Do you want to be a professional fighter?

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Advice from a veteran to a NEWB *FRAT*

From: Ray Elbe
Member Since: 5/12/03
Posts: 10305

So you are an MMA fighter?…Do you know how many people say they are an MMA fighter?!

So you say you want to fight in the UFC one day?…Do you know how many people want to fight in the UFC one day?

…I started fighting in 2002, a time when MMA wasn’t on SPIKE TV, and fighters like Forrest Griffin, Anderson Silva, and Cain Velasquez weren’t even in the UFC. Truth be told, the entire sport wasn’t even on TV…and you had to go to the “Adult Room” in most blockbusters (yea…not red box).

TUF NEWBS, Do me a favor and goggle “John McCain MMA” and you will get a better picture of what type of difficulties the sport was dealing with. Before Tapout was in Walmart (killing the MMA Clothing business), I remember SKYSKRAPE, PUNKASS, MASK and even MIKE “THE JOKER” GUYMON on the road at almost every show giving stickers, helping startup fighters with gear and cash, all while selling their stuff. There was a time, believe it or not…where ANYONE wearing a Tapout shirt was either someone I knew through training, was a friend of a mate, or bought their shirt at an event I was literally at.

There was also a time when “Being in the UFC” pretty much meant you were the best fighter in your gym, city, and maybe even state. When I was growing in the sport, a ”BJJ BLACK BELT” while not invincible, still had that belief to many fans. (We’ll forget Fabianho Iha ever happened) It was a big deal to be signed to the UFC, and even though people would laugh at the 2,000-2000 minimum fighter pay today, at the time it was a huge step up from the 500 flat plus hotel purse.

Nowadays, the UFC has grown. Despite recent fighter complaints about salaries, even fight purse has grown. To say it simply, the UFC has made more millionaires than any other company in MMA.
Back in the day, they use to hold an event every couple of months. To watch an event live, you really only had a few options, especially the British fans after BRAWL AT THE HALL …Australian fans–forget it. Elvis Sinosic beating Jeremy Horn was just about the biggest achievement your country would have for almost another 10 years.

With the UFC practically putting on a full road schedule that would make the WWE jealous, the need for more fighters is obvious. With the UFC now traveling globally to from China, Australia, Canada, Brazil, even Sweden…this sport has grown into a global ”phenomenon,” far from the “illegal in 27 days cockfighting” that Mcain was broadcasting. (Forget the fact that he loves some Budweiser and boxing)

So you train MMA, and now wanna fight in the UFC, but how do you make that happen?

The easy answer is get noticed. Unlike movie stars though, you aren’t going to get noticed bouncing at a strip club, or bartender in the club. (Sure you might meet some good contacts though…lol)
You need to develop a following, you need to develop your skill, and you need to keep winning while building your Rolodex.

How do I develop my skill?

Keep training. LOL, that’s the answer your coach will give however it is more complicated than that. Nowadays everyone wants to rush into MMA, and god forbid even PRO MMA. If you are serious about fighting in the UFC, and unless age is an issue, then you have to listen to me here. You Can’t Rush Perfection! Fighters that want to fight in the UFC, compete in other combat sports while they are refining their skills. Forget about Cain Velasquez wrestling at ASU, I’m talking about guys like Jacare doing the Mundials, Gilber Melendez competing in Grappler’s Quest, even Brandon Vera doing Muay Thai smoker fights with Ammy rules. Competing in other martial arts keeps your MMA record protected, while learning how to cut weight, deal with nerves, and learn from mistakes. The answer might even be a bit more difficult for you to see.

The birth of the super gym (and the manager) came about right at the time the UFC boomed. Guys quickly realized that they could no longer afford (read…not get a part time job) to train at their local gyms. As the level of competition improved in the UFC, and fighters truly learned the need to cross train, you saw powerhouses like Jackson’s Gym, ATT, MFS form. These gyms while open to the public, have private fight teams where athletes would fly in from around the world and use each other for quality training partner. While sad to say…Once a fighter gets to a UFC level, they usually need to look to partner with one of the premier gyms, as the days of staying with one trainer for life–seem to have disappeared once people stopped saying I train Martial Arts, and replaced it with “Sup Bro, I do UFC.” Now I’m not saying you can’t be loyal, the fact is unless your trainer has access to “UFC Level” training partners, you are going to have a tough time making it…and an even tougher time…keeping it in the UFC. I still remember how big of a decision it was when Paul Daley came across the pond to train with Matt Hume, and Dan Hardy followed–I do not think that is a coincidence how they became ambassadors for UK MMA. Many of the Mega Gyms’ also work with the Mega Agents–While you don’t have to HAVE Monte Cox call Joe Silva for you…it certainly doesn’t hurt!!

Okay, so I agree, I’m going to focus on my training, start training with legit instructors, who already have a reputation with UFC fighters. Your skill progresses, you’ve learned how to master your diet, and you’re starting to compete.

How do I get famous?

For some fighters, the idea of getting famous was more important than actually developing as a martial artist or competing in the UFC. If you don’t know who Manny Reyes is…do yourself a favor and catch up on Hermes Franca (that’s another interesting read). There is a difference between ”famous” and ”infamous.” If you are a fighter and you don’t know how to use social media, you are taking the long road to creating a following. Social Media is such a powerful tool that the UFC has even gotten to the point where they are handing out bonuses for usage…and even firing for misuses.

Get on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube. Heck I’m even on Instagram, Pintrest, and Vine. Get a blog. You see people get famous nowadays simply by having a popular blog. I learned this firsthand when Perez Hilton covered my injury (ouch). Use your blog to target an audience, interact with fans, make questions, post the website to your social media, use Youtube to get people excited about your training. Once you actually start competing, use the social media–AND THE BLOG to promote your progress. One little tip I’ve learned- Photos, Design Work, Blogs, Videos, and other things like that are similar to a mechanic or a tattoo artist. You may have a ”homie who will hook it up for a night out”–but you all know friends with a bad tattoo on their body, or a car that cost more to fix because of the ”hook up.”

With marketing, Don’t be afraid to “invest” in your own ”Brand.” Once you have developed a following it will be easier to find sponsors, and sell fight tickets and other merchandise, to off set your income between fights. While everyone wants to fight in the UFC, the truth is, everyone wants to make a living doing MMA and not ”go get a real job.” Bellator, ONE FC, WSoF, UFC, there are not many options for a fighter to collect an income only from fighting, and unless you are actually on a televised bout, the idea of getting “sponsors” (especially monthly) is a bit like wishing to be Michael Jordan and dropping out of highschool to play basketball all day.

Okay I get Facebook, I get Twitter, but do I REALLY need a blog? I mean the blog is my facebook and twitter.

Yes! You really need a blog. And if you speak anything other than AMURIKAN…Try to blog in English, unfortunately you want to appeal to as many people who can read as possible, and if you limit your blog to Korean, Arabic, or Swedish, your losing a BIG AUDIENCE.

Posting on Facebook and Twitter is good, but you are making them money daily by keeping people looking at their website, their advertisements, their brand…while seeing yours. A blog is a custom experience. YOU CAN SHAPE your viewer’s experience. (Hmmm…read sponsors) With a bit of investment, you can eventually get a blog that will steal traffic from Facebook and Twitter, and redirect it to you!

So I’m competing. I have a blog. How do I build my Rolodex?

While the MMA community is large, most of the guys are still very accessible. If you start attending events, you will quickly build a network. Invest in some business cards which have all of your contact details, and always have some with you). When you get a business card…FOLLOW UP!! Don’t wait for someone to call you, especially if YOU ARE ASKING THEM for something.

Now that you’re competing, and blogging your competitions, continue investing with photos and videos.

Get a highlight video!

Making a simple 2:30-3minute video of yourself is an easy way to get your name in the market. If you’re only grappling, put that video together, competing in amateur MMA use that, already fighting on the local circuit use that! You can always put up new videos, which is only going to help drive content to your social media and blog entries.

So now you have a good following, and you’ve got enough footage to put together a highlight video, but what is the next step?


I guess this could have summed up the entire “I want to fight in the UFC” thing…however if you’re Eddie Alvarez, you might not agree. Winning is important. Not so much as an amateur, and not so much when you are competing in other combat sports, but if your goal is to compete in the UFC, you have to protect your record.

It’s disappointing to say, but early in my own career I took dumb fights, cause I was an ”ANYWHERE, ANYTIME, ANYPLACE” type of fighter. (We were called the DAWG POUND)…lol. Because I had that attitude, I suffered a lot of losses early in my career in fights the promoters were using to build their fighters…some of whom went onto successful UFC careers. Just for fun, go check out Mike Tyson’s record, and see how many pro fights this OLYMPIAN had before fighting a guy with a winning record 🙂

There are basically 2 ways to get into the UFC nowadays.

1. Stay Undefeated. While you don’t have to stay completely unbeaten, the truth is the UFC rarely brings anyone to dance in the big show for the first time if they have a win/loss ratio below 85%. What happened in boxing, is happening in MMA. You are going to see guys ”groomed” for the big show fighting on the local circuit looking for opponents that will showcase specifics for their highlight reels. If you can stay undefeated enough, chances are good that you will get a call.

2. Beat someone good. Okay, sometimes fighters make a name for themselves, not by having an undefeated record, but by bringing the fight every time and beating a few tough guys along the way. While Nuri Shakur never made it into the UFC, I often wonder if he would have tried route 1 first, what he would have done. If you have a following, built ring confidence, and your record is still intact and you still haven’t received a call from the UFC, then it is time to step up the competition. Start looking at matchups (because that’s what makes fights) against opponents who have recently competed on one of the larger shows that you feel you confident against. Look for guys nearing the end of their career or seem to have lost their confidence somewhere along the way. Somewhere Roger Huerta is upset at this…

Once you get into the UFC, you have to keep winning. No gimmick (Someone call Kimbo is now upset) is going to keep you in the league. While the UFC does have some clear loyalty lines, the end of the day is the end of the day, and guys like Leonard Garcia and Jon Fitch are both in the same position.

Even if you do all of these things, a bit of luck still plays into the equation. You can’t control the UFC’s schedule or desired fighter demographics. You can’t predict injuries and last minute phone calls, or any of the other variables that only a true veteran of the sport of MMA can explain.

I guess the next question is…
If I’m not in the UFC can I make a living?

The UFC, is the premier league. No doubt about that. You probably will never be a millionaire outside the UFC, however for a certain level of fighter, it pays more to be a BIG FISH IN A SMALL POND, instead of a SMALL fish inside THE WORLDS LARGEST FAWKING FISHING HOLE.

Even outside of Bellator, One FC, WSOF, M-1, and several of the other smaller organizations, it is possible to earn enough of an income to fight professionally, however I’ll admit money will be tight, and often promoters will try to bargain you down to almost nothing in fight purse.

I explain to guys on the smaller shows (promoters will kill me for this)…but if they want you to fight a ”UFC Level” guy, then the pay needs to at the very least match the UFC minimum–I mean you are going to be their main event, the fight in which their tickets are sold. If the promoter can’t pay you a decent wage to face a legit guy, then you are not ducking anyone, you are simply refusing to pimp yourself. If they can’t afford you for that fight, they will attempt to accommodate you with another matchup if they really want you on the card for something other than an “opponent.”

You can’t get Sponsors if you are not a BRAND.

If you can develop enough of a following that people know you are ”A UFC FIGHTER” (read MMA fighter)–without you or your friends telling them, then you have a product.

I always get a kick out of guys who email me a week before a fight and asking for sponsors. I laugh when I go to an event and see a guy wearing five different MMA clothing company names (all start up companies) sewn onto a pair of TAPOUT SHORTS.

The reality of it is, most sponsorship is not going to show a return on their investment. Sure 1500 people are coming to watch you fight, and another 600 will see it stream over the internet, but how many of them are going to come down and buy something? This is where building yourself into a brand helps.

This is where having a blog and using social media and a Rolodex of contacts helps. Bloggers make thousands of dollars a month selling advertisement space, youtube channels are doing the same thing. Use those social media opportunities and the contacts you make to bring in multiple streams of income. Sell privates, sell Tshirts, do TV, write for magazines, commentate fights, give Seminars, help people with fitness, endorse a supplement brand, literally…GET CREATIVE AND HUSTLE.

When you work for yourself it’s a hustle 100% of the time…and I got news for some of the NEWBS, even when you “work for the UFC”–you are working for yourself.

1. Gain fight experience and become well rounded, travel if need be.
2. Study social media, utilize a blog, develop other creative marketing ideas.
3. Select smart fights, and realize you are working for yourself, the promoters hire you!
4. Network! Network! Network! You never know…that guy in college might be a prince of Abu Dhabi and want to make ADCC the HOME OF BJJ.

While I have never actually “fought in the UFC”–>Losing to Damarques Johnson to get into the house during TUF 9, I have made this my job for sometime. I’ve competed in over 10 different countries, and have been on covers of magazine, even making it to sports center!