Learning how to become a UFC referee is not just about stepping into the octagon; it’s a journey that combines a passion for mixed martial arts with rigorous training, precise knowledge, and unwavering dedication. Whether you’re a seasoned MMA enthusiast or new to the world of combat sports, this step-by-step guide will provide you with the insights and direction needed to pursue this unique and exciting career path.

Step 1: Master MMA Knowledge

If you’re interested in learning how to become a UFC referee, the first thing you need is a solid understanding of MMA. This foundational knowledge is the cornerstone of a successful refereeing career. Here’s how you can start:

  • Watch UFC Fights: Dedicate time to watching a variety of UFC fights, including classic and recent bouts. Pay attention to different weight classes and styles. UFC Fight Pass offers an extensive library of past fights.
  • Study the Unified Rules: Familiarize yourself with the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. The ABC (Association of Boxing Commissions) provides a comprehensive rulebook essential for understanding fight regulations, judging criteria, and fouls.
  • Attend MMA Events: Gain practical insights by attending local MMA events. Observing referees and understanding the fight atmosphere firsthand is invaluable. Check platforms like Eventbrite or local gym announcements for upcoming events.
  • Online Resources: Utilize websites like UFC.com for official fight information and MMAjunkie for in-depth fight analysis, interviews, and rule discussions.
  • Proficiency in Combat Sports: Prospective referees need to show proof of proficiency in submission grappling, boxing, muay thai, judo, and wrestling. This diverse knowledge base ensures referees are well-versed in the various disciplines that comprise MMA​.
  • Read Books and Articles: Expand your knowledge through books like “Inside the Lion’s Den” by Ken Shamrock and Richard Hanner and articles from MMA-focused publications like Fightland.
  • Podcasts and Videos: Listen to podcasts such as “The MMA Hour” and watch YouTube channels like “MMA On Point” for analysis, interviews, and rule discussions.

This comprehensive approach, blending theoretical study with practical insights, will equip you with the necessary expertise to excel as a UFC referee.

Step 2: Physical Fitness

Aspiring UFC ref working out to prepare to become a UFC referee

Begin by creating a fitness plan tailored to the unique demands of MMA refereeing. This plan should emphasize agility, speed, and endurance – key attributes that allow you to keep pace with the fighters and maintain a strong presence in the ring.

Partnering with a personal trainer at your local gym can be highly beneficial. Choose a trainer who understands the specific physical demands of MMA officiating. They can help you develop a fitness routine that enhances your ability to move quickly and efficiently around the octagon.

Your workout routine should include a variety of exercises. Interval training, for instance, improves cardiovascular health and endurance, vital for keeping up with the intense pace of a UFC fight. Plyometrics are excellent for building explosive power and agility. Agility drills, such as ladder drills or cone exercises, are essential for developing the ability to move swiftly and change directions effortlessly.

Regular participation in martial arts classes is highly recommended. Engaging in disciplines like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, or wrestling not only improves your physical fitness but also gives you a better understanding of the fighters’ techniques and strategies.

Step 3: Obtain Formal Training

  • Identify Accredited Programs: Seek training programs accredited by recognized bodies like the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC). Programs like Big John McCarthy’s COMMAND course or Herb Dean’s MMA Referee Course are highly respected in the industry.
  • Comprehensive Course Content: A well-rounded program should cover:
    • Mechanics of Refereeing: Learn positioning, movement in the octagon, and managing the fighters and the fight space.
    • Fighter Safety Protocols: Understand injury assessment, concussion signs, and when to stop a fight for safety.
    • Fouls and Violations: Get detailed knowledge of what constitutes a foul and the appropriate actions to take.
    • Scoring System: Learn the criteria for scoring MMA fights, including judging takedowns, strikes, and grappling.
    • In-Ring Conduct: Train in managing high-pressure situations, conflict resolution between fighters, and upholding the integrity of the match.
    • Regulations and Legal Aspects: Understand the legalities and regulations governing MMA events.
  • Participate in Workshops: Attend workshops and seminars conducted by experienced MMA referees. These often provide insights into the nuances of officiating at high levels.
  • Location and Accessibility: Consider the location of the training program. Some courses offer online modules coupled with in-person training sessions for practical experience.

Training programs are also great places to network with industry professionals. Engage with instructors and peers to build connections. After initial training, look for advanced courses or refresher programs to keep your knowledge and skills up-to-date.

Step 4: Get Certified

Prospective referees must identify certification bodies in their respective states. In the U.S., this is typically the state’s athletic commission which sets the standards and requirements for certification. The Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) offers guidance and a directory for these bodies. Herb Dean offers an MMA referee course on his website.

Certification includes both written and practical exams. The written exam tests an in-depth understanding of MMA rules, while the practical exam assesses the ability to apply these rules in the dynamic environment of a fight. These exams are crucial for evaluating the readiness and competence of an aspiring referee.

Additionally, having a solid educational foundation is key. Many UFC referees hold at least a bachelor’s degree, supporting their capability to comprehend and effectively implement complex rules and regulations in the high-stress environment of professional MMA bouts​.

Step 5: Gain Practical Experience

Gaining practical experience is crucial when learning to become a UFC referee. Here’s a practical approach to building your experience:

Person preparing to become a UFC referee by training MMA with a coach
  • Professional MMA Refereeing Experience: A minimum of 5 years of professional MMA refereeing experience is required. This experience is crucial for demonstrating proficiency and understanding in officiating MMA bouts​​.
  • Start with Amateur Events: Reach out to local MMA gyms, clubs, or regional promotions to find opportunities to referee amateur matches. Websites like Tapology list upcoming local events.
  • Volunteer for Sparring Sessions: Offer to referee sparring sessions at local MMA gyms. This provides valuable experience in managing fights and applying rules.
  • Join MMA Officiating Associations: Associations like the North American MMA Federation can provide information on officiating opportunities and additional training.
  • Record Your Matches: Keep a record of the matches you referee. This not only helps in reviewing and improving your skills but also serves as a portfolio for future opportunities.
  • Seek Constructive Feedback: After each event, ask for feedback from experienced referees, coaches, or fighters. This can help identify areas for improvement.
  • Expand to Regional Promotions: As your experience grows, seek opportunities to officiate in larger regional promotions. Networking and your growing reputation can facilitate this transition.
  • Consistently Update Your Skills: Stay engaged with ongoing training and stay informed about any changes in MMA rules or techniques.

By following this approach, you gradually build the practical experience necessary for a successful career as a UFC referee, progressing from amateur events to larger, more prestigious matches.

Step 6: Network in the MMA Community

Networking in the MMA community is a vital step when learning how to become a UFC referee. Here’s a practical way to go about it:

  • Attend MMA Events: Regularly attend local and regional MMA events. This puts you in direct contact with promoters, fighters, and other referees.
  • Engage on Social Media: Follow and interact with MMA organizations, referees, and fighters on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Join LinkedIn groups focused on MMA and sports officiating.
  • Participate in Forums and Online Groups: Become active in online communities like Reddit’s r/MMA or the Underground Forum at MixedMartialArts.com. Share insights, ask questions, and connect with other MMA enthusiasts.
  • Attend Referee Workshops and Seminars: These gatherings are not only educational but also excellent for meeting peers and mentors. Check with organizations like the Association of Boxing Commissions for upcoming events.
  • Offer to Volunteer: Volunteering at MMA events, even in non-officiating roles, can help you meet key industry figures and demonstrate your commitment to the sport.
  • Create a Professional Portfolio: Assemble a portfolio highlighting your refereeing experience, certifications, and any relevant training. Share this with contacts you make in the industry.
  • Stay in Touch: After making connections, keep in touch through emails, social media, or attending the same events. Building relationships takes time and consistent effort.

Remember, building a strong network takes time and consistent effort, but it’s crucial for a career in MMA refereeing.

Step 7: Apply to the UFC

Person applying to become a UFC referee on a laptop

When applying to become a UFC referee, the process involves several key elements. Starting with a thorough understanding of the application requirements, you should visit the UFC’s official website or career portal, where you’ll find specific criteria for referees. It’s essential to build a strong refereeing resume, showcasing your experience, significant matches officiated, certifications, and relevant training. It is also crucial to review the sports job listings on Jobs in Sports.

Gathering references from recognized professionals in the MMA community, like trainers or fighters you’ve worked with, can significantly strengthen your application. Additionally, crafting a compelling cover letter that highlights your passion for MMA, your philosophy as a referee, and your commitment to the sport’s integrity and safety is crucial.

Utilize your professional network for advice and potential support, as insights into the UFC’s selection process can be invaluable. Be prepared for interviews and practical assessments, which may include demonstrating your officiating skills or discussing complex refereeing scenarios.

Step 8: Maintain Standards and Grow

When learning how to become a UFC referee, maintaining standards and personal growth are as crucial as the initial steps of learning and gaining experience. Here’s how you can continue to excel and evolve in this role:

  • Continuous Education: Stay updated with the latest rules and regulations in MMA by attending regular training sessions, workshops, and seminars. The Association of Boxing Commissions often hosts events and updates that are crucial for referees.
  • Seek Feedback and Mentorship: Regularly seek constructive feedback from experienced referees and mentors in the industry. This can involve reviewing footage of your officiated matches and discussing decision-making processes.
  • Participate in Professional Associations: Being active in professional associations like the North American MMA Federation not only keeps you informed but also connected with the wider officiating community.
  • Referee in Diverse Events: Take opportunities to officiate in a variety of events, including international bouts, if possible. This exposure to different fighting styles and environments can greatly enhance your skills.
  • Personal Fitness: Continue to prioritize your physical fitness and agility, as these are essential for effective in-ring officiating. Regular gym sessions and specific referee fitness routines are important.
  • Public Relations and Media Skills: Develop skills in public speaking and media relations, as high-level referees often engage with the media. Consider taking courses or workshops in public communication.
  • Adapt to Technological Advances: Stay abreast of technological developments in sports officiating, such as the use of instant replay or new scoring systems, and adapt your methods accordingly.

By focusing on these areas, you can maintain high standards in your officiating and continue to grow in your career as a UFC referee.

How Much Does a UFC Ref Make?

The earnings of a UFC referee can vary significantly based on their experience, the level of the event they are officiating, and other factors. Here’s a detailed breakdown:

A UFC referee watching a professional fight between two people
  • Base Salary: The average UFC referee’s base salary is typically around $1,900 per fight, which means that an average referee could earn approximately $38,000 per year if they officiate in 20 fights​​.
  • Experience Levels and Pay Scale:
    • Entry-level referees earn between $250–$500 per match, and their annual earnings can be around $15,000.
    • Mid-level referees earn approximately $1,000–$1,500 per match, with yearly earnings between $30,000 and $40,000.
    • High-level referees can earn $2,500 per match, and their annual income can reach up to $400,000, especially when including pay-per-view bonuses​​.
  • Pay-Per-View Bonuses:
    • For high-profile pay-per-view (PPV) events, referees can receive significant bonuses. For example, high-level referees can earn an additional $10,000 bonus for PPV events, substantially increasing their total earnings​.

Apart from their base salary and bonuses, referees can also earn additional money through various incentives such as working in larger events or international fights. 

Many referees also engage in activities outside the octagon, like conducting seminars or running private schools, which can supplement their income​.

Where to Find a Job as a UFC Referee

Learning how to become a UFC referee is a journey of dedication, skill, and constant learning. This comprehensive guide has walked you through each critical step, from mastering MMA knowledge to maintaining high standards and growing in your career.

For those passionate about sports and looking to explore a variety of roles in this exciting field, Jobs in Sports offers an array of opportunities. Whether you’re seeking a career in sports management, coaching, marketing, or even officiating, our platform is a valuable resource. By joining our community, you gain access to an extensive network of sports professionals and the latest sports job listings in the sports industry.

Interested in taking your sports career to the next level? Check out the paid membership options at Jobs in Sports for exclusive access to job listings, networking opportunities, and industry insights that can give you an edge in this competitive field.