Fasten your seat belts and get ready because I am about to go old school 5 Oz. and write an article rife with first-person prose.
For one night and one night only, I am going to interject myself into an article. I feel compelled to do so because I am starting to become very concerned about the direction in which MMA is headed. Seeing the sport I love go down its current path is hurting me because just like most of you, I love it dearly.
But our sport is at a crossroads. Within the next 16 months, MMA is either going to truly become mainstream and emerge as the true fourth largest sport in America, or it’s going to follow in the footsteps of poker and go down as yet another fad sport.
I’m not writing this piece to be overly negative – I am writing from the heart. I am truly concerned that MMA is becoming less and less about the fights and more about the lifestyle that’s been built up around it. I’m seeing more people at fights that are more concerned about being seen than by what’s actually taking place inside the ring or cage. I’ve been doing a lot of traveling in recent weeks and have been able to watch the industry from the inside out – and I’ve got to tell you, MMA is degenerating into nothing more than an extension of show business.
MMA offers such a dichotomy: some of the coolest people I have ever met happen to be full-time employees in the industry while some of the biggest scumbags I have ever been exposed to happen to reside in this sport. If you become immersed in the industry, you will meet some of the most sincere and forthright people you will ever encounter. At the same time, you will also meet some of the most fake. You know, the kinds of people who will tell you to your face that you’re great and then start bad mouthing you the minute you walk away.
There are a lot of people in MMA that will try and hustle you and tell you whatever they can just to make a buck. These people are remorseless and they feel no guilt about those that are a victim of their misdeeds. Once one well dries up, they start looking for the next person they can take advantage of.
I believe that I have made some true friends in MMA during my brief time covering this sport. I’m well aware that are lot of people are nice to me right now because I’m a writer and their hope is that I will write something nice about them. But there are some people I’ve met that couldn’t care less what I write about them and would still talk to me if I left MMA tomorrow. These are the people that make MMA worthwhile, because there is a very unseemly side to this industry.
Before anyone that I happen to know that might be reading this is wondering whether I am talking about them, understand that I’ve either told you how I felt to your face or I simply am no longer talking to you. The unseemly element consists of people who are involved with MMA for all the wrong reasons. They don’t see the fighters as real people and they see them as commodities. It disgusts me to no end to see these people out in public walking around as if they are bigger than the sport. The reality is that we’re all here because of the fighters: the men and women who sacrifice themselves just so that our lives are a little less boring.
I never got into comic books and really am not a huge fan of super heroes. Growing up, my super heroes were real: “Dr. J” Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Randall Cunningham, Reggie White, Mike Schmidt, Lenny Dykstra, Kirby Puckett, and Tony Gwynn. My goal in life growing up was to be able to earn a living in professional sports. I got that chance in 1993 when I started my own website dedicated to fantasy football. Unlike FiveOuncesOfPain.com, my first web company, FFInsider.com, actually was a money maker and was acquired by a bigger company in 1998 that is now known as Fanball.com.
Unfortunately, as I got more and more involved in sports, I actually got to meet some of my heroes. However, more often than not, I learned the harsh reality that my heroes were actually human and prone to having the same flaws and making the same mistakes that many of us make on a routine basis. And the sad reality was that fame often magnified their shortcomings and turned them into people really not worth caring about. Kirby Puckett got accused of doing some weird stuff to a woman; Dr. J had a love child that he never spoke to; and Dykstra got into a car while drunk and crashed into a tree and was later accused of using steroids.
But after following MMA off and on for years, I became hooked and had new super heroes to follow. When I started training and saw exactly what it took to be a professional fighter, my admiration only increased. And unlike the sports figures I grew up idolizing, the fighters I’ve met rarely have disappointed.
And that’s exactly why it’s sad to see fighters being treated the way they are being treated. I’m not directing my comments at any single specific group of people, as there are guilty parties across all lines, whether it they’re promoters, managers, members of the media, and fans. But let me be clear, this is not a blanket indictment. As I stated early, there are some really great people involved in MMA. I do not believe all promoters, managers, members of the media, and fans are bad – just some of them.
There are just some people in this industry who are nothing more than parasites; they see the fighters and all they think of is what a fighter can do for them instead of what they can do for a fighter. They’re like vampires, as they force their way in and then suck the life out of the fighters until there’s nothing left. It’s a constant “take, take, take” and not enough giving back to those that provide them an ability to earn a living.
The worst thing I’ve seen in recent months was a so-called manager who took his 20% cut of the sponsorships he generated for a group of fighters that competed on a major fight card. Doesn’t sound too nefarious, right? Well, it just happens that a major sponsor that was secured only paid half of the sponsorship money up front and still hasn’t gotten around to paying the other half. To this day, the fighters haven’t received all of their money even though the manager got his full share off the top. Instead of getting a 20% commission, the fraud actually walked away with a 40% cut.
You want to know the scary part? What I just described to you is the type of ordeal that happens all of the time in MMA. If you truly knew the kinds of things that were going on in this business right now you probably wouldn’t be able to watch fights with the same passion that you have for them now.
The fighters deserve better. They deserve people in their lives who will treat them the same when they lose as if they win. They deserve representation that truly has their best interests in mind at all times and not someone who wants to milk them for all they are worth. They deserve promoters who are committed to working towards offering them greater health insurance coverage, a 401K, and the freedom to use their likeness in the manner in which they best see fit. And they deserve writers and reporters who take treat the sport as a profession and not a hobby. This sport is in a major need of more writers and reporters who aren’t using sports writing as a conduit to hobnob with athletes.
The sport itself deserves better. Enough with the arrogant rich guys in MMA who think that just because they conquered one business venture that everything they touch turns to gold. It’s downright condescending the way some people treat MMA. They see MMA as some little niche fad and believe they are truly above it and think that the sport somehow can’t grow without them. If you’re reading this article and thinking about starting your own promotion, do yourself a favor and hire someone who knows the industry to run the company for you. I’ve watched too many friends and former colleagues get sent to the unemployment line this year due to gross negligence, excess, and arrogance exhibited by their bosses.
Understand this anonymous rich dude: MMA doesn’t need your charity. This industry is a lot more complex than you realize. The people you think are making money probably aren’t. It just seems that way and the only reason why they subject themselves to 70-80 hour work weeks for little pay is because they truly love MMA. And that’s what outsiders like Gary Shaw will never understand; MMA isn’t full of haters, it’s full of people that are truly passionate about the sport and don’t want to see it follow the same footsteps as boxing.
MMA is in great shape but is underachieving thanks to so many failed well-funded ventures. By running their companies into the ground, they left a taint on the sport that will make it next to impossible for entrepreneurs to secure funding.
Things are going well for MMA in many aspects yet it finds itself in a time of transition. The UFC continues to grow and we might find out this year whether the company hits a plateau or can breakthrough as a real mainstream company. We’ll also see the launch of the Bellator Fighting Championships on ESPN Deportes, a company with management that I believe truly “gets it” that will emerge as the true number two promotion in MMA. I also believe we’re going to see whether Affliction was just a t-shirt company that put on some really cool parties with some great fights or a real promotional fight company that has legs. And hopefully in the next few months we’ll get to see the fates decided of all the current ProElite contracted fighters that are mired in a state of purgatory. Either an acquisition will finally be completed once and for all, or the company’s current management will suddenly develop a conscience and decide they can no longer look themselves in the mirror as they continue to take food of the fighters’ tables.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what I would truly like to see for this sport. There are days where I think everything is just fine and I don’t want to see if grow any bigger out of fear that more people will come aboard looking to exploit the fighters. And then there are days where I want to see it kick the collective asses of football, baseball, and basketball so that mainstream America can be truly exposed to athletes truly worthy of their admiration.