MMA Life

MMA Life

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Country star Darius Rucker may not train MMA, but he absolutely loves the fight business. Rucker caught every glimpse of the UFC he could during its dark ages in the mid-1990s, but he became truly addicted when The Ultimate Fighter premiered on SpikeTV in 2005. The new reality show led to his discovery of his all-time favorite combatants—Randy Couture, Rampage Jackson, Georges St-Pierre, and Anderson Silva. TUF enabled Rucker—and the rest of America—to get a peak into the personal lives of the fighters, and it made the watching experience much more enjoyable. For Rucker, the competition is great, but he loves the added entertainment value.

image desc“I love the physical aspect of fighting, but it also has that flare,” says Rucker. “When you see the interviews before fights, these guys don’t hold back. They say what they feel, and I love that. I go on YouTube and watch pre-fight interviews where these guy sit down and tell the truth, like, ‘I’m gonna kick the shit outta this guy. When you hear that, it makes you want to watch the fight even more. For me, it’s all about being entertained, and it entertains me.”

Although Rucker is constantly on the road and opening for platinum-selling country music heavyweights Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, and the Zac Brown Band, he and his crew always make time to watch the fights.

“I’ve got six televisions in my tour bus, so we’ll just order the fights and record them,” he says. “After our performance, we can all go back and watch the fights together. A couple of weeks ago, I was flipping through the channels and caught the big women’s bout [Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche]. I enjoyed that as much as I enjoyed the men. If there are two women who want to get in the Octagon and go like that, why shouldn’t they be able to? Women can do whatever men can do.”

Currently touring, Rucker is a country music sensation who was recently inducted into Nashville’s prestigious Grand Ole Opry Hall of Fame in October. However, many fans know him better from his fame as pop-rock rhythm guitarist and lead singer of Hootie & The Blowfish. In 1994, Hootie & The Blowfish dropped their legendary debut album Cracked Rear View. The full-length collection topped the Billboard 200 and moved more than 16 million units in the United States alone—a feat that is rarely achieved—thanks to mega hits “Hold My Hand,” “Only Wanna Be With You,” and Grammy winning “Let Her Cry.” Their next best-selling album, 1996’s Fairweather Johnson, was a certified triple-platinum in the U.S.

Hootie & The Blowfish released three more studio efforts before taking a break in 2008. While the band hasn’t recorded an LP since 2005’s Looking For Lucky, they still perform one-off shows and get together to fundraise for the Hootie & The Blowfish Foundation, which benefits South Carolinian kids through education and school music programs.

Since the hiatus, Rucker has been concentrating on his solo career in country music—something that has been a lifelong passion and something he promised himself two decades ago that he’d pursue.

“I’ve been saying for 20 years that I was going to make a country record,” he says. Well, instead of making just one country record, he’s made three. His latest album is entitled True Believers and is due for release May 21. True Believers is a 12-track collection that displays Rucker’s growth in musicianship and his complete comfort in being a country music songwriter, and yet the crossover artist pushes the genre’s limits on the title track, an inspirational and country rock-powered composition about a persevering marriage.

While some artists tend to play it safe, Rucker fearlessly incorporates some of country music’s broadest elements and takes pride in highlighting those dynamics. “I wanted to sound a little different, and I feel like it’s a progression,” Rucker says. “We made a great record, and the most important thing for the record is telling a song.”

Rucker may be fearless in the music industry, but the 46-year-old has no intentions of stepping into the cage. Instead, he dreams of strutting toward the Octagon, proudly raising the UFC Heavyweight Title above his head.

“I’d love to walk with Cain Velasquez to the cage,” says Rucker. “He’d make me look really small, but I’d be the guy holding the belt over my head as we walk to the Octagon. That’ll be me.”

The fourth album from Darius Rucker, True Believers, is his third in the country music genre. Featuring the #1 hit “Wagon Wheel,” it will be available May 21 in stores and on iTunes.

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The Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) is ready to lead the fight to clean up MMA.

Alistair Overeem, Stephan Bonnar, Jake Shields, Cris Cyborg—those were just a handful of mixed martial artists who were busted and suspended for using banned substances in 2012. If you venture back pre-2012, many more fighters can be added to the list of dishonor.

image descFailed drug tests have been a black eye and a disturbing trend for the young sport, however, the UFC has been proactive in its attempt to clean up MMA. Recently, UFC vice president of regulatory affairs Marc Ratner announced the promotion was instituting its own drug testing at all international events instead of relying on independent facilities, and the UFC will no longer pay out end-of-night fight bonuses until drug test results come back clean. There’s no better way to deter a fighter from using PEDs than hitting them in the wallet.

Most state athletic commissions in North America, including the big three—Nevada, California, and New Jersey—continue to do their part, administering post-fight drug tests at events that take place in their respective states and, from time to time, pre-fight screenings. Since boxing and MMA commissions are state regulated and funded, the issue they continue to battle is limited funding for out-of-competition tests.

Overall, Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Keith Kizer is satisfied with his commission’s current drug testing process, but he’s not resting on his laurels.

“We are always looking at ways to improve,” Kizer says. “We will continue to seek additional information and funding to do more. No drug testing program should consider itself 100 percent perfect, but we are doing more testing than we ever have—the biggest goal is to deter usage, then there’s nothing to test for.”

While testosterone replacement therapy, therapeutic use exemptions, and PED abuse in MMA has many fans and athletes calling for improved and more extensive testing, Dr. Margaret Goodman from the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) is ready to lead the fight.

The Heavy Hitter

As a former Nevada ring physician and athletic commission member, Dr. Goodman has been around combat sports most of her life. The Las Vegas-based neurologist founded the independent, nonprofit organization VADA in 2011.

“We put together this organization because we felt that no one else was doing enough to try and stop PED use,” says Dr. Goodman. “The testing at athletic commissions was insufficient, it was disorganized, it wasn’t for enough substances, and the panels that test athletes were antiquated. It’s difficult to pass our program—if you’re dirty, don’t come to us. The athletes who are using out there know a heck of a lot more than the commissions do about performance enhancing drugs, and that’s just wrong.”

In an effort to promote clean sports, VADA uses effective anti-doping practices and programs utilizing some of the most stringent and technically advanced tests modern science has available. The organization arranges for their tests to be completed at UCLA Medical Center, and unlike the standard screenings being performed by athletic commissions, VADA does both blood and urine tests, routine blood counts that can show if an athlete is doping, and carbon isotope ratio (CIR) testing.

“CIR testing is typically done in an Olympic setting, and it is a way to detect if somebody is using synthetic or exogenerous testosterone, testosterone they’ve taken, as opposed to what’s in their body naturally,” says Dr. Goodman. “It’s hard for somebody abusing testosterone to escape our tests, and I think commissions need to start administering these tests as well.”

Another distinction with VADA is that they perform true unannounced testing, which means an athlete participating in the VADA program can be visited by a screener 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the eight weeks leading up to their fight. They must supply a blood and urine sample right then and there.

“Athletic commissions may do random testing, but they are giving an athlete 24 hours to show up,” says Dr. Goodman. “Short-acting testosterone can be out of your system, and unless you’re doing the CIR testing, you’re not going to pick it up. Lance Armstrong said he wasn’t getting caught because no one was doing unannounced or CIR tests—but VADA does.”

These high-tech tests are very expensive, and it’s up to the participants, sponsors, or donations to cover the costs. Depending on how many times a fighter is tested a year, the price tag can reach in the thousands of dollars.

Who’s Coming With Me?

The Voluntary Anti-Doping Association is exactly what their name states: Voluntary. Why would a fighter who is already subject to no-cost drug tests from the UFC and state athletic commissions want to sign up and pay for additional tests?

The answer is simple according to Dr. Goodman.

image desc“People say, ‘Why would somebody do that, why would they volunteer for testing?’ I think it’s to show they are for clean sport. I think PEDs can contribute to the dangers of MMA, and I think the most important thing an athlete can do by signing up with VADA is to show they are clean.”

Only a handful of fighters have felt that it was worth it. So far, BJ Penn, Rory MacDonald, Ben Askren, and Roy Nelson are the only mixed martial artists to have enrolled and participate in the program. Take one look at UFC heavyweight Roy Nelson’s physical appearance and your first thought is probably not going to be, “Wow, that guy has to be using steroids.” However, Nelson wants to make sure that he and his opponents are competing on the same playing field and that his opponents are not receiving an unfair advantage by taking PEDs.

“I was fortunate to have sponsors pay for the testing, so it didn’t cost me a thing,” Nelson says. “It’s important for fans to know you’re drug-free. Taking the extra step to do the VADA testing is like giving back to the fans.”

Rory MacDonald thought the experience was fine, but he isn’t sure he would participate again.

“I wouldn’t desire to—it’s just another thing you have to worry about,” says MacDonald. “You don’t really want to be taken out of your focus and be disturbed on fight week. The commissions have their drug testing, and I’ve already participated once in VADA and proved where I stand.”

“I have spoken to many fighters who complained about the risk of being cut because they didn’t want to take PEDs, while everyone around them was,” says Dr. Goodman. “It’s always been a problem in combat sports. You can look historically at the issue, and they are not going to go away, but it really comes down to the fighter, and VADA gives them a way to control their careers and do what’s right for the sport.”

The Next Steps

As a nonprofit organization, the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association is continuing to look for someone to help fund the costs associated with their testing. Dr. Goodman recently reached out to the UFC owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta to gauge their interest in VADA conducting the UFC’s tests. As of press, Dr. Goodman has not received a response.

While the UFC and Bellator, state athletic commissions, and the Association of Boxing Commissions all support what VADA and Dr. Goodman are doing in theory, they are not helping out financially. Moving forward, Dr. Goodman’s goal is to continue to educate both amateur and professional boxers and mixed martial artists, commissions, trainers, and public on the hazards of PED use.

“VADA needs to be a part of the sport,” says Dr. Goodman. “We have to continue to educate athletes about the dangers of PEDs and the side effects. They need to understand that they can compete clean.”

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By Justin M. Norton

If you’re a 30- or 40-something with the right mindset, MMA might be the ticket to the best fitness of your life.

Former Marine Tim Miller was tubing on the Guadalupe River in Texas when he had the 21st century equivalent of a Charles Atlas moment. The water levels were low and Miller, then 350 lbs., got stuck on the rocks just before some college guys drifted by and said, “Check it out, we got a beached whale here.” It was one thing to say it aloud, but even worse, they said it in front of his kids.

He knew it was time to make big changes. Miller considered CrossFit but was instead lured by Ohana Jiu-Jitsu in San Antonio. Almost inconceivably, the 38-year-old started training mixed martial arts, concentrating on Muay Thai. His goal is to get to 260 lbs. and take an amateur fight within a year.
It hasn’t been easy. When Miller started training, his blood pressure was almost 200/100. After his first day of shadowboxing and heavy bag rounds, he vomited and was left shaking. “My trainer almost called 911, and the room was spinning,” he says. Undeterred, he kept going to the gym.

Miller’s story might be extreme, but it’s not a rarity—the mid-life conversion to mixed martial arts. The trend spawned the Kevin James film Here Comes The Boom, about a portly ex-wrestler/science teacher who fights to raise money to save the school band program. With life expectancy ever-increasing and limitless options for fitness and training, people are doing more than just watching fights on television. Instead, adults are opting to get hit, kicked, and submitted.

Part of the attraction might be that MMA is a sport where the middle-aged—at least a few of them—thrive. Randy Couture didn’t retire until 47, after he got knocked out by Lyoto Machida’s now famous “Karate Kid” kick. Dan Henderson is a viable light heavyweight at 42. Mark Hunt and Anderson Silva turn 40 in two years.

Looking at age alone is deceiving, though. Couture started MMA in his 30s but was an Olympic-level wrestler. All of these fighters started serious training when they were young, often when they were children. They know exactly how their body responds and how to make it work under duress, and have logged countless hours in rings, gyms, and cages.

The majority of middle-aged people showing up to learn MMA don’t have that training—some don’t even have an athletic background. “With MMA booming, there are more older people looking for a challenge. They want to know if they can really do MMA,” says Jude Ledesma, part of a team that opened Modern Combatives MMA in Berkeley, California, in 2002. The gym, the first in the area to offer an integrated curriculum of striking, clinch, and ground training, has since expanded, and Ledesma even had a student in his 70s.

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It is possible to train smart in middle age, whether your goal is to fight or get in peak physical condition. Trainers and those that have been there say middle-aged converts should have realistic expectations. Preparing for a fight is possible, and no one without competitive drive enters an MMA gym, but too much focus on the end result could make your training counterproductive or get you hurt—likely both.

“You have guys who are 38 and don’t think they will be GSP, but do think they’ll do a bunch of amateur fights and win, or get one pro fight. These guys can get banged up pretty bad when they get in the ring or the cage,” says Matthew Polly, who wrote about his midlife MMA training journey and eventual fight in Tapped Out: Rear Naked Chokes, the Octagon, and the Last Emperor: An Odyssey in Mixed Martial Arts. “No one expects that they will just take up basketball and go in the NBA. People think that since it’s fighting, they’ll be able to just go do it. If you are middle-aged and compete, all it will be is a few times at the amateur level.”

Polly admits that the training regimen he followed and wrote about in his book wasn’t smart, even if he were in his 20s. He nearly passed out on the New York subway system after a tough training session. He sparred with younger fighters at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas who were much faster and more agile. Along the way, Polly learned a few lessons about doing it right.

When Polly started training with Phil Nurse, all sparring was below the neck. Now that he’s no longer training to fight, he’s returned to that method. “If you aren’t training to actually be in a fight—just for self defense and fitness—I don’t think there’s a reason to go hard to the head. Hard sparring is for competition. You can work almost all your techniques and get pleasantly knocked around, but those shots to the jaw and noggin are a young man’s game,” he says.

A good path is the right mix of intense MMA training mixed with weight lifting, stretching, core work, and agility. Spending hours on end in the gym might improve your skills, but may also necessitate a long chiropractic contract.

Polly says mid-life converts should also consider emphasizing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, especially if competition is a goal. “Jits is in some ways the sport for middle-aged guys who want to fight,” he says. “You are laying down, you don’t need to take any strikes, and it works. You can stop someone. It’s not tai chi, which doesn’t work.”

Keeping your pride in check is crucial. There’s a good chance that the person teaching you will be significantly younger. What matters is learning from someone who can help you improve, regardless of age. “If the person is able to get you better, that’s what you are looking for,” says ModCom’s Ledesma. “The idea isn’t to earn a golden ring to put on a pedestal, it’s to get measurably better.”

Hydration, nutrition, and ample sleep are even more important now than when you were younger and were able to shirk certain elements of training. Injuries also need the proper time to heal. If you are older, that likely means it will be longer. A willingness to skip practice or amend training when the body isn’t responding can prevent some of those injuries.

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The lure of an actual fight remains strong for many, especially those that survive the grueling training in the initial months of MMA. Lisa Creech Bledsoe, a 46-year-old mother of three in North Carolina, hasn’t picked up MMA, but became a competitive boxer well into her 40s (she’s 2-2).

It started when Bledsoe’s husband bought a heavy bag for their sons. The boys ignored it, but Bledsoe embraced boxing and hard sparring. She credits combat sports for helping her marriage, her business, and her health. “I’ve learned that if I’ve hurt something, to give it attention and give it rest,” she says. “And I don’t spar more than twice a week. Some of the young people show up to spar and say it’s their day off from training!”

The hardest thing for Bledsoe isn’t training—she’s learned to do it smart—it’s finding people her age to fight. “When you get older, there are just fewer people and that makes it tough,” says Bledsoe, who admits she is “compelled” by MMA but plans to keep her training to boxing.

Tim Miller still remembers that day on the raft when he’s hitting the pads. At the time of this writing, Tim has lost more than 50 lbs. and is down to 295. He’s willing to see where his training leads, but feels the urge to compete. “It would be pretty amazing if I could put my best foot forward and do a fight,” he says.

It’s Not the Age, (It’s the Mileage)
Here are five MMA training tips for those who have logged ample years and time on the road.

Be realistic
Fighting is a possibility, but see how your body adapts and adjusts to training. Place learning and proper technique above everything else, and honestly monitor progress with a coach.

Space your training
Five times a week of hard training might not work if you are older. Instead, space maximal efforts with lighter training and strength and flexibility work.

Recovery is crucial
Proper sleep, nutrition, and hydration are even more important to an older body. Eat protein right after tough efforts, and don’t overlook intangibles like vitamins and reduced stress.

Don’t tough out injuries
It’s always a good idea to see a doctor when something hurts. It’s even more important with an older body. If you are in pain, don’t train.

Listen and ask questions
Be an attentive, hardworking student like everyone else. Focus and pay attention to the people who know best, regardless of age. You have nothing to prove when you are older so don’t be afraid to ask for more explanation of a technique.

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From music to sponsorships, Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta is all about MMA.

Mixed martial arts has been a longtime passion for Hatebreed lead vocalist Jamey Jasta, but now the sport is intertwining with his business in more ways than one. In addition to sponsoring bands and fighters through his rock-themed clothing line Hatewear, the 35-year-old hardcore metal vocalist recently recorded Hatebreed’s sixth studio album Divinity of Purpose—with MMA in mind. The album’s current single “Honor Never Dies” captures the big fight atmosphere and lyrically embodies the warrior’s spirit, making it more than suitable as an entrance theme.

“That is something I thought about when I wrote the music for ‘Honor Never Dies,’” Jasta says, “When it gets heavy in the intro, you can see a guy walking out to it, and when it gets real heavy in the middle, you can see him getting in and circling the ring…it would be a good song to get the crowd going.”
Jasta isn’t a stranger to writing and performing records for the MMA world. The Connecticut-based front man, who watched the sport in the early ‘90s and re-connected with it slightly before the TUF-era began in 2005, placed two tracks—“Live For This” by Hatebreed and “Born To Crush You” by his hardcore punk side-project Icepick—on the UFC’s 2004 compilation Ultimate Beatdowns: Volume 1.

An MMA and Jasta collaboration happened again in 2005 when he, along with Icepick, created a custom theme (upon request) for then-UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei Arlovski entitled “Onward to Victory,” which featured barks from pit bulls to play off of the Belarusian’s infamous moniker.

That same year in October, Jasta drove to the nearby Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, to attend his first Zuffa event—UFC 55—where he got to watch Arlovski walk out to “Onward to Victory” at full blast and then knockout heavyweight title challenger Paul Buentello in 15 seconds.

Jasta got into the habit of attending MMA events, and he noticed crossover potential between the sport and heavy music. “Any time I went to a fight, I would see a lot of metal and hardcore fans at the fights” Jasta says. Upon recognizing the synergy between MMA and his brand of music, he decided to give out some free shirts and other apparel from his rock-themed fashion line Hatewear. The apparel company expanded to sponsoring fighters on both the amateur and professional levels.

Currently, the company’s stable of fighters include UFC veterans Shane Carwin, Shane Nelson, and Chris Camozzi; Bellator prospects Emanuel Newton and Matt Uhde; MFC Middleweight Champ Elvis Mutapcic; the World Series of Fighting’s Brian Cobb; and reality star Matt “Danger” Schnell of MTV’s Caged.

For Jasta, this is an opportunity to bridge two demographics. “There are so many eyes on MMA, and MMA fans are some of the most diehard fans out there,” he says. “I just figured if we could convert some MMA fans into metal and hardcore fans, that’d be great. And it worked.”

Jasta’s sponsorship endeavors and deep love of the sport have led him to more and more MMA events—a highlight being the heavyweight championship showdown between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez at UFC 155, which he calls “the closest our generation will get to witnessing real gladiator-type shit.” But for the time being, Jasta has to take a short hiatus from the sport, as he has a “divine” album to promote.

Born and Bred

Formed in 1994, Hatebreed branded their hardcore metal music in the Northeast and dropped a couple of EPs before releasing their debut studio album Satisfaction Is The Death Of Desire three years later through indie juggernaut Victory Records.

The Connecticut troupe strengthened their iron grip among the masses with 2002’s Perseverance and 2003’s The Rise Of Brutality, a pair of albums released through Universal that featured forward-thinking and empowering breakthrough anthems, including the title track “Perseverance,” “This Is Now,” and “I Will Be Heard.” Also in 2003, Jasta raised the band’s profile as he hosted the revival of MTV’s Headbangers Ball.

Although Hatebreed has flip-flopped between labels and experimented with their sound over the years, their sixth studio LP The Divinity Of Purpose sees the Connecticut group return to their roots. The 12-track collection is a fierce display of hardcore music with heart-pounding melodicism, self-empowering messages, and scream-a-long hooks, which are marvelously displayed on “Nothing Scars Me,” “Own Your World,” and “The Language.”

“We honed the Hatebreed recipe back to two-minute, fast, and heavy-type songs, but there is still growth there and it’s still a very different record for us,” Jasta says. “The whole ‘All Pit, No Shit’ thing really resonated with people and I think it really sums up the whole album. It’s really just hard, heavy, and to the point.”

There is no doubt the music packs a punch, but don’t expect Jasta to strut to the Octagon and throw fists. He’s already attempted some training, and although he knows a few moves, it’s not for him.
One specific memory reminds him of that. “This guy, Cesar Cabrera, came out with us on tour, and I would roll with him. He is big into BJJ, and there is nothing worse than getting choked out by a five-foot dude who weighs 110 pounds and having my neck cranked,” the singer says with a chuckle. “Being sore on the road and getting beaten up by guys who are half the size of me is never fun, so luckily, I get paid to scream and jump around on stage, and I want to keep it that way.”

3 Hatewear Fighters You Should Know

1. Emanuel Newton (20-7-1): A former MFC Light Heavyweight Champion, “The Hardcore Kid” reached the Bellator Season 8 Light Heavyweight Tournament Final by knocking out King Mo with a spinning back fist.

2. Matt “Danger” Schnell (2-0): The most well-rounded fighter to come out of MTV’s Caged, the undefeated Louisiana flyweight goes for his third victory as he battles Elias Garcia at Legacy Fights 20 on May 31.

3. Chris Camozzi (18-5): A TUF alum, the middleweight is riding a four-fight win streak after defeating Nick Ring at UFC 158.

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Major MMA promotions have a bigger broadcast footprint than ever. So why is tough for fighters to cash in on sponsors?

“Is this Mark Gingrich?” the voice on the line politely asks.

“Yes,” says Gingrich, who’s conferenced in a call that interrupted an interview for this story. It’s dark outside his office in Dallas, where he runs the apparel company HTFU (Harden The Fuck Up). Dozens of calls have blown up his cell phone in the past 24 hours, including death threats to him and his family. 

But mostly, the message is one like this: “F’ you.” The line cuts off. 

Five days earlier, lightweight Rick Hawn tweeted that a sponsor was unhappy with his performance at Bellator 88, which ended in a submission loss to champion Michael Chandler, and stopped payment on a $1,500 check owed him for wearing the sponsor’s gear. He didn’t name the sponsor, but soon after, Hawn’s rep started a thread on a popular MMA message board, and Gingrich’s phone started ringing.

If measured in cage time, Hawn’s fight to get paid probably lasted just a bit longer than the 8:07 he spent with Chandler. A few email parries with the rep, a public shaming, a day fielding angry MMA fans, and Gingrich agreed to send Hawn a new check. He denied stopping payment based on performance and claimed Hawn hadn’t honored a deal when his cornermen didn’t wear HTFU. Hawn’s rep countered that cornermen weren’t included. There had been no contract between them, so it was a matter of who you believed. That was already clear. 

Despite Bellator’s new broadcast platform on Spike TV, which initially brought a nearly tenfold increase in the promotion’s average viewership on MTV2, Hawn said he had battled just to get sponsors. Yet the experience of being shorted even a relatively small sum wasn’t a shock. 

“That’s part of the game,” says Hawn. “There’s not a lot of money out there right now.”

sponsors
During their fight at The Ultimate Fighter Finale 15, Jake Ellenberger represents Lunarpages.com and Martin Kampmann Sports Safe Auto, as fighters look to secure sponsorships from companies outside of the MMA industry.

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As the UFC enters the second year of its FOX partnership and Bellator’s national profile heightens, the current sponsorship market remains anemic for rank-and-file fighters, according to several fighters and industry vets. The payouts brought by the boom of 2006-2008 have by and large vanished, yet fierce competition exists for a smaller pool of free cash. In the rush to get as much as possible in the weeks leading up to an event, a frenzy of pitching, haggling, and undercutting goes on behind the scenes. 

Manager John Fosco said it’s not uncommon for him to pitch a marketer on a $15,000 sponsorship package that meticulously tracks broadcast exposure and social media impact, only to be undercut the next day by a manager offering a patch for $1,000.

Those encounters shadow high-profile endorsements recently called game-changers in the sport’s visibility. UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre is rumored to earn more than eight figures from endorsement deals with Coca-Cola, Google, and Bacardi, while Jon Jones is the face of MMA for Nike. Meanwhile, ex-champ Quinton Jackson reportedly wears Reeboks on trail runs, no doubt in the bountiful scrub of Ladera Ranch, California.

The potential rewards remain rich for those who continue to win inside the cage. But for most fighters on their way to stardom—or fighting to keep it—the market is more unforgiving than ever. The average payout to wear a shirt, hat, or patch for a fight broadcast on pay-per-view or network TV is now 50 percent less than three years ago, according to numbers given by several managers and fighters. Prices also have dropped steeply for bouts seen on cable, and fighters whose bouts stream online can only expect a few hundred dollars or free products. 

The reason? MMA companies now know that all but a few athletes can bring a return on investment.

“Even the top guys are not getting as much,” says manager Brian Butler. “Obviously, we want to make as much for them as possible, but a lot of the time, the fighters don’t understand it. They don’t understand how today’s market is different.”
Nevertheless, they have adapted. Lightweight Jacob Volkmann boycotted a sponsor that first paid him $1,500 per bout, dropped him when he fought on an un-televised preliminary-card, and then resurfaced with an offer of $500 when he returned to TV. He was convinced he could replace the income from local businesses in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

Welterweight Jake Ellenberger, who recalled getting stiffed $20,000 when he didn’t wear a sponsor’s t-shirt (the sponsor never sent it), enlisted a trusted friend to handle the process after so many unfulfilled promises. He recently inked a deal with a small web hosting company and participated in an anti-bullying workshop at the school of a sponsor’s son.

“The biggest thing for me is over-delivering on what they’re expecting,” he says.

But when managers don’t deliver on expectations, some fighters shop for new managers between bouts. Savvy reps, meanwhile, have sprung into action. After dialing for dollars with MMA companies all too willing to drive down prices by playing reps against each other, Fosco sold executives in auto insurance, supplements, and bodybuilding companies on MMA. Instead of naming a price for his fighters, he asked to represent them in the market. He now controls a budget “deep into the six figures” for insurer Safe Auto, which reportedly banks $300 million annually in revenue and sponsors an average of 30 fighters a year. He is part of a growing contingent of MMA managers who also act as marketing directors for brands you see in major fight promotions. Now, he gets calls from competitors asking for money.

He calls himself one of the most hated managers in the industry. 

“The business model is to sell the sport,” Fosco says. “Other managers say, ‘I have Jon Fitch. He’s a great brand. He’s an All-American type.’ Well, isn’t there a conflict of interest there? You’re pushing your guy and trying to tell your brand that your guy is the best guy for their brand, when it actually could be a number of other fighters who are a better fit for what they’re trying to do.”

To those who suggest he’s in the same position, Fosco, and others with his role, say they don’t favor personal clients and pay fair market value while maintaining profit margins. With little prompting, he says his star client, Clay Guida (a Safe Auto endorser), banks between $75,000 and $100,000 per fight. 

Meanwhile, since becoming an official sponsorship partner of the UFC, Safe Auto has made a killing on referral fees for insurance requests in states it doesn’t cover, Fosco says. This past year, it purchased a minority share in his company. If the manager is unapologetic toward critics—in fact, Fosco has a string of expletives for every adversary—it’s because he fought to keep the insurer in the fold. 

“The UFC at first blocked Safe Auto and said, ‘You cannot sponsor fighters unless you do a deal with us,’” he says. “It’s a very eye-opening thing as a business owner, because in the blink of an eye, all your work can be snatched away so easily. It’s not their fault. They built this world that I play in.”

In 2009, the UFC instituted a sponsor tax on companies that utilized its platform for advertising. Brands wanting to sponsor an athlete had to pay between five and six figures annually for the right. Thus, the promotion created another revenue stream. Whether they helped or hurt the marketplace is a matter of debate. 

Until the credit crunch of 2008, it wasn’t uncommon for companies to dole out a minimum of $12,000 for a walkout shirt. Monthly sponsorships generated $5,000 a month for top fighters, and some signed six-figure bonuses for exclusivity. Many of the deals were financed on home loans during the real estate bubble, and hundreds of companies went bust in the slowdown.

While there are now fewer fly-by-night t-shirt companies among taxpayers, an excess supply of fighters strengthens the position of remaining sponsors. Fewer companies compete for more advertising space, and with the death of Strikeforce, more are on the way. Some companies continue to overspend and quickly disappear, but most keep a tight budget. They are aware of their leverage with fighters and managers looking for extra cash prior to a fight, and so the incentive to make a big commitment is less. 

“The companies that are around know each other,” says manager Jeff Clark. “They’ve paid their dues, so people are going to get things for what they can. I don’t think it’s the UFC’s burden. At the end of the day, fighting has its own feeling. Is it the UFC’s responsibility to build all these brands, or is that the brand’s responsibility?”

Manager Jason Genet nevertheless crafts sponsorship plans that are not dependent on camera time in the cage. He believes that commodity is a bonus to the value he provides through a multi-level marketing strategy that includes in-person promotion and web marketing on his independent media platform. 

“Sponsorship and marketing is about reach and return,” he says. “You must control the controllable. If the brand is approved to be a sponsor, you still must overcome the significant investment they have in gaining that approval, and no patch will compare to what was paid.”
There are several managers who believe the value of MMA, whether measured on TV, the web, or through an athlete, is lost on blue-chip companies. Former venture capitalist Bill McFarlane has brokered sponsorships from Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble for Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo, who now plans to fight MMA. He said, despite the UFC’s sophistication, most big companies still look at the sport as an untested commodity, and many athletes’ out-of-cage behavior acts as a deterrent to investment. 

“That can easily diminish the value that these companies may be missing,” he says. “You can’t just say he’s a badass fighter. If you’re going to represent their brand, they want to make sure you know how to behave in public.”

* * * *

The day after he tweeted, Rick Hawn received a $1,500 check, but it wasn’t from Gingrich—it was from Bellator. A week later, another check arrived from the sponsor, who vowed never to support another MMA fighter. Hawn claimed something of a moral victory in the dispute by declaring that one of Gingrich’s staff members had resigned in protest. He was skeptical that there had been death threats and expressed little sympathy for the harassment the Dallas man encountered.

“There’s so much more to the whole story, it’s just ridiculous,” Hawn says.
Hawn, a former Olympian in judo, planned to give the extra $1,500 to a pet rescue charity. He said he and his fiancé were animal lovers, and it was a worthwhile cause.

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Ring of Fire brought the action to Buckley Air Force Base for the inaugural Buckley MMA Fight Night.

All too often, phrases like “this is going to be a war” and “preparing for battle” are carelessly thrown around to describe a mixed martial arts bout. Those words, however, have an entirely different meaning for the men and women serving in the United States Military. For them, those descriptions can literally mean they are going to put their lives on the line to defend our country and our freedom—and for them, there’s no tapping out.

Colorado-based MMA promoter and Ring of Fire founder Sven Bean appreciates the commitment our U.S. Servicemen have made, and that’s why he wanted to bring a ROF show to Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado.

“I have always supported the Wounded Warrior Project and have been a big supporter of the troops my entire life,” Bean says. “These men and women are out there risking their lives and making huge scarifies, and this is a very small way to give back to them.”

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Working in conjunction with Shameless MMA Productions, MRI supplements, the Colorado State Boxing Commission, and Buckley Air Force Base, Bean made history February 9, 2013, when he staged Buckley MMA Fight Night, the first sanctioned MMA event on an active military base in Colorado. A portion of the Ustream pay-per-view proceeds went to the Wounded Warrior Project, and the show was viewed almost exclusively by the military personnel on the base.

Bean had a lot of help making his dream a reality.

“It’s been wonderful working with the Federal Government on this event,” says Josef Mason, program director of the Colorado State Boxing Commission. “We really appreciate what these men and women do for our country, and we’re happy to bring them an MMA event”.

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Chief Master Sergeant William Ward, Command Chief for the 460th Space Wing, is a boxing fan, but he knows the sport of MMA is exploding in popularity right now. “The younger Airmen are fans of MMA,” he says. “And we’re always trying to find events that they can attend here on the installation—where they can stay here, have a good time, and improve their moral. The military knows discipline is important, and most of these fighters are very disciplined. But it also relates to combatives, which we do as part of self-defense in the military, so MMA coincides with the military mission of discipline and mindset.”

Established in 1943 by the U.S. Army, the base was named in honor of World War I Army pilot John Harold Buckley, and it is home to the 460th Space Wing and the Colorado Air National Guard. It serves more than 92,000 active duty, National Guard, reserve, and retired personnel. One of the main missions of the 460th Space Unit is to deliver global infrared missile tracking surveillance, or as Master Sergeant and Superintendant of Public Relations Jill Lavoie said: “When someone launches a missile anywhere in the world, we see it here first.”

Fight Night

The card was headlined by UFC veteran and native Coloradoan Tyler Toner, as he faced-off against Bellator veteran Cody Carillo. While Toner impressed the military crowd with a dominating second-round TKO, the applause and support he received was no where near the ovation two Airmen making their fighting debuts—and representing Buckley—heard when they stepped into the cage.

Rick “The Reach” Van Seters, a 19-year-old Airman with the 460th Space Communications Squadron, who deals with cyber-security, began training taekwondo and Muay Thai in high school. He was matched up against James Nakashima of Omaha, Nebraska, in a Muay Thai fight.

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“I had my Group Commander and my Squadron Commander there, so there were a lot of people cheering me on, but it definitely put some pressure on me,” says Van Seters. “It was some give and take but it was really good to hear all the people cheering.”
Van Seters lost a hard-fought unanimous decision to Nakashima, but he vowed to come back and train harder.

Staff Sergeant and heavy equipment operator Todd Scheffield began training army combatives in 2001 and jumped at the opportunity to test himself against experienced and undefeated professional Jeremiah Talley.

“Fighting on Buckley—where I work—was a great experience. I had lots of guys from the shops here and a bunch of friends and family,” says Scheffield. “Walking into my first fight, I was kind of numb and had tunnel vision, but once they announced my name and I heard the roar of the crowd, I knew all the people were behind me. It became very real at that point.”

The fight didn’t exactly go as planned for Scheffield. After Talley caught a leg kick and planted Scheffield on his back, Talley unleashed some vicious ground-and-pound. Referee Tim Mills stopped the fight at 2:30 of the first round.

“I actually accomplished more than 95 percent of the people out there,” says Scheffield. “I got in that cage and went at it with a guy who trains six days a week. I have this full-time job, and I train when I can. I’m proud of my effort.”

So was U.S. Air Force Command Chief Master Ward.

“It’s a source of pride for the base that our Airmen walked into that cage against professional fighters and were able to hold their own,” he says. “I’m very proud of those kids tonight.”

Promoter Bean was thrilled with the results and looks to do more of these events in the future. “The goal is to do a couple more here at Buckley, and we also have interest from an Air Force base in California. I’m very excited to see where this may go.”

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You don’t have to be Irish to have a good time on March 17, but you stand a better chance if you choose your drinks wisely. FIGHT! asked some of MMA’s most experienced veterans for their advice on St. Patty’s Day elixers, so skip the green Natty Light and grab one of the microbrews recommended by our panel of libation enthusiasts.

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Randy Couture

Favorite Beer: Black Butte Porter
Brewery: Deschutes
Locale: Bend, OR
ABV: 5.2%
Calories: 192
Carbs: 18.4g

Dan Henderson

Brewery: Firestone Walker Brewing Co.
Locale: Paso Robles, CA
ABV: 5.0%
Calories: 160
Carbs: 13g

Josh Barnett

Favorite Beer: Manny’s Pale Ale
Brewery: Georgetown Brewing Co.
Locale: Seattle, WA
ABV: 5.4%
Calories: 165
Carbs: 15g

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American Me

For American Me’s lead singer Tony Tataje, keeping his music real means keeping it real in MMA.

Tony Tataje has finally arrived at his apartment. It’s 9:30 p.m. on a blistering cold night in Portland, Oregon, and the tattooed 28-year-old shivers as he unlocks the front door. A smile creeps across his face as he steps inside and sees his girlfriend and his loving pets—four furry guinea pigs.
“They’re little, small, furry, and cute,” says Tataje, as he describes his pets with the least masculine adjectives a man with so much ink on his body should use. But don’t judge him just yet. This 5’7” featherweight is a tough, hard-working fellow. Besides being the voice of American Me, a hardcore band currently promoting their latest album III, the dynamo works as a medical biller and picks up extra cash as a bouncer at the Gypsy Restaurant & Velvet Lounge.

But that’s not all. When the front man clocks out from his day job, he heads over to Impact Jiu Jitsu, where he spends hours on his

Initially, Tataje viewed MMA as a blood sport that required little skill. That perception changed in 2008 when he saw Georges St- Pierre regain the UFC Welterweight Championship from Matt Serra at UFC 83. “That’s when I realized it was much more technical than bar brawls and Fight Club,” he says.
Tataje’s respect for the sport grew, especially after watching fight- ers like Eddie Alvarez, Nick Diaz, and Joe Lauzon. Their influence led him to Impact Jiu Jitsu, which was down the street from his home. He started training in February 2010, because, as he casually puts it, “I had all the time in the world,” after ending a past relationship.

As a former high school wrestler without any jiu-jitsu experience, Tataje had a difficult time with the learning curve of this foreign grappling art. “I spazzed out,” he says. “I ended up picking up one of the guys and slamming him. He was like, ‘What are you doing? It’s jiu-jitsu. You can’t slam people.’ I’d gone all UFC mode, and I was all about the UFC, so I couldn’t decipher the different martial arts. I was this total new-jack rolling with these black belts in the gym. I still feel like a new-jack.”

Now, Tataje is a proud—and frustrated—owner of a four-stripe white belt, and he is on the brink of earning his blue. In addition to his regular coaches, the musician has learned from guest instructor Clark Gracie, and he has also competed in a number of BJJ competitions, including a first- and second-place showing.

To balance out his ground game, the 145-pounder trains in a va- riety of other disciplines, including boxing, Muay Thai, and kickbox- ing. “What comes more natural to me, I guess, is being a kickboxer,” he says. “I love to strike. I love to bang.” He proved that when he donned the shinguards, headgear, and 16-ounce gloves in his lone amateur kickboxing bout last year, which he won on points.

When not competing, Tataje attends most of the MMA cards in the Portland area, and he has a tendency to run into UFC light heavyweight contender Chael Sonnen. In fact, the gangster from West Linn is something of a hometown hero. “I see Chael all the time. He’s always in downtown Portland, and he’s at all the local fights, always,” the singer says. “He’s such a big pinnacle of the Northwest fighting scene. Seriously, everyone knows Chael Sonnen. He’s a big fucking deal.”

The American Me front man has his eyes on a mixed martial arts career and plans to enter the cage sometime this year, while proudly wearing his band’s MMA-inspired walkout tee. “The reason I want to be a cage fighter is I want to fight, straight up,” he says. “It’s the primal rush I get. Fighting is a primitive instinct, and I’m addicted to that feeling.”

MUSIC FOR THE ANGRY SOUL

Tony Tataje’s first love is the intense, melodramatic music spewed out by his hardcore band American Me. Since their formation in 2006, the Portland troupe has released three full- length albums, with their latest—the appropriately entitled III— dropping last August through Rise Records.

III is a 10-track, scream-heavy collection of organized chaos, packed with contentious lyricism, adrenaline-induced me- lodicism, and bear-like growls of teenage angst. Notable songs include “Broken Moral Compass,” “Narcota Night Life,” and “Natural Enemy,” featuring Ian Fike of It Prevails. Also included is “Submissioner,” featuring Vincent Bennett from The Acacia Strain, which was inspired by the BJJ lifestyle.

For Tataje, III is his vocal version of MMA. “It’s another form of me venting when I’m not fighting,” he says. “The reason I write and sing is because I want to portray aggressive, pissed off music that stays real.”

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When UFC ring announcer Bruce Buffer gets on the microphone, you know IT’S TIME. With an unmatched passion and unmistakable voice, Buffer’s fighter introductions have become a staple of the UFC experience. We caught up with the maestro to get his thoughts on what the hectic world of the UFC looks like from his unique perspective.

Do you have any idea of the actual number of UFC cards you have announced?

I really don’t. I started at UFC 8, and we just wrapped up UFC 154. Over that time, I’ve only missed one event. When you add in the non-pay-per-view cards, like Fuel TV and FX, I have easily done close to 200 shows.

With multiple cards per month, how do you handle such a busy travel schedule?

I’m very passionate about what I do, but the travel required for this job takes some getting used to. For instance, I did the Atlantic City show in June, and in less than 24 hours, I was announcing fights in Brazil. I was basically in two different hemispheres doing two different UFC shows in less than 24 hours. I’m quite proud of that accomplishment, and with the help of Zuffa, I was able to get it done. It’s all about the travel.

You’ve announced some huge fights over the course of your career. Are there any that stick out in your mind more than others?

As soon as I think I’ve seen the greatest fight ever, something will come along and change that. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Randy Couture wars with Pedro Rizzo or Stephan Bonnar versus Forrest Griffin—it keeps getting more amazing. I can’t point out what I consider to be the greatest fight ever, but I can tell you I look at it as a privilege and an honor to be in the Octagon and announce these great warriors.

Are there any particular fighter names you look forward to calling?

I enjoy calling all the fighters. I really like to pay respect to these warriors because they train six to eight weeks—it’s their big night, and that’s what my phrase ‘It’s time’ is about. But if you ask me about the one that stands out, everybody always talks about the Dan Hardy introductions. We are like two singers going back and forth, getting in each other’s face, and doing a duet because he is mouthing back to me what I’m saying to him.

I know the Buffer 360 was specific to UFC 100, but will we ever see it again?

The Arial 360 is retired. I’ve already done three or four grounded 360s, with the last one coming at UFC 129 in Toronto where we had 55,000 people in attendance. I did a grounded 360, a 180, and even did an Arial 180 out of the blue corner. At that event, when I said, ‘Georges Rush St-Pierre,’ he came running out, and I hopped back and injured myself. I had an ankle injury from earlier that week, didn’t land correctly, and blew the ACL in my knee out. I didn’t get it operated on right away, and strangely enough, Georges injured his ACL months later, and we were both operated on by the same doctor. We even wound up together at the tail end of rehab. It’s kind of funny when you think about it.

How do you unwind after the chaos of an event has ended?

After the show is over, the first thing I do is go back to the hotel and change out of the monkey suit. I usually like to have a nice glass of wine to relax, then go out and have some fun. After returning from a show, I like to get into the water and do some surfing or chill out and catch up on my favorite TV shows.

You always seem to have several projects in motion outside of the cage. What is your latest endeavor?

I’m really excited about my Bruce Buffer ‘It’s Time’ application for iPhones. It’s an alarm clock and a reminder messages and a game. There are over 150 sayings, such as, ‘It’s time…to get your ass out of bed.’ There are other reminder messages you can use for everyday situations. You can have a lot of fun with it, and I made it really cheap [99¢]. I’m very excited about it, and the response has been great.

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Urijah Faber and Torque Sports & Performance kick the tires and light the fires for Operation Gratitude.

UFC featherweight Urijah Faber leaned into it. His opponent resisted briefly, then yielded—a feeling the former WEC Champion was used to imposing on objects in his way. This time, however, the object in question wasn’t a vicious MMA fighter, but a 600-pound custom chopper, donated to one lucky soldier by Operation Gratitude in partnership with SJO Foundation for Hope and Torque Sports & Performance. The bike rolled to a stop. Around it were the soldiers and volunteers who were gathered to assemble their 900,000th care package and deliver the bike to its new owner, Spc. Samuel Mancilla.

Spc. Mancilla is a motor transport operator who was assigned to the 1072nd Transportation Company, 378th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 10th Sustainment Brigade in Afghanistan. In August 2012, he was the recipient of the 800,000th care package, which included a portable DVD player, a digital camera, a web cam, a week-long vacation donated by long-time Operation Gratitude volunteer Shirley Landau, and, of course, the keys to a custom-built OCC motorcycle. He returned home from duty and was on hand December 15 for the unveiling of his custom motorcycle.

The custom “American Chopper” motorcycle has a Rolling Thunder frame, S&S 100ci polished EPA engine, a custom Torque paint job, and a primary cover with five authentic U.S. military coins (representing the 5 military branches) embedded on it with designs that pay tribute to the five branches of the U.S. military as well as Operation Gratitude volunteers.

On hand were more than 2,000 volunteers and military personnel, the California National Guard Brass, and celebrities such as Eric Estrada, Joe Mantegna, and John Cryer, as well as a handful of Playboy playmates and mixed martial artist Urijah Faber.

“The entire day at Operation Gratitude was a very humbling experience for us all,” says Scott Templeton, Managing Partner at Torque Sports & Performance. “Patriotism is alive and well in the U.S. One moment that stuck out was when Mr. Mike Reagan, the son of former President Ronald Reagan, wrapped up a few great stories about his father and then they fired the Torque chopper up and drove it up on the main stage. The recipient, Spc. Mancilla, along with his family, saw it for the first time and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.”

Faber echoes the sentiment of the day, saying, “It meant a lot to be part of Operation Gratitude. The military fights for our freedom and without them I wouldn’t be able to do what I do every day. I could tell it meant a lot to the families at the event and it felt great to give back. I would love to continue to be involved with Operation Gratitude next year and in the future.”

Operation Gratitude looks to ship its one millionth care package in 2013.

What is OPERATION GRATITUDE?

Operation Gratitude is a non-profit corporation out of Van Nuys, California, that has sent individually addressed care packages and personal letters to troops, their children, Veterans, and First Responders since 2003. Driven by hundreds of thousands of volunteers and donors who have a deep appreciation and gratitude for the sacrifices being made by our men and women in service, their goals are simple: to lift morale and bring smiles to service members’ faces. Judging by the expressions of those gathered at the special unveiling, it seems they are exceeding their goals.

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