Gorgeous George on what MMA needs
This is number eighty-four in Jack’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature, George Garcia. If you are a fan of MMA podcasts, you know Garcia as “Gorgeous” George. GG is the co-host of the very successful MMA podcast, MMAJunkie.com Radio. The show has been around since 2009 and it is now past 1500 episodes and counting. At several hours per episode, recorded and broadcast live most days between Monday and Friday, there are very few people in MMA that GG and his co-host and brother, Brian “Goze” Garcia, have not interviewed. Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: We MMA fans of a “slightly older” generation have winding roads that led us to love the sport. What were the roads that led to you becoming an MMA fan?
George Garcia: It was pretty simple for me. Whenever a fight broke out, I watched. Whether it was at the club, a ballgame, or an Easter Sunday picnic, and yes that happened, I was front row. Maybe because I was never a fighter I was just drawn to watching guys and chicks that were nutty enough to throw down for whatever reasons. So when I heard that there was going to be a pay-per-view that was going to tell us which martial art was the dominant martial art, I was intrigued. From the first event on, I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough, especially when I saw that a skinny, undersized Latino was blasting fools way bigger than him.
JB: You have a great voice, a calm and easy manner, and you’re obviously a talented conversationalist. Growing up, who were some of your influences from television or radio, and how did you eventually become involved in broadcasting?
GG: When was I growing up, I wanted to be an athlete. Who didn’t, right? When it became apparent, at about the age of eight, that I wasn’t going to be drafted by any pro team in any sport, I just became a hardcore sports fan. I knew that I wanted to be involved in sports in one way or another, but, frankly, I didn’t like the way journalists were treated by some athletes. But I clearly remember certain voices that really got me excited about the sports I was watching – Keith Jackson’s call of a college football game, Howard Cosell’s halftime highlights on Monday Night Football, Chick Hearn’s play-by-play of my beloved Lakers, and so on. Now they weren’t influences for me because I had never thought about covering sports until I got into MMA, but they made me feel a connection to a certain sport or team. I’m nowhere near their levels because I’m too monotone, but I feel like our radio show is the connection that fans have to MMA. In other words, they can count on us to bring them a show 250 times a year, that show will be entertaining, and we’ll deliver great MMA guests to give them their daily fix.
JB: Before there was Junkie Radio, your award-winning podcast, it was TAGG Radio, named for you, “Gorgeous” George Garcia, and your co-host, Frank Trigg. How did you originally meet the legendary fighter, Trigg, and how did that collaboration work out in retrospect?
GG: Yes, TAGG – Trigg And Gorgeous George – Radio came along before MMAjunkie.com Radio. But before all that, I was a fan of the MMA radio show, “Sound-Off,” on MMA Weekly. It was hosted by the late great Ryan Bennett and MMA fighter Frank Trigg. I loved their site and I always saw a blurb or link about the show, but I ignored it at first. One day I caught the show live, and I didn’t miss an episode after that. They had all the great fighters on and it was a daily show. You just couldn’t beat it. They would invite fans to call in and “sound off” and say what was on their mind. That was right up my alley because I used to call into the Jim Rome show in the early 90’s. After Ryan passed away in May of 2006, and after a few months of mourning, a group of us regular listeners were hoping that MMA Weekly would continue with their show. I believe that there was an attempt to continue the show with Trigg, but schedules didn’t work out. So they went with Damon Martin and Jeff Cain. They did a great job. Ryan would have been proud of them.
My brother, “Goze,” and I had met Trigg through Bennett and the radio show, and about six months after Bennett’s passing, Trigg wanted to do MMA radio again. My brother suggested I co-host with Trigg, and Trigg was receptive to the idea. That surprised me because I didn’t have any broadcasting experience. I think because he didn’t have any experience when he started with Bennett, and Bennett brought him along as a mentor, that he was confident he could do the same with us. I was working in corporate America and playing internet poker at the time, but I wasn’t happy. I realized that this would be something I enjoyed doing and therefore it was worth trying. “Can’t steal second base if you don’t take your foot off first base.” Goze also had a huge following on MySpace through his blog, and he was brought on as a producer. In the first week, it became apparent that Goze needed to be a regular co-host, and not just a producer, because he was a funny bastard right out of the gate. Plus it was fun to hear him and Trigg argue.
JB: You and Goze have built something lasting and special. You haven’t done it alone though. Along with regular contributor, John Morgan, who have been some of the key people that have helped to make the show so successful?
GG: Man, I got a few people to give credit to. Feel free to strike up the band if I drag this on. Jeff Cain, from MMA Weekly, guest co-hosted early on and also advised me whenever we had questions. Fortunately, Dann Stupp, from MMAjunkie.com, liked our interviews and felt we could work together to provide content to their site. He also saved us when TAGG Radio was slowly drowning. That relationship with Junkie was huge for us. We were really close to throwing in the towel. John Morgan started out as a guy who recapped our interviews after he was done with his full-time job in the restaurant business. He then became a co-host when he moved out to Las Vegas and joined MMAjunkie.com full-time. Lately though, he can’t come in as much because he travels a lot and now has a kid.
But going back to Trigg, without him, we don’t even get into the business. He advised us as well. There are also our dedicated listeners, and our great callers, who are a huge part of our show. And there have been frequent co-hosts like Marc Laimon, Joey Varner, Stitch Duran, King Mo, Mike Dolce, Ulysses Gomez, Rob Cardenas, and Joey Oddessa. And a young lady named “Jenny” helped us out tremendously for about four years too.
I could never forget Mandalay Bay for allowing us knuckleheads to be their main tenant in their Sports Book studio since 2009. And I have to thank our partners at Fight Now TV for putting us on TV back in 2011.
But the main glue has been Goze. He’s the reason I’m still here. When I wanted to throw in the towel, he grabbed my arm and stopped me from doing so. Together, we explored new ideas to stay afloat. When I’m having a bad day, he picks me up in one way or another. He helps me schedule a guest or takes over a task that’s driving me nuts. I’d seriously be working somewhere else and being miserable or possibly ruining my life.
JB: Of the many interviews that you have conducted, either in-studio in Las Vegas or on the phone or otherwise, what were some of the ones that stand out to you the most and why?
GG: Anytime Wanderlei Silva comes to our studio, it’s a blast. Same goes for B.J. Penn. Dana White was golden too. He was here for about 90 minutes and he tweeted that he would be giving away tickets at our studio. To this day, I don’t ever think I’ve seen Dana do an interview longer than the one he did for us. It was a mob scene.
When we went and did the show on the road, it was special to talk to the Emelianenko Brothers. And there was Couture, Liddell, GSP, Aldo, Cain, and, believe it or not, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Piper was on our show once and it went three hours long! The list goes on and on – JDS, Urijah Faber, Bas Rutten, Johny Hendricks, Shogun. Our studio really is really magnetic. It draws the best out of our guests. There have also been MMA notables like Mauro Ranallo, Michael Schiavello, Chuck Zito, Burt Watson, and many others who have given us hours of entertainment over the years.
JB: What do you think works about the format of the show from your guests’ perspectives, and have there been any particular fighters that have eluded you and you are still hoping for the opportunity to interview?
GG: Well, we’re in a proper studio that’s in a great location. And we’ve been doing this for a long time. Mandalay Bay hosts UFC events, UFC Fan Expos and they host lots of conventions that bring an abundance of possible guests our way. It’s a world-class resort that brings many potential guests our way even when they are in town for their own personal vacations. Once they come in and meet us, it changes the dynamic and strengthens our relationships for future bookings. Plus, they take calls from knowledgeable fans and our guests really like that part. It doesn’t hurt that we’re part of the “Junkie” brand and, of course, USA TODAY Sports too, which means great exposure. So even twonks like Goze and me have some credibility now. Fighters, managers, promoters, etcetera know that they can trust us to conduct a good interview. We’re fair and we also keep it loose. So in the end, it’s just a conversation. There are still a lot of guys that we haven’t had on the show that I’d really like to get on. Rickson Gracie and Josh Koscheck are just two that I can think of.
JB: An important part of your show is the involvement of fans calling in, interacting online, or even visiting the studio. What have ultimately been some of the pros and cons of having a live show that involves the fans?
GG: The pros are that there is a bit of a rush when doing a live show vs. a pre-recorded one. Early on, we’d be in a state of panic if a guest was late or no-showed us. Now we just keep calm and the show goes on. We expect the unexpected. When a show goes off without a hitch, it’s pretty cool but nowhere near as fun as when we have to improvise, make decisions on the fly, throw each other under the bus, and just “wing it.” We’re only a two-man team about 95% of the time, but we get it done. We have a great editorial team that listens and feeds us current notes about any pertinent topics being discussed, and we have great callers that contribute tremendously. I believe that’s what MMA fans want, an immediate response.
The only con would be a rogue caller. But it rarely happens, and when it does, we just move onto the next caller. It really doesn’t faze us.
JB: You have a great vantage point for some of the UFC’s biggest events, living and working in Las Vegas. What have been some of the most memorable events that you have witnessed in person?
GG: Yeah, living in Vegas doesn’t suck if you’re a combat sports fan. I’ve seen tons of boxing, Muay Thai, BJJ tournaments, and even some pro wrasslin’. But in MMA, the moments that stand out are Weidman upsetting Silva, Gomi vs. Diaz in Pride, and Cruz vs. Benavidez 2 in WEC. I remember seeing Roy Nelson KO’ing guys in the IFL too. I was at a Holyfield vs. Bowe fight back in the day. And I recently went to Mayweather vs. Garcia. Wow, what an experience! Bigfoot’s KO of Overeem was epic. Tito vs. Vitor, TUF Finales, there are too many. The thing is that I have memories of these events as spectacular waves of emotion – whether it was a specific KO, a whole event, or even the sick-to-your-stomach feeling because someone you were rooting for just lost or was seriously hurt. I also recall going to a WrestleMania and being pissed off cause there was this big pillar that blocked a lot of our view. I couldn’t tell you much about the matches because I was seething, but I laugh now.
JB: Many fans and fighters have “pet” issues or concerns when it comes to the sport of MMA, and you are clearly very invested in the sport’s growth and well-being. What are the issues or concerns that you have with the sport?
GG: I think fans need to appreciate the athletes more for the hard work they put in and learn to be just that, fans. Stick with your guy. Or if you root for a gym or team, then back them. And athletes need to grow a little thicker skin. Fans paid their money and you had a bad night? That’s right, they can boo. When it gets personal between both sides, it sucks though. Also, embrace the controversy. Stop looking for humans to be perfect. It’s what contributes to the unpredictability of MMA. The fights happen too fast for any of us not to miss something. It’s not only a part of MMA and sports, it’s life too. I firmly believe that if you prepare, work hard, execute, and play by the rules, you won’t be involved in too much controversy anyway.
JB: Last question, George, and thanks for taking the time to do this. In the remainder of 2013 alone, there are some fantastic fights scheduled. What are the ones that you are most excited for, and what are some hypothetical matchups that you really want to see happen?
GG: I’m looking forward to Cain vs. JDS 3 (and this is a matchup which will go to a pentalogy, by the way, and so will Johnson vs. Benavidez), Weidman vs. Silva 2, GSP vs. Hendricks, and Chandler vs. Alvarez 2. As for hypothetical matchups, I like Aldo vs. Pettis at 45 or 55, Cain vs. JDS in Azteca Stadium, GSP vs. Anderson in Cowboys Stadium, and Sonnen vs. Wand in a hardcore match in a Brazilian soccer stadium that’s filled with hooligans. However, Chael will be allowed to enter in a Popemobile.
Visit JackJohnBrownMMA on Facebook for links to all of Jack’s past interviews. Previous interviews include: Dan Hardy, Rose Namajunas, Joe Lauzon, War Machine, Tom Lawlor, Bas Rutten, Chris Leben, Phil Baroni, Julie Kedzie, Michael Bisping, Duane Ludwig, Sara McMann, Matt Lindland, Duke Roufus, Pat Miletich, Jens Pulver, Dan Severn, Nate Quarry, Ken Shamrock, Matt Serra, Jeremy Horn, Ray Longo, Dennis Hallman, and dozens more.