Former PRIDE USA Vice President Jerry Millen is one of the most maligned individuals in mixed martial arts. But whether you like him or not, he has an insight into the business of MMA that very few individuals possess having worked for PRIDE both in Japan and in the United States.
After his tenure in PRIDE came to an end in the months that proceeded Zuffa’s acquisition of the promotion in 2007, Millen took some time off before being approached by an old friend from his PRIDE days, Vadim Finkelstein.
Finkelstein, the manager for former PRIDE heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko, had plans to grow his Russian-based M-1 promotion into a global superpower. In Millen, he was looking for an experienced hand to help direct the company’s International television operations.
For close to a year now, Millen has worked hand-in-hand with Finkelstein in trying to help M-1 expand its global presence, and in doing so he’s broadened his unique perspective into the industry by also working closely with Fedor. Currently a Vice President with M-1, Millen produced the promotion’s recent “M-1 Challenge,” an International competition featuring MMA teams from nine different countries with representatives in the five major weight classes going head-to-head.
Having secured distribution throughout the world, M-1 recently struck a deal with Denver-based HDNet to broadcast one-hour episodes produced from the tapings that took place during the course of the year. The first episode is set to debut tomorrow (Friday) at 8 p.m. ET and Millen has been doing press to promote the show’s U.S. premiere.
One of the press stops on his agenda was an exclusive one-on-one interview with FiveOuncesOfPain.com where Millen provided more detail about the M-1 Challenge; what his working relationship with Fedor’s management is like; the status of the proposed “Fighting Fedor” reality show; whether Fedor’s legacy in the U.S. is important to him; his response to recent claims by Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta that Fedor’s record isn’t relevant; if Finkelstein is willing to give on certain demands in order to make a dream match between Fedor and Randy Couture become a reality; and more.
Sam Caplan: A lot of people on the Internet forums love to rip you. They like to speculate what you’re up to these days and claim you’re working in the fast food industry. Just to set the record straight, what is Jerry Millen up to now?
Jerry Millen: Honestly, I worked in fast food, as most of us did, when I was 15 and 16-years old after my paper route to make my living as a teenager. But I haven’t worked in fast food in a long time. I’ve actually been working with Vadim Finkelstein and Fedor (Emelianenko) for M-1 Global out of Russia and Holland for probably about 11 months now. Right after PRIDE ended I took a little time off to spend some time with my family. I have a great family with three great kids and a great wife. I took a paid vacation and did some fishing.
The UFC buying PRIDE was a great move financially for me but personally I hated it because I loved PRIDE. A lot of people don’t know that the “Decade” show that we did, which you can find on the Internet now, the UFC tried to stop it from being produced. While I was producing it I got a lot of problems from the UFC because they didn’t want it to air and they tried to shut it down. On my own dime at some points, I went on the road and did a lot of interviews with those guys in that show because I felt so strongly about the PRIDE product and it was our ten year anniversary. And Sakikabara-san, who was a great boss, a great person, and a great friend to work for at PRIDE and I thought that the fans deserved to know as much of the story of PRIDE that I could tell.
So that was the last project for PRIDE that I worked on and it was very difficult. I had to call on a lot of people for favors and I had to put in some of my own money to put that thing together because I wanted people to see what PRIDE was and how great it was. After that I took some time off when the UFC bought PRIDE and I was well taken care of and I probably could have worked for the UFC but I chose not to. I thought I wouldn’t work for Dana White, and I won’t.
Sam Caplan: You mean there would have been an option for you to work for the UFC? Do you think Dana White would have been okay with you working for him?
Jerry Millen: I’m not sure if Dana would have been okay with it but at the end of the day, even though he leads people to believe it, Dana White is not the one who runs the UFC. As you can tell, Lorenzo Fertitta stepped in to run it like a business because Lorenzo Fertitta — who’s a great guy, I think he’s an awesome guy, I’ve met him a few times — he’s a business man to run the business-end of the UFC. I would just not work for Dana White.
Sam Caplan: Looking back towards the final months of PRIDE, do you have any regrets about becoming such a public figure?
Jerry Millen: No, not at all. I think in the end whatever we could have done to make PRIDE more public and mainstream worked out for the best. As you know, for so many years PRIDE was underground. As great of an event it was in Japan and worldwide, it never got great exposure in the U.S. So every time Dana White said “Jerry Millen is this” or “Jerry Millen is that” or “PRIDE is this” or “PRIDE is that,” it made anyone who didn’t know PRIDE familiar with the product because Dana White was talking about it. So I was more than happy to have Dana be our number one P.R. guy. Was it at my expense? Sure. But hey, no problem, it was worth it because I think PRIDE was something that everyone should have seen.
Sam Caplan: M-1 has a deal to broadcast the M-1 Challenge on HDNet. Can you tell us more about the concept behind the M-1 Challenge?
Jerry Millen: When Vadim approached me to work for him I jumped at the chance. I said “Yeah, I’d love to.” Then they told me about the M-1 Challenge idea and I tried to help them with another vehicle, the “Fighting Fedor” reality show — which we can talk about a little later — but the M-1 Challenge consists of nine teams with five fighters on each team. We have nine countries represented. We have Team USA, which is Heath Sims out of Dan Henderson’s Team Quest gym in Temecula. We’ve got five guys through Heath and then Matt Lindland helped me out. We’ve got Team Japan. We’ve also got two teams from Russia: Russia Legion and also the Red Devil team, which is Fedor and Vadim’s gym in St. Petersburg. Korea, Spain, we have a World Team, Finland, France, and also Holland.
I’m telling you, some of the fighters that we have in the M-1 Challenge, I think they can jump right into any major promotion. We’ve got a guy from Holland by the name of Bogdan Christea and another guy from Team Holland, Jason Jones, who is a very tough fighter. There’s Jessie Gibson, a heavyweight from Holland. There’s also a guy by the name of Karl Amoussou. Even though MMA isn’t legal in France they have a lot of fighters and Karl Amoussou is a great fighter out of France. And then there’s a fighter named Kiril Sidelnikov. They call him “Baby Fedor.” This kid is tough. He’s 19-years old and he can take a punch and he can deliver a punch. He is “Baby Fedor.” One name to remember out of Russia is Kiril. He’s a tough, tough fighter. And on Team USA there’s also Jake Ellenberger, David Garner, and Mike Dolce, who was on the seventh season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” There’s a lot of young up and comers but a lot of these guys are already good.
We have a website where you can learn more about the M-1 Challenge at M1Mixfight.com.
Sam Caplan: So the M-1 Challenge is an International team competition. Are standings kept?
Jerry Millen: Yes, standings are kept.
Sam Caplan: So basically the M-1 Challenge is like the World Cup of MMA?
Jerry Millen: Right, exactly. Because in Europe and other countries besides the USA, nationalism is a big deal. You go out and you support your country. It’s like in the NFL, if you like the Falcons or the Jets this year… there in Europe, and even in Asia, it’s not about team, it’s about country. It’s like soccer. They are crazy about the country. It’s country vs. country. So that’s what we’re trying to do, but on a world level.
Sam Caplan: We all know of UFC President Dana White’s comments about his dealings with Fedor’s management in which he referred to them on multiple occasions as “Crazy Russians.” Thus far, and I guess maybe you can’t answer this as truthfully as you’d like, but I’d still like to get your comments on the record: what’s it been like working with Fedor’s management? Are the Russians as crazy as Dana says?
Jerry Millen: Not at all. Never. Anytime I go to Russia I have a great time. They treat me with respect. They’re great to me. I feel like in PRIDE that I was taken care of very well by the owners and treated great. This feels like an extension of PRIDE. Vadim is thought of as being great over there. Dana White’s arrogance is what makes him say these things. Dana White the rockstar is the one who is claiming these are crazy Russians. To me, they’re great Russians. I’d much rather have dinner and hang out with Vadim Finkelstein than Dana White any day of the week.
Sam Caplan: I’m not going to bother to ask whether you agree with White’s appraisal of Fedor as a fighter. I did want to ask if you believe White is sincere when he makes these negative statements about Fedor?
Jerry Millen: No, it’s the company line. Lorenzo made a statement the other day saying that Fedor’s career and his record is irrelevant. (Laughs) Well, I know it’s the company line. You can’t say that the best fighter pound-for-pound in the world is Fedor Emelianenko if he’s not in the UFC. They can’t tell people they don’t have the best fighter in the world under contract. You can’t say that because it’s not good business. But to go out there and say his record is irrelevant when he just smashed and embarrassed your former champion in Tim Sylvia. He’s beaten your interim heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira twice. People know. If you know Fedor and you’ve seen any of his fights, you know. And the UFC knows and Dana and Lorenzo knows and they want him badly. They just need to figure out some way to make it work.
M-1 and Vadim are willing to work things out. Fedor is willing to fight anyone. I feel like this is the PRIDE situation when Dana didn’t want to let Wanderlei fight Chuck. This deal can be done but it has to make sense for everyone. We’re partners with Affliction right now. Fedor is signed to Affliction. So it has to be a deal that makes sense for M-1, Affliction, and of course the UFC. The fight can happen. If the fans want the fight, it can happen. The fans just need to let the UFC know “Hey, we’re not going to stand for this, we want to see Randy and Fedor.”
Sam Caplan: But Dana White and the UFC have made it clear that they’re not going to sign a guy to a one-fight contract and co-promote with the competition. If they bring someone in to compete for their title then they want a long-term agreement and they want them committed solely to their promotion. They’ve been clear on that. What good is it asking for anything other than that?
Jerry Millen: Well, I guess that long-term is all relative. What is long-term? The UFC likes to grab guys and wrap them up for the rest of their life and own them. That’s great from a business standpoint if you’re the owners of the UFC but if you only have one entity such as the WWE, which owns the sport to an extent and tries to crush its competition, that’s great for the business of the UFC but what about the fighters that want to get in there and get paid? They’re not going to get paid because the UFC is essentially a monopoly. If they own it then they control the payscales, they control who is going to work in the industry, they control which websites are going to get interviews and they control who doesn’t get backstage to interview fighters. They will control everything and the fans need to understand this.
Look, I’m a fan of the UFC. They’ve got a lot of great fighters and a lot of those fighters are my friends. I watch the UFC. I bought the pay-per-view. I can’t believe I bought a pay-per-view and put money in Dana White’s pocket but I want to see Chuck Liddell fight and I want to see Rich Franklin fight, so I had to. But if they own the industry then the fans are the ones that are going to hurt because they’re going to control it. It’s just not possible. I want MMA to continue on as a sport and not a fad.
Sam Caplan: Let me throw a hypothetical out here. Let’s say that Fedor’s contract with Affliction is expired and he’s a total free agent. Would he and his management be open to an exclusive three fight contract with the UFC in order to get fights against opponents such as Randy Couture and maybe another fight vs. Nogueira? Like you said, the deal has to make sense but it also has to make sense for both sides. Do you think Fedor’s management might be willing to make concessions that they haven’t been willing to make in the past?
Jerry Millen: I can’t speak for what Vadim and Fedor would do on a contract because that’s not my position but I do know that our stance can be worked out as long as there is give and take. But if someone wants to take more than they’re willing to give then it could be a problem. They’re always willing to talk. If the UFC wants the best fighter in the world, they can make it happen. It’s just something that has to be fair to everybody. It has to be fair. There’s no reason why something can’t be fair.
Sam Caplan: I wanted to follow up regarding what Lorenzo Ferttita and Dana White have said about Fedor being irrelevant. Globally, he’s a huge name. But in the U.S. is there any validity to what they’re saying because even though the win over Tim Sylvia in July was huge, there’s still a lot of work to be done as far as establishing him with the mainstream public in America. How important is building a legacy in the U.S. to Fedor?
Jerry Millen: I think Fedor is an International star. Even I didn’t realize how big of a star he was in Korea until I was out there with him. It was out of control. He’s a huge star in Korea. But I think every country is important to him. Fedor fights because it’s in his blood. He’s a true athlete. Fedor trains and fights and does Sambo competitions. He’s a triathlete. He just goes and goes and goes. How important is the U.S. to him? I guess that’s a question you’d have to ask him.
Sam Caplan: But a lot of people in the U.S. do not consider him to be the pound-for-pound best simply because they’ve never been exposed to him.
Jerry Millen: I think he’s more known than people think he is here in America. To me, I think it’s important for him to be big in America because he is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. There’s nobody in the world that can beat him. There are a couple of heavyweights that will read that and probably smack me around the next time they see me but I don’t think there’s anyone out there that we know of that can beat him. For me it’s important for him to be known in America because people need to know him because he’s the Joe Louis, the Mike Tyson of the sport.
Just look at the Tim Sylvia fight. Not even I expected the fight to go like that. I expected him to win but I was shocked at how quickly that fight ended. But that’s Fedor. He pretty much cleared up any doubters that were out there. You’re always going to have those guys who go “Well this” or “Well that.” But I think he pretty much cleared up any doubts people had in their minds about him such as ring rust or whatever.
But to me it is important that he becomes popular in America because he is such a great fighter and if you love the sport then you’ve got to see the guy fight. He’s that good and he’s such a great person. And I’m not trying to tow the company lines by any means; he is a great individual. I knew him through all of his years with PRIDE and he was always nice to me and very humble. And he’s still the same guy even though he’s mobbed by the media and all the fans.
Sam Caplan: Fedor was supposed to fight on the ill-fated Oct. 11 Affliction show but had to pull out due to a hand injury. Perhaps you don’t know the answer to this but you’re much closer to him than most people so I thought I’d ask when you felt we’d see Fedor back fighting again?
Jerry Millen: I would say January. The middle of January.
Sam Caplan: Is that going to be in Russia, Japan, or the U.S.? Where’s his next fight going to take place?
Jerry Millen: We’re not sure yet.
Sam Caplan: You mentioned the “Fighting Fedor” reality TV show earlier and I think that’s something that could make Fedor a bigger name here in the U.S. The trailers for the proposed show were leaked several months back. Rumor had it that you are one of the key people behind the concept. Is that correct and if so, can you give us an update on the status of the show?
Jerry Millen: What happened was when Vadim, Fedor, and I got together… my thing is, if you want an MMA promotion just doing pay-per-views and shows, that’s not enough. You need another vehicle. Fedor needs a vehicle in America and worldwide to expose him to those that don’t know him. And when I first started working for the company I told them we needed a vehicle for Fedor. And of course, reality television is hot. I told them we needed to do a reality show for Fedor. But what could you do for a reality show about Fedor that would be compelling? So I created a trailer and put some ideas down and showed it to them and they loved it.
The thing is, it’s hard to find opponents for Fedor. It really is. Who do you want to put him up against? And when you find that opponent they want a ton of money. They go, “I’m fighting Fedor. I want to get paid a ton of money.” So why not create some opponents for him? “The Ultimate Fighter?” They did a great job with that show. That show saved the UFC. It saved Spike TV. It’s well known that was what turned the UFC around. That vehicle. They spent millions of dollars doing everything from hiring Carmen Elektra to doing infomercial type of stuff and none of it worked. “The Ultimate Fighter” worked because it was hot and continues to be hot.
I’ve been to Russia and I’ve seen the Red Devil gym. The Red Devil gym is not “The Ultimate Fighter” house in Las Vegas. There’s not an open bar and a big swimming pool. It’s inside of an old Russian sports school and it’s a very humble gym. It’s like a lot of gyms I’ve seen around the U.S. It’s nothing fancy. It’s these Russian kids that train and train hard. If you train you know you don’t need a big swimming pool and fancy food and a big gym to plant TVs all over the wall in order to train.
It’s a very hardcore gym. The first time I saw it I said people need to see this and to see how Fedor how humble he is. People need to see this. So I said we need to do a show like “Fighting Fedor.” Let’s bring in 16 heavyweights from around the world and have them fight each other weekly in an elimination tournament. We could bring in some of the guys that have fought Fedor in the past to help train them.
There’s so many things you can do with a show like “Fighting Fedor.” You can show what Russia is really like and how they train at Red Devil and how Fedor trains. You would get insight into who Fedor is because Fedor is a mystery to most people that don’t know him. It’s a vehicle to show it all.
Sam Caplan: What’s the U.S. distribution for the show looking like?
Jerry Millen: We’re talking to a lot of different people. Some of the networks, you’d be surprised that we’re talking to about it. The thing with the M-1 Challenge and the “Fighting Fedor” show is that we’re going to be on over 60 countries on television. We have deals all over the place: Russia, Japan, and Korea so the show will be seen Internationally. In the U.S. right now there are a couple we are talking to and as Fedor gets larger I think there’s going to be even more interest. In my mind, the show is going to be awesome. It will give MMA fans, whether they like the idea or not, they will watch it because it gives them a chance to see how the best fighter in the world train and who he is.
Sam Caplan: Some people have criticized the concept, claiming that it’s a TUF knockoff. What’s your response to those criticisms?
Jerry Millen: First off, those people don’t know anything about television. Number two, “The Ultimate Fighter?” Great show, great vehicle for the UFC. Craig Piligian does a great job with that show but reality television is not new. “The Ultimate Fighter” is not a new concept. “The Real World” on MTV started reality television. Having bunch of people live in a house and fight either verbally or physically and be eliminated is not a new concept so saying it’s a “Ultimate Fighter” ripoff? Absolutely not. It’s a completely different concept. We’ll have fighters fight because that’s what they do. They’re fighters, they’re going to fight. It’s not like we’re going to have them play chess and skip rope. They will fight.
It’s reality television and “The Ultimate Fighter” is not a new concept. They took the sport and said let’s make a reality television show about this sport. We’re doing the same thing. We’re just going to happen to be doing it with the best fighter in the world.
Sam Caplan: Last week on Scott Ferrall’s show on Sirius you called the Randy Couture vs. Brock Lesnar matchup at UFC 91 “some WWE stuff.” But what about Fedor’s fight vs. Hong Man Choi last New Year’s Eve?
Jerry Millen: Let me say this about the Japanese MMA scene because I worked in it for six years; it’s different than the U.S.A. scene. Those kinds of matches, Hong Man Choi and Akebono, they’re standard in Japan. You see them over and over again because they draw ratings and numbers. At the end of the day, they have to draw numbers for the networks in Japan. Giant Silva drew some of the biggest numbers on New Year’s Eve in all of MMA fights ever in Japan. A lot of people don’t know that.
But that’s the standard in Japan. In the U.S., you’re not going to see “The Rock” come in and fight Nogueira so it’s not the standard for MMA in America. I know what the UFC is trying to do because they control the UFC. It’s a business move. Brock Lesnar is someone I’m sure they are paying a lot of money to and he has a name. They want to put him up against a big name and Randy is coming back. I just feel, as I’m sure many true MMA fans do, that if Randy Couture was the champion when he left and comes back as the champion and (with) Nogueira (as) your interim champion, I would assume in a structured fight league that the champion that comes back would fight the interim champion because the interim champion earned the right to be the champion in the original champ’s absence. The champion should fight the champion and Nogueira has earned that right.
But Brock Lesnar vs. Randy will do a big pay-per-view number and it will put a lot of money in their pocket and it will create a lot of hype for them so they’re going to do it. That’s what happens when you have one company control the majority of the sport; they can do what they want. That’s the problem. To me, it’s a WWE move. Brock Lesnar is 1-1 in MMA. There’s no way in hell Brock Lesnar deserves a title shot in the UFC over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. There’s no way.
Sam Caplan: Based on your role with M-1, I believe you were involved with the International television production for “Affliction: Banned.” I also believe you have some friends there. White recently predicted that Affliction would be out of business by January and he’s not alone in that belief. Do you agree with White’s assessment?
Jerry Millen: No. Tom Atencio is a close friend of mine. They do a great job at Affliction. They understand the sport. They’re a new company and just like with most new companies, it takes time to grow. And Dana doesn’t want them to be in business. Of course not. Dana White does not want competition because he wants to be the only kid on the block. He’s the kid in the schoolyard with the basketball that threatens to take the ball off the court when he leaves.
Affliction will not disappear like Dana thinks or wishes. It won’t happen. Affliction is a viable company. You have to remember, Affliction is a brand so when they do an Affliction fighting event, it’s promoting their lifestyle brand. It’s goes hand-in-hand.
Sam Caplan: During your days with PRIDE you spent some time getting to know Quinton Jackson. What’s your take on Quinton as a person?
Jerry Millen: Quinton is awesome. I love Quinton Jackson. He’s a great individual. I hung out with Quinton in Japan a lot. Unfortunately, in the past couple of years I haven’t talked to Quinton a lot because he’s working in the UFC and he’s been busy. But I got to know him very well in Japan and as a person, when his guard is down, he’s a great individual. I know he’s had some issues lately but to me, Quinton Jackson the person is more important than Quinton Jackson the fighter.
I want to see Quinton get through this tough time in his life and come out okay. Anyone who knows Quinton that reads this knows that he’s a great guy and that people make mistakes. I just hope he makes it through this. He’s got kids and people don’t understand that if they don’t have kids or families that they’re a lot of things that go on in life of a fighter besides just fighting. He’s a good guy and Quinton will make it through.
Sam Caplan: Do you think Quinton should be fighting anytime soon?
Jerry Millen: That’s a decision Quinton Jackson has to make. I just would like to see Quinton take care of all of his other issues before he gets back in the cage. I just hope Dana White is not trying to push back into the cage and be a false friend just to make a buck because Dana has been known to do those kind of things. When it’s all said and done this is the fight game and it’s a sport but at the end of the day there’s people’s lives on the line. I would like to see Quinton Jackson the individual okay before we see Quinton Jackson the fighter.
Sam Caplan: Tito Ortiz recently came out and was very critical of Jackson’s former trainer and manager, Juanito Ibarra. Did you ever have any dealings with Ibarra?
Jerry Millen: (Laughs very loud) Yes, actually I did. Towards the end of the WFA, there had been some discussion about trying to get Quinton to come back to PRIDE. So I called him up to try and schedule a meeting. There were some people in PRIDE that had mis-treated Quinton and had mis-treated a lot of us, actually. They were let go way before PRIDE had been shut down so I wanted to see if Quinton wanted to come back and see if we could make things right.
So I set up a meeting with Quinton and in the meeting he comes in and sits down and he has this trainer with him I had never met before, this Juanito. I could tell right off the bat that this guy (Ibarra) was just about money. You’ve got to understand that in any business if people see you as a commodity and someone they can make money off of then people are going to swarm around you like sharks. They’re going to try and make a buck off you and they’re going to try and be your friend. That’s just how life is.
I think I’m a pretty good judge of character and I sat down and started talking to Quinton and the first thing out of (Ibarra’s) mouth is, “Hey man, you work in Japan!? I’ve got this natural fruit juice energy drink, can you help me market it in Japan? I want to sell it in Japan!” You know, I was there to talk with Quinton about coming back to PRIDE and not to try and sell some fruit juice in Japan.
So right off the bat a red flag went off about this guy and I said to Quinton, “Who is this guy? I’m trying to get you back into PRIDE and he’s trying to sell me on some fruit juice to sell in Japan. I’m here to talk about you, not to help your trainer market some fruit juice.” So immediately I was wondering “Just who is this guy?” And throughout the conversation he would interject with numbers and pay-per-view numbers and he had no idea what he was talking about. I could just see the guy had money signs in his eyes and I was a little worried at that point. I’m like, this guy is kind of a joker, I hope Quinton is going to be okay. Obviously Quinton went in another direction but I wasn’t too comfortable when I had dealings with (Ibarra). I could tell there was something going on there.