In an announcement made by Bellator MMA, ‘Big’ John McCarthy is set to step away from refereeing and will take a seat cageside instead.

After the news that longtime Bellator commentator Jimmy Smith had taken the decision to leave the promotion, Bellator issued a press release on Tuesday to signify that the veteran referee would be taking his post alongside a contract extension for fellow colour commentator Chael Sonnen.

“With the addition of ‘Big’ John to our broadcast team, we have put together the premier group of MMA commentators ahead of our Jan. 20 debut on the Paramount Network,” Bellator President Scott Coker stated. “With John and Chael providing analysis, you’re getting two people who have spent more time in the cage than they have spent with a headset on, and that will translate to a positive viewing experience for Bellator fans.”

“I first want to say how grateful I am for the opportunity I have been given to work with the incredible team Bellator has assembled,” McCarthy stated within the press release. “It is always so hard to leave something you love, but I have always wanted to step away based on my terms rather than someone else’s. My goals are to work as hard as I can to meet the expectations everyone will have for me and to hopefully someday exceed them.

“I cannot think of anyone I would rather be working with than Scott Coker. Scott has always been a person I admire because of his honesty, loyalty and love for the martial arts. I want to thank everyone from Bellator and Viacom for the trust you are bestowing upon me to keep the commentating of Bellator MMA at the highest levels of the sport.”

McCarthy has stepped away from officiating once before to take a commentator role with The Fight Network in 2007 but has since revealed that he will still referee in certain situations.

“Yes, I can go and referee,” McCarthy told MMA Fighting. “If I want to go and referee something internationally, I can do it. I can do small shows here if I want. I’ll do charity events and things like that. I’m not gonna say, ‘Oh, I’m retired.’ I’m not retired. At this moment, I’m just taking on something else, so that’s gonna go on the back burner. All of my attention is gonna go toward being the best colour commentator I can be for Bellator.”

“I love officiating,” McCarthy continued. “I love what I do. I love the people that I get to work with. I love all the fighters. But when I say I’m walking away, I’m walking away from what people are gonna expect. They think that I can commentate Bellator and then go ref a UFC — that ain’t gonna happen. I’m gonna be stepping away from what most people see of me as a referee.”

Read more from Graeme Harper