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Chief of the Cage: A Sit Down With MMA Veteran Referee Gary Copeland

Chief of the Cage: A sit down with MMA veteran referee Gary Copeland

I had the pleasure to sit down with this veteran referee who has worked for UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator and countless other promotions at TurfWars 4 in Florence ,KY at the legendary TurfWay Park Horse Track. I picked his brain on memorable fights, pound for pound best fighters in the world, top ring girl in the world and much more.

CB: Did you have a nice Thanksgiving?

GC: Great Thanksgiving! Ate too much but it was great. Anytime I get to spend time with my family I enjoy it.

CB: Traveling every weekend whether it is for MMA or other purposes can be rough huh?

GC: You know, it can but it is a sport that I love. I was a fighter when I was younger and now that I am in my late 40’s it’s my way of staying in the sport and contributing.


CB: Recently I have worked with you on several shows around the KY, IN and OH tri-state area, do you call this region home?

GC: Southern Ohio and Northern Kentucky I would consider home but lately I have been traveling all over Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio doing shows all over. I love to do shows in Kentucky though the commission is a great commission to work for. (Referring to the Kentucky Boxing and Wrestling Authority who sanctions MMA in KY)


CB: This is the third TurfWars show I have had the privilege of working with you on. In your opinion how does this show line up in the hierarchy of smaller nationwide Pro/Am shows?

GC: TurfWars does a great job of matching up their fighters. More often than not I go to shows and the fights don’t ever go to the scorecards. The fights at these shows are over in a minute or two. These are what I call mismatches and they are not good for the sport. TurfWars is pretty consistent on putting together some nice matches and some nice wars. It’s a very entertaining show. You will see a lot of diversity. You get some guys with great jiu-jitsu, great wrestling, stand-up, boxing and thai fighters. It’s a great event for me to ref and is one of the best in the region.

CB: What is the most memorable fight that you have had the honor to officiate? I know it’s hard to narrow but is there one that sticks out the most?

GC: There’s one that most people bring up and that is a UFC fight between Alessio Sakara and Chris Weidman. The reason this one sticks out is because I had to call a time out due to profuse bleeding by Sakara and he decided to wipe his face on my shirt when I called time. That certainly made it’s rounds on the internet. Was I mad though, no. I can buy a new shirt for $10-20 and luckily enough the UFC pays me pretty well for what I do so I could afford a new shirt. I had a good laugh about it. I have some other great wars as well but most of them were amateur fights. Some great pro fights too but a lot of great amateur fights.

CB: Some fans may know that you were formerly a police officer but what other kind of background do you bring to the cage?

GC: Actually I am still a police office. I am the Chief of Police for a little town between Dayton and Cincinnati. I have been a police officer for 23 years and before that I was in the United States Marine Core for 4 years. I lived in Japan for a period of time and used to compete in Sabaki tournaments. Some people may not know that I hold a black belt in Isshin Ryu. I also hold a black belt in Tensho Itto Ryu and I have trained in Hakaru Jujitsu. People also may not know that I am a graduate of the F.B.I. academy. I went to the F.B.I. academy in Quantico, VA in 2003 and graduated from there after 3 1/2 months. I have a lot of hobbies I guess. In addition to lifting weights and participating in martial arts I also play guitar and am a private pilot.

CB: Speaking of lifting weights, you are like the Ed Hochuli of MMA so I would be remised if I didn’t ask, how much you putting up on the bench these days buddy?

GC: You know, I am an old guy. When I go to the gym anymore it is to stay in shape and not to beat myself up. I don’t usually bench anymore. I work out with dumbbells and usually use 100lb. dumbbells for my reps. I couldn’t tell you as far as a bench press weight though. I wrestled all the way through school and that’s how I got into weightlifting but I don’t put up the weight that I used to, that’s for sure.

CB: Pound for pound best fighter in the world right now?

GC: To me right now, Jon Jones. He is so well rounded. So athletic with good wrestling, striking, knees, the whole package. I think he is the new breed. He has nowhere to go but up and he is already at the top.

CB: Last one, who is Gary Copeland’s favorite ring girl of all time?

GC: You know, to be honest with you, I can’t tell you any of their names. I have been a fan of the sport for a long time but never paid much attention to the ring girls. It may sound crazy but I can’t name one of them. I don’t think you are going to find a bad looking one at any of the larger promotions so you can’t go wrong.

CB: Thanks for your time Gary and from us here at, thank you for your service to our country as well. Take care.

On a personal note, the correct answer to the last question is Brittany Palmer. Just Saying.


Chris Bowman

About the author: Chris “The Buzz-Saw”Bowman is a mixed martial arts competitor, school owner, and judge with over 15 years of combative experience.

He owns and operates Louisville Elite Combat in Louisville, KY. He is a black belt in the Japanese art of Bushi Jutsu Ryu and can be contacted at:



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