Fight! Full Article on UG

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Story Behind MMA’s Most Unique Website
by Matt Burosh

What do a former IT computer geek, a man who once taught at a traditional martial arts studio in Massachusetts, and a random 10-year-old chasing highflying, karate-chopping dreams in the mid-1980s have in common? Not much, aside from the fact that today they happen to make up the trio who own and operate — an all-encompassing website dedicated to everything MMA, including a tight-knit discussion forum that just might be the best-kept secret on the Internet.

The scene for this since-blossomed partnership was first set into motion on the East Coast of the United States in Massachusetts, nearly 2,000 miles away from, and more than 10 years prior to, the arrival of MMA on American soil via UFC 1. But the real story started much before then …


“My Pop is an advisor on resettlement [projects],” says Kirik Jenness, president and co-founder of, in reference to his father’s career that saw the Jenness family relocating all over the world 13 times in the first 18 years of Kirik’s life. It was the well-traveled youth of Kirik that would spark his interest in martial arts when his family briefl y settled in the South African kingdom of Lesotho. It was there that he started training in Taekwondo under Mr. Mogg Yoon. “One night they showed Enter the Dragon at the Holiday Inn, and I never wanted to do anything else since,” Kirik recalls. The year was 1973.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Gabe Smallman, the man who would eventually co-establish and code the original website, was literally just being born. It wouldn’t be until the age of 10 that he would wind up in a traditional martial arts school in Massachusetts — the school that Kirik Jenness was teaching at after returning stateside and graduating college.

“I met Kirik when I was in fourth grade, when I ended up at the door of his martial arts studio,” Gabe remembers. “I trained in what would be called ‘traditional martial arts’ with him for a number of years.” Ten years, to be exact, is the amount of time Gabe would train under Kirik before the bombshell of BJJ and MMA would explode in Denver and the fallout would change everyone in that little New England martial arts school forever.

During this time, future minority partner of, Chris Palmquist — then about 11 years old — was in sixth grade, while his future business partners were preparing to purchase and view a new, out-of-theordinary fighting tournament on pay-per-view: The Ultimate Fighting Championship. The date was November 12, 1993.


“We all gathered in a friend’s condo [to watch UFC 1]. It cost $14.95,” Kirik laughs. “Afterward, it took a few months, but [UFC 1] was an awakening.” Undoubtedly, the scattered seeds of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu upon fertile American minds would eventually sprout the idea of an MMA website within the mind of Kirik Jenness and a few of his students.

“The week after UFC 1, we bought Rorion Gracie’s [Jiu-Jitsu] tapes, and, having a memory so poor I can hide my own Easter eggs, I took notes on the tapes, and soon I fi gured I would write a book on MMA of my own,” Kirik explains. “Two years later I fi nished Fighter’s Notebook, but the entire market for the book, I thought, was the 14 guys training with me.” Partially motivated by the success of friend Dave Roy’s BJJ “Technique of the Week” newsletter on AOL and the goading of others, Kirik eventually gave the go-ahead and cautiously tiptoed into the land of the Internet.

It was 1998, and Kirik and Gabe had offi cially launched a website that, today, has been active in the cutthroat business of online MMA coverage since a time when there were almost no other fi gurative throats to cut.

“[The website] started as a necessity,” says Gabe, who admittedly begged to be in charge of designing the original site, then called, before changing to, and finally,, years later. “There were no BJJ schools around, so we built the site to communicate with people interested in learning that stuff. Around then we also found an online forum about self-defense and Kirik said, ‘I wish we had something like this,’ so I built a little forum from a sample code I got out of a book and it kept growing.”

The foundation for what would come to be known as “The UnderGround” had been laid, and many yet-to-be famous fighters began flocking to the forum, making it one of the original
social networking sites with an MMA twist.

Meanwhile, a new millennium had begun. Advances had been made in both MMA and computer technology, and a generation of males who’d been understandably too busy playing Nintendo to notice UFC 1 or the explosion of the Internet had begun maturing and becoming acutely aware of both. Chris Palmquist was one of these men, and he soon found his niche within the North American Grappling Association (NAGA), not just as a competitor and occasional referee, but as a webmaster to the NAGA website — all things that would have direct linkage to his future career with

“Kirik has always reffed matches at NAGA for [owner] Kipp Kollar, and I competed in NAGA and reffed too,” Chris says. “We also kept running into each other at the local MMA scene, and so we all started hanging out.” Eventually, this developing friendship would segue into the triad that now makes up

“Kirik mentioned that he had an editor quit the company, and I said that I could help him,” Chris explains. “I started out managing the writers, which naturally led to ad sales and then having a hand in some bigger dealings of the site — and this was all still in addition to my regular job in IT.”

But Chris inadvertently would wind up losing that job after plans to sell to a Las Vegas media company fell through. Before it went belly-up, the business deal had promised full-time employment to Chris — something that had prompted him to quit his job for something that never ended up materializing. As a result, Kirik and Gabe would eventually name Chris the minority partner in the website and The Three Musketeers of online MMA informatics would officially unite.


Aside from offering a mix of news, easy-to-find listings of countrywide grappling and MMA events, an online gear shop, and a fighter database that serves as the official registry to the Association of Boxing Commissions (Kirik’s admitted “life’s work”), the true gem of is its offering of what is perhaps the most unique MMA discussion forum online today — The UnderGround.

Despite the upsurge of MMA popularity, The UnderGround dwells somewhat quietly just below the surface of the mainstream — a surprising fact, given that more than 50 well-known MMA fighters and personalities are participating members, including co-founder of Zuffa, Lorenzo Fertitta, who reportedly has set as his home page. So what brought these celebrities to the “UG,” as it is commonly referred?

“[It happened] because early MMA was a small community and all the fi ghters and trainers knew each other, so when they’d get online, they’d always go to the same place,” Chris offers. Simply put, a lot of fi ghters joined the UG before they were considered world famous, not after. But today, as word continues to travel, the UG welcomes a growing number of well-known fighters every year.

“A lot of fighters in this sport love to visit the UG and interact with the fans,” Kirik says before jovially explaining how mixing celebrities with spectators in a forum can prove to be a double-edged sword at times. “[Some] of the fighter’s wish some of the more frenzied of the UG members would duplicate the closing scenes of [the movies] The Departed, or Reservoir Dogs, either one.”

Of course, Kirik is joking about well-placed pistol head shots to the types of characters who intentionally cause ruckus in a community of like-minded people. Unfortunately, troublemakers — “trolls,” as they are called online — sometimes find the ability to mouth off to a fighter from the safety of their keyboards as being too tempting to resist. But Kirik has a solution for dealing with those who cannot remain civil with the celebrities who post there, even in a disagreement. “I have banned thousands of members who couldn’t post about a fi ghter as if they were speaking to that fighter’s face,” Kirik says, displaying an honor that is implicit in the site. “I have tried for over a decade to improve a place that the sport’s most passionate devotees, fans and fi ghters alike, are comfortable with.”

And it is in this collective attitude of Kirik Jenness, Gabe Smallman, and Chris Palmquist, that — and The UnderGround in particular — has essentially become not just a special place to fans, but also its own recognizable brand name after having remained a veritable constant throughout the URL identity crisis that once plagued in its early days.

And it will be the same continuing effort of these three men that will ensure that the site that has grown into a budding online behemoth will unendingly strive to be synonymous with the principles of passion, respect, and excitement that all dwell within the sport for which it was spawned.