6 UFC referees who competed as fighters

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The third man in the cage isn’t the reason the masses tune in to watch the fights.

However, officials used frequently by major promotions often rack up more cage time on the international airwaves than the athletes they oversee.

Week after week, officials grace the streams of MMA fans around the world. With this, a sense of familiarity is built. They become household names among viewers.

Although they gained fame through umpiring fights, many umpires started out as competitors themselves – just check the tape.

Buried in the bowels of YouTube, some of MMA’s most popular referees are throwing punches, kicks and elbows today. Scroll below to watch six referees frequently used by the UFC, Bellator and PFL face off in MMA bouts.

Frank Trigg

Professional recording: 21-9

active years: 1997-2011

OK, so this might be the most obvious of the bunch. Of all the MMA referees that populate the realm of major promotional regularity, Frank Trigg has the most impressive resume of competitors. He competed in the UFC seven times and challenged twice for the promotion’s welterweight championship. He retired from competition in 2011 and made his refereeing debut in 2014.

Marc Godard

Professional recording: 7-6-1

active years: 2002-2008

The most familiar face in European MMA officiating is now one of the most used officials in the game today. Although his rise to prominence came from the refereeing side, Marc Goddard competed 14 times as a professional MMA fighter from his debut in 2002 until his competitive retirement in 2008. He competed for Cage Warriors and Cage Rage , among other promotions.

Blake Grice

amateur record: 3-1

active years: 2001-2003

Over the past few years, Blake Grice has established himself in the “big leagues” of MMA officiating. A respected referee, judge and instructor, Grice has overseen his fair share of major promotional fights. Although he never competed professionally, Grice compiled a 3-1 record as an amateur before his officiating days.

Herb Dean

Professional recording: 2-3

active years: 2001-2007

Arguably the most recognizable MMA referee of all time, Herb Dean competed five times as a professional MMA fighter. Dean has competed all over the map, including fights in the United States, United Kingdom, and South Korea. The most notable name on his roster is Joe Riggs, whom Dean fought 19 months prior to Riggs’ UFC debut.

Jerin Valel

Professional recording: 2-1

active years: 2003-2006

Canadian official Jerin Valel has appeared in numerous UFC events as a referee and official – but he has also competed three times as a professional MMA fighter. Although there is no tape of these fights, a grappling match against a youth mistakenly referred to as “Rory McDonell” in a decade-old YouTube video.

Keith Peterson

amateur record: 4-3

active years: 2007-2008

Before Keith Peterson was “no nonsense,” he was throwing punches on the New Jersey regional scene. In the space of 20 months, Peterson competed seven times. He won four and finished two. His career ended after a trilogy with a fighter named Jose Villanueva, who won the series 2-1. Villanueva continued to go 1-2-1 as a professional, as Peterson worked his way to becoming one of the most used top officials in recent years.


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