Jon Jones was once unknown, but by word of mouth and proper promotion -- he became noticed on the regional scene quickly. Photo by Scott Peterson, MMAWeekly.com
"Hey man, have you ever heard or seen this guy named Jon Jones?", says a curious fan sitting in front of his computer as he looks over results of a local event the night before. "Nope, Google him.", fires back his friend after seeing Jones had crushed his opponent in quick fashion. The search reveals Jones' wrestling background, superior physical attributes, and a dominating trail of destruction. Videos of Jones obliterating other unsuspecting opponents causes both men to throw a few curse words around with giddy excitement. They are interested.,
A few months later, his name pops up on a couple MMA websites, and they intently follow his progress. Another win, another notch toward his ultimate goal of becoming a champion, and even more fans become enamored with his rise in the regional scene. By the time he makes his way into more prominent fights, he has a fanbase who is interested enough to buy tickets to local shows and watch him live.
Jones makes his way into the UFC a few months later, and there is enough MMA content and video footage of his run to the top to continue feeding the appetites of fans wanting to know more about this young phenom the UFC has just signed.
Unfortunately for most prospects, this isn't the case at all, and in some cases -- their accomplishments go completely unnoticed by their own managers and the promotions they call home. Quite frankly, some managers should be embarrassed with their job performance. As the editor of the 2011 World MMA Scouting Report, I've made countless connections with managers, fighters, and promoters with the idea of helping young prospects we believe are building their way to the top with a means of helping themselves get there. I've even forwarded correspondence from completely unknown local fighters who are barely on the map in their own town, let alone the regional scene, to managers I know will do the job to make sure they get noticed.
Every email I've received, I'm more than willing to help. It's the fighters that emailed their work history that feel embarrassed, usually hinting that managerial incompetence played a role. Why hadn't their manager been... well, managing their career?
There isn't a lot of incentive for managers at the lowest levels. If it's commission-based, there isn't a lot to be made on a $200, $300, or $500 purse. When the money involved reaches the thousands, there are still managers who bilk their fighters while doing minimal work. There are fighters who are promoting their careers better than these so-called management companies, having friends film their fights, girlfriends find sponsors, and families support their training.
Promoters aren't immune to criticism either. I've glossed over various local promotion Youtube! pages, peeping prospects to consider for the 2012 World MMA Scouting Report. Similar to last year, we cut some fighters from our ranking because we aren't willing to believe in hype over what our own eyes can see.
Managers have to jump over hurdles to film their own fighters however. I've seen first hand the sad reality in local shows. Promoters won't allow people to get in the way of fans watching, thus a video from 30 rows back on a fuzzy camera phone gets uploaded instead of something of substance. Some promoters film their own fights, editing all the bouts into highlight packages, but never releasing full fights. Sadly, many promoters don't film their fights at all.
One promoter responded to my inquiry asking what the advantage was of filming fighters. I referred him to the legacy that Ring of Combat has made for itself. One of its greatest selling points over the years has been that it has produced countless UFC veterans and a number of champions. That history lures fighters to its cage, and it can work the same way locally.
Another promoter complained that cost was an issue, citing that they would have to hire a crew to film the event. A DSLR camera with onboard HD video costs $600 bucks these days. Even more cost effective, a Flipcam with HD costs even less. That's all you need. That's it. This isn't the 90's anymore. The technology is readily available and cheap to produce quality video online.
When there is more video of Bulgarian heavyweights online than an undefeated prospect in Texas, there's a problem. It doesn't all fall on managers and promoters. Fighters working their way up can't afford the luxury of management, so it does ultimately come down to fighters doing a lot of it themselves.
Let's do a better job of managing careers while we're at it. Pitting a 5-0 guy against a legit BJJ black belt who has solid takedown ability is a bad idea for a guy who has two weeks training on the ground. If other fighters aren't willing to fight you, enter grappling tournaments, enter boxing tournaments, do whatever needs to be done to make yourself more well-rounded in the meantime.
When those fights against talent that can exploit your weaknesses presents itself, you'll be ready to face it head on instead of being thrown to the wolves. Don't ever believe you'll be the next Chuck Liddell, a man who can defend takedowns for his entire career and knock guys out. The sport has progressed too much for that to continue to succeed.
Baby steps for now, I suppose. Let's do a better job of promoting fighters. The trickle down effect of your deeds won't go unnoticed. Your stable of fighters will appreciate it, steer business your way, and promoters will be more willing to work with you. Promoters, the same logic applies. Let's cut the frugality and ignorance.
If you're a manager who can prove you fit the description I've outlined here, don't hesitate to shoot me an email, message me on Twitter. If you're a fighter who has had enough of being shunned to the dark reaches of the Internet with no hope in sight, do the same. Maybe we can make a few connections. Step your game up, people.