Today Herb Dean is the most active and respected official in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) with well over 5,700 professional MMA matches worldwide. Though he is mostly seen in action in the Octagon, he is an experienced MMA Judge as well.
His resume is packed with officiating matches for:
The Ultimate Fighting Championship® (UFC)
King of the Cage® (KOTC)
International Fight League® (IFL)
World Extreme Combat® (WEC)
Friday Night Fights®
The Gracie Fight Fest®
Herb has refereed some of the most memorable fights in UFC history including Tim Sylvia vs. Frank Mir, Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock, Stephan Bonner vs. Forrest Griffin and Tim Sylvia vs. Andre Arlovski. He as also refereed notable names such as Royce Gracie, Renzo Gracie, George St. Pierre, Chuck Liddell, Matt Huges, Quinton Jackson, Randy Couture, Anderson Silva and Urijah Faber. Herb is not only a MMA referee but also a professional MMA fighter himself with a professional record of 2-3-0 with wins via submission and knockout. He holds a 2nd Dan Black Belt in Jiu Jitsu.
How did you get in to MMA?
I started in martial arts at the age of 9 and trained in several different disciplines throughout my teens. In 1993 I was training with Frank Trejo when UFC® 1 was being put together. My training partner, Zane Frazier, was on the card. At the time nobody knew if there would be a UFC 2 or that the sport was about to take the world by surprise. After UFC 1 I continued to train with Frank and expanded my regimen to include Judo and Jiu Jitsu. In the spring of 1996 I met Larry Landless and found what I had been searching for, cohesive and complete MMA training at Submission Factory.
Why do you referee?
I love this sport! Plain and simple. I think of being a referee is similar to being a bass player in a band. The bass player provides a consistent rhythm and sets the groove so that the other instruments can shine. In MMA, I provide a steady and consistent environment in the ring for the fighters to showcase their talents.
Who is you favorite fighter? Who is your least favorite fighter?
I never met a fighter I didn’t like. The personalities of fighters are very diverse – from nice guys to “so called bad guys”, mild mannered to in your face intense personality types. This sport is not for the faint of heart, being an athlete is not enough, and there are very few people who have what it takes. Just the fact a fighter will get in the cage and put it all on the line earns my respect.
What are your job responsibilities as a referee?
My first responsibility is safety. As a referee my job is to prevent the fighters from receiving unnecessary damage. In a MMA match anything can happen in the cage. Knowing when to stop a fight is a challenge, an enormous amount of damage can happen in a split second or a fighter can receive a devastating blow and recover quickly.
My next responsibility is to ensure that the fighters have a fairly arbitrated match. Before I referee a fight, I clear my mind of expectations. At the same time, I need the knowledge of what the fighters can do. It’s a hard balance: To know what to expect, but at the same time not to expect anything, because anything can happen.
What is the difference when you step in the cage as a referee compared to stepping in a cage as a fighter?
When I step into the cage as a fighter, I’m having fun living life to the fullest.
When I step into the cage as a referee, I’m at work and have a lot of responsibilities that I value and consider sacred. This is a rough sport that carries serious consequences.
What is your most memorable moment in MMA?
Watching the very first match in UFC® 1 had the most impact for me. Back then, I could not believe that fighters from different styles were actually going to step into the cage and fight. Seeing a sumo wrestler (Teila Tuli) getting his tooth kicked out by a kick boxer (Gerard Gordeau) 30 seconds into the fight was the most mind blowing event to witness.
Do you currently train?
Yes. While I am on the road traveling a lot, I make time to train. I feel that it is important for my own health & fitness, it is a critical key to being up to date with the sport and it keeps my competitive spirit thriving.
What is your vision for the future of MMA?
I want to continue to be involved with officiating this sport as a whole; this is my personal calling in life. I think it is imperative that the rules of this sport be continually updated as it grows to keep the fighters safe and the sport fun. On the horizon I see the separation between boxing and MMA rules becoming more apparent. My vision is to see MMA thrive and grow into the best sport on earth.
What do you do in your time off?
My kids are the highlight of my time when I’m at home, we enjoy training and playing music together. I also take pleasure in rebuilding cars and currently working on a 1974 Bronco.