How To Become A Certified MMA Referee?

MMA referee Mike Beltran

Some people dream of being MMA fighters and others dream of being MMA referees. Being right in the middle of the action and keeping the fighters safe.

Those that are curious about wanting to be an MMA ref often look into how to become one. We’re here to help you out and tell you all you need to know to become a certified MMA referee.

Going through the certification process and detail how to be a good MMA ref.

How to become a certified MMA referee? To become a certified MMA referee, you have to go through a certification program or course. Once you’ve completed the MMA referee course, you then can apply for a state license in whichever state(s) you wish.

How was MMA Referee Certification Established 

Before MMA refs were certified it was basically chaos. Especially before there were rules implemented within MMA.

Referees were basically there to prevent fighters from killing each other and didn’t enforce any rules. Even when rules were first implemented, the quality of officiating would be quite poor for many years.

State athletic commissions would basically put in anyone that was given a referee license. Whether they had any knowledge of MMA or not.

Most of the time, boxing refs would be put in charge of MMA bouts with no knowledge of the sport.

Big John McCarthy Helps Implement Referee Certification

Big John McCarthy is an MMA icon and considered the best MMA ref of all time. McCarthy saw early on that the quality of MMA referees needed to be improved in order for the sport to grow.

He was one of the first people in MMA to push for a certification program for MMA referees and judges. John would work closely with different commissions from Nevada, California, and New Jersey.

After years of work, the Association of Boxing and Combat Sports(ABC) created a referee certification program. The most in depth MMA referee training program that is available in the US.

All state athletic commissions in the US recognize this certification whenever candidates apply for referee licenses.

MMA Referee Certification Programs 

There are now various MMA referee certification programs, but by far the best are the ABC approved programs. You can take certification courses from the most known and respected MMA referees in the world.

MMA refs that provide their own training courses under the guidelines of the ABC includes.

  • Big John McCarthy
  • Herb Dean

COMMAND(Big john)

Big John offers his own MMA referee training course called C.O.M.M.A.N.D. A company that provides training to aspiring MMA referees and judges.

COMMAND runs a handful of certification seminars annually. Three days for the referee course and two days for the MMA judge course.

The referee course consists of four sections that you go over during the three days.

  1. Going over basic MMA techniques in a classroom setting.
  2. A written test covering everything you went over on your first day of class.
  3. Officiate a mock fight to show that you have the ability to work a fight.
  4. A mock pre fight rules meeting where you explain the rules to fighters and answer questions.

In order to pass this certification, you must pass all three tests with a grade of 90% or above. If you score lower than 90% in any part, you will have to go through certification training again.

Herb Dean’s Course

Herb Dean also has his own MMA referee training course that he makes available annually. Just like Big John’s course, Dean’s is a three day workshop that goes through everything about being a ref.

Dean follows the guidelines of the ABC unified rules and is broken down into three different tests. A written, video, and technique class.

In Dean’s course, there is a technique test where you must demonstrate that you know different MMA techniques. You will not be passed if you cannot execute the MMA techniques that you’re asked to demonstrate.

Then just like in Big John’s course, you will be put in the cage put through a mock fight. Being put through different situations and taught how to properly react. 

ABC MMA Referee Training Course

The organization, ABC also runs referee training seminars throughout the US. Each one of those seminars are run by some of the best MMA referees in the world.

The list of certified coaches that run ABC seminars for potential MMA refs includes:

  • Big John McCarthy
  • Herb Dean
  • Kevin McDonald
  • Jerin Valel
  • Blake Grice
  • Rob Hinds

To become a certified MMA ref under the ABC, you must have a long list of experience in MMA. Including five years as a MMA ref, proof of grappling experience, as well as knowledge or experience in other martial arts.

It isn’t easy to become certified by the ABC and it shouldn’t be easy. This list of prerequisites helps weed out those that are unfit to officiate fights.

IMMAF Referee Course

The International MMA Federation(IMMAF) runs courses for those that live outside of the US or want to work internationally. This organization’s MMA ref certification program is run by UFC referee, Marc Goddard.

Their website doesn’t show much about what all their ref course entails. It states that they’ll consider candidates that can prove they have experience as a ref within their country. If you’re interested in this course, Marc Goddard’s email is available on the website.

They also offer class A, B, and C licenses if you wish to be a certified IMMAF cutman.

How to Acquire a State License to Work as an MMA Referee 

Acquiring a state license to work as an MMA referee is pretty straightforward. Once you acquire your MMA referee certification you can then apply for a state license to work as a ref.

Each state will make you pay a fee in order to receive your state referee license. On top of your license fee, some states may also make you take a physical in order to be approved.

This is a good practice, because if you aren’t physically fit, then you shouldn’t be allowed to be an MMA ref. Once your referee license expires you will have to do this process all over again.

Other Prerequisites To Be An MMA Referee 

Aside from having a recognized MMA referee certification and license, there are other prerequisites for becoming an MMA referee. Particularly two things that will really help you in becoming a good MMA referee.

  1. Experience training in martial arts or particularly MMA
  2. Fighting Experience

A good MMA referee should have experience in one or both of these prerequisites. They will make you a better referee and more respected by the fighters and state commissions.

Chase Your Dream and Protect the Fighters

Being an MMA referee is an incredibly important job. You are there to protect the fighters and potentially even save their lives.

The sport of MMA is in dire need of more good MMA. If you think you have the dedication to be a good referee, then chase your dream and help grow the sport.


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