
- They will have some kind of MMA background
- They will be familiar with all regulations
- They will be physically capable of interfering in the fight
Once a referee steps into the ring, they should expect to be hit by an errant blow whilst performing their duties. However, as they are working in such a high-tension environment, there have been several instances where referees have been attacked deliberately by fighters.
Goddard vs. Darmaki
One of the most famous examples is when Marc Goddard was refereeing in a featherweight match between Ahmad Al Darmaki and Bogdan Kirilenko in Abu Dhabi at the UAE Warriors 12. Darmaki had ensnared Kirilenko in a rear-naked choke approaching the end of the first round.
The trouble began when Kirilenko tapped out of the hold but Darmaki refused to release him. Goddard tried to pull Darmaki off of his opponent for several seconds, and when Darmaki finally released Kirilenko, he directed his anger towards Goddard and began attacking the referee.
Darmaki eventually backed away, but he was disqualified and forfeited the match. The possibility of being attacked while in the ring is an occupational hazard for all referees but it is also crucial that the referee be able to establish his authority amongst the fighters to minimize fatal injury to all parties.
Pursuing a career as a UFC referee is not one for those seeking fame and glamour, but for those who have a true passion for the sport.
You can expect to get knocked around and threatened by fighters, and hated by hordes of fans, but with luck and commitment, there is a tremendous amount of job satisfaction that comes with this role.
Referees such as the aforementioned Marc Goddard, Herb Dean, and John McCarthy are revered in their field, and McCarthy in particular has crafted a business training new referee hopefuls. With their growing renown, there is more information available than ever on how to launch a successful career as a referee.
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