MMA has given me so much.
If you've paid attention to Fightful lately, you'll notice that we've made a big transition in bringing the great Shakiel Mahjouri in to lead the MMA side, along with David Tees' continuous great work. We've had great names like Showdown Joe Ferraro, James Lynch, Elias Theodorou, Sean Pierson, Frank Trigg, Matt Riddle and others contribute to our MMA side, but were also very young in our time. Once daily podcasts turned into occasional ten minute rundowns, and the sport deserved better from us and our coverage. Fightful has become more known for pro wrestling over the last few years, and coming to terms with the fact that I didn't have the time to give MMA the attention that it deserved. Especially considering I'd given so much time -- and my body to it over the last 11 years.
I got into MMA after a couple of kickboxing camps in my early 20s. I didn't know it yet, but at my second practice, I cracked a vertebrae, and didn't get it taken care of. It'd heal on its own, and because of that, I've dealt with spinal and nerve issues ever since. My body has never quite been the same, but it's gotten me through some good and bad moments.
Falling in love with MMA was something else. I lived with my cousin in 2004, and he ordered a PRIDE FC "Best Of" PPV on DirecTV. A lifelong pro wrestling fan, I'd watched the occasional Liddell fight, and UFC 5, but seeing Quinton "Rampage" Jackson actually powerbomb people, and Mirko CroCop use an honest to god finishing move? That's it. Sign me up. Watching Kevin Randleman dump Fedor on his head didn't hurt either.
I never considered MMA or pro wrestling as a career, but I wanted to learn. Deep down, I knew I'd get into the coverage of both sports, and felt like I owed it to them and the athletes I was covering to do my best to know about the arts themselves. Just being on the mats can be a rollercoaster themselves.
There's nothing more humbling or rewarding than failing or succeeding, but knowing there are adjustments or improvements you can make immediately after and change the outcome. That was every wrestling practice, every sparring session, every class. I had the good fortune of learning from coaches Brandon McCleese and Jay Grooms, the latter of which became my tag team partner during my pro wrestling days. Competing alongside the same people that you're bleeding, sweating, and working with every week, albeit in an individual sport is quite the dichotomy. Along the way during my training days, I was able to get time in with Bellator and UFC fighters, eventual WWE wrestlers, UWFI veterans, and Billy Robinson. In even an abbreviated time, learning from Robinson was life-changing and one of the highlights of my life.
I jumped into coverage in 2010, and I've covered every UFC PPV and probably 99 percent of their events in some form or fashion since. I've often said that nothing makes a hardcore MMA fan a casual fan quite like covering it. Hey wrestling fans, you know how we complain about seven hour WrestleMania shows? That's every Saturday in the UFC. Still, nothing quite matches the feeling of a big fight. The butterfly, the nerves, even when you have no vested interest, no "favorite." Only the mounting nerves and anticipation of one competitor besting the other.
Even beyond that, I've been so fortunate to learn other aspects of the MMA world. I worked for Absolute Action MMA, Premier MMA Championship and Empire Fight Series, and if asked, I'll continue to. Some of the same people that I mentioned training with were in the cage as I called their first fights, their title fights, their last fights on commentary. I was able to watch them grow into and eventually out of the sport. Promoter Billy Donovan gave me the opportunity to tape fists, coordinate fights, do play-by-play, color commentary, run a website, and try my hand at various aspects of MMA.
When I started to manage the Kraken Fight Team out of our hometown Iron Fist Gym, he booked those fighters, too. We held incredibly illegal open house shows in order to attract people to take MMA and catch wrestling classes, and slowly saw that gym go from a local MMA powerhouse to more of a weightlifting gym. As my dedication to MMA wavered, so did that of so many members of our team. I was able to learn how to manage a fighter, run social media, do advertising campaigns, produce videos, and so much of what I now do at Fightful, long before anyone ever saw or heard me speak into a microphone. I got punched a lot, too. That wasn't nearly as fun.
My coverage of MMA itself had far less highlights than the actual experiences of in-person work. Dozens of interviews that never really gained traction, as MMA is admittedly harder to gain traction in than wrestling, where my eggs had long been basketed (that's not a word) already. I had a great time doing podcasts with Joe Ferraro, and not such a great time getting used to "MMA Standard Time" -- a running joke among many Fightful staff about how nothing in MMA but the fights ever starts on time.
I heard Daniel Cormier's "Right Above It" at UFC 252 on Saturday night and things came full circle for me and feelings and emotions came rushing back. It was the intro theme -- in which I didn't pick! -- for the Cage Passion Radio Podcast, the first I was ever a part of. As it turns out, I've made a pretty good living with the podcasting thing since then. Daniel Cormier's Strikeforce Challengers debut was the same week that I decided to train MMA full-time, and his last fight was the last show that I'm "required" to cover so to speak. Of course I'm being melodramatic. I'll still contribute on the MMA side, though that won't be as regular as previously. I'll never abandon that, and never stop loving the sport. My emotions are largely based on a routine that will be broken, and by choice at that. I'm not obligated to be anchored to my desk for 7-10 hours every Saturday doing something that I love.
MMA has given me so much. I hope that I can still give back to it.
It's not you, MMA, it's me.