Being the third man the cage is a thankless job. To do well…is to go unnoticed. When fighters struggle for victory and survival, refs must objectively ensure the contest’s integrity while prioritizing participants’ safety. Ref Josh Rosenthal shares with FIGHT! what it takes to be a mediator in MMA’s artful mayhem and the joys of the ride.
How’d you get into reffing?
Right time, wrong place. I started in 1998 back in the IFC. I had some friends who were fighting. I was kind of hanging out at the fights. I saw some officiating I didn’t really agree with, and thought I could do a better job, so I offered myself up.
What’s it like to be considered in the same class as guys like John McCarthy and Herb Dean?
The first time I met John, I was like, ‘Hey, I’ve looked up to you.’ He said, ‘You’re doing a good job. Keep doing what you’re doing.’ The fact that he considers me a peer at this point, it blows me away. It’s just an honor that the fans and the athletes think of it that way. I’m in this for the fighters. We really try to go out there and look out for a fighter’s best interests and give them the best opportunity to perform up to their standards.
How does a ref get better? How do you stay sharp and progress with the sport?
Train. I’ve been training jiu-jitsu since 1992. I try to stay up to date on moves. Herb and I talk after every event we work together. We sit down and talk about stuff. If we don’t work together, I’ll call him up, ‘Hey did you see this?’ Or, I’ll hit John up. You have to stay current with what’s going on. About 90 percent of my time is dedicated to reffing. It blows me away.
Are you a black belt in BJJ?
I’m still rocking my brown. I’m an eight-year brown belt. I train under Carlos Silva. If I ask him why I don’t have my black belt yet, he says, ‘Why don’t you show up more often?’
What’s the strangest place that you’ve called a fight?
I called a fight east of Fresno, and it was so hot it was like being on the surface of the sun. The mat was blistering their feet. It was like 120 degrees. Now, on the total opposite end of the spectrum, I reffed an eight-man tournament called King of the Mountain and Jeremy Jackson and Nick Diaz were fighting. It was like 40 degrees out. Freezing. I actually reffed with a sweatshirt underneath my ref shirt. It was so cold. The mats were like concrete from the cold, and all the fighters were steaming. I also just found some old IFC pictures and there was a guy fighting in jorts. That was insane, but it was fun to be part of it.
In what fights are you particularly proud of your work?
I get a lot of praise for the Shane Carwin/Brock Lesnar fight, as well as the Shogun Rua/Dan Henderson fight. It’s hard for me to take credit for those situations because it’s the athletes who are doing the work. With Lesnar, I gave him commands to fight back, and he answered the commands, so did Shogun against Henderson. In that fight, they both showed why they have been MMA champions. That was a testament to who they are and the champions they are.
Funny, don’t remember seeing you in those fights.
That’s the best compliment you can get.