I'm not sure how this article about Strikeforce matchmaker Rich Chou flew under the radar, but it did. What's notable right away from reading the article is how Chou (by design, choice or order) apes Strikeforce President Scott Coker's outreach style on public visibility. That is, both seem to covet working behind the scenes doing grunt work without much public acclaim or justification. There is obviously a strong business case to be made this is not the optimal way to operate in fight promotion. A little public explanation can go a long way towards branding and consumer edification. Despite it's downsides, though, it's my personal preference.
Still, Chou seems like an interesting character:
Chou, who played Division 1 collegiate volleyball at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., is a former member of the Guam national volleyball team as well as the recipient of the Most Valuable Player award in both the Interscholastic Basketball and Volleyball Leagues as a senior in 1997.
Chou eventually began fighting himself in 2002, but moved on to helping JD Penn promote Rumble on the Rock events in 2004. From there he was able to land a gig at the now defunct Elite XC:
But life wasn't always a success for the 31-year-old. Prior to joining Strikeforce, Chou was working with another professional MMA organization called Elite Xtreme Combat. The company folded in October 2008 and Chou was left without a job.
"I took some time off and did some soul searching," he said.
For the first time in several years, Chou was unemployed and left pondering which direction to head. Rock bottom is what he called that point in his life because the sport he loved so much, left him with nothing.
In spite of losing his job, his good reputation within the industry got the attention of Strikeforce's chief executive officer Scott Coker. Coker then brought Chou aboard to fulfill the critical role of matchmaker.
"Scott really helped me take my career to the next level," Chou said.
Coker said he reached out to Chou because the two had previously worked together when Strikeforce partnered with EliteXC to produce two MMA events.
"He stood out because he was doing most of the work," Coker said via telephone from San Jose.
Coker goes on to say in the article that approximately 50 to 75 people apply for jobs at Strikeforce every month, but that his expectations for Chou are high enough for him to have a linear plan. "Hopefully he can run Strikeforce one day and I can step down".
If I had a criticism of the article, it'd be that the piece doesn't go much into Strikeforce's internal matchmaking strategy or what Chou's day-to-day activities truly look like. There are only general details that explain little. That could be by design, but there is a deflation when a biopic doesn't do much to explain a special figure's trade.
The major criticisms of Strikeforce's matchmaking tend to be that the fights often are squash matches or poor qualifiers for title shot progression. While that is sometimes true, it's also a matter out of Chou's control. UFC matchmaker's ability to put on consistently great fights is a function of his exceptional talent as well as access to deep resources. Chou does not have the same latitude. If fights for 145lbs women's champion Cyborg Santos look like squash matches, it's likely that finding adequate opposition is exceedingly difficult. And while fans would prefer to see undercard fights, Strikeforce is trying to control costs that aren't necessary for their television deal.
More importantly, Chou seems to have Coker's utmost confidence. Little is known about Chou or how he works with Coker. We also don't know what relationship Chou has with Showtime. Whatever shortcomings there are to the Strikeforce product, internally Chou appears to be pushing the company in a direction that partners and executive leadership find favorable.
Another major takeaway for me is how Coker has identified Chou as a successor, although that could change between now and when he retires. By contrast, I've always wondered what's next for Dana White. White has years if not decades left in him to promote, but ultimately he'll have to step down. The implications of his absence from the sport are considerable and in no small part tied to how his public identity is a centerpiece for the UFC's brand and media visibility. So what happens when he's gone? It's hard to envision anyone able to take his place, but is anyone being groomed for the position? It's comforting knowing White is firmly in control of the UFC's universe, but it's disconcerting that we don't really know who may be next in the event of retirement or (god forbid) tragedy.
The advantage to Coker's laissez-faire approach is that allows for a competent successor to more easily take his place. Requirements of brash media wrangling aren't necessary. White and the UFC do not have the same luxury. One wonders just have much of the UFC's popularity is sustainable without White. I guess we shall find out eventually.