In the latest Journo To Journo segment, Kid Nate gives a little more insight to the history of Bloody Elbow and gives his thoughts on the year in review for MMA as a whole. This post will serve as Part I. Part II will be available tomorrow, as will the audio. This portion will cover more of Bloody Elbow's year in review and some historical points.
MMA Sentinel: I want to talk about the year in review of Bloody Elbow. From an outsider's perspective, from my perspective, it seems like Bloody Elbow has had a real banner year in terms of unique content and exclusive content, and has really established itself as the place to go to get fantastic news alongside fantastic reporting from guys like Brent Brookhouse. It's not just a content aggregator anymore, which is a reputation it may have had in the past. I want to get your take on that, and get your take on what your favorite things Bloody Elbow has done this year.
Kid Nate: I'm really happy with the team and the year we had. Obviously I think the work you guys have done with the original interviews has enhanced the site incredibly. Brent Brookhouse broke some huge stories, and I think really established himself as probably the only critical reporter of any note on the scene. As far as doing investigative journalism into things that nobody wants to cover, Brookhouse is willing to cover that stuff.
Fortunately, there's not a story like that every day. It's generally a pretty happy sport and pretty above board, but I'm incredibly proud of Brent and what he's done, and just the whole staff has really stepped up. It's not just the interviews and the original reporting, but also the technical features and analysis, and the things we've done with the videos with Eugene and Dallas, and the things that Zane and the fight nerd have done. I feel like we're improving as a multimedia offering, and with the Judo Chops, Connor, Fraser and KJ, and the grappling guys, Mike Riordan, Tom Grant and John Nash.
One of my goals has been to have the best technical coverage and the best historical coverage, and I really feel like in 2013, BE was the place to go for technical talk about MMA and for coverage of MMA history, as well as coverage of what's current.
I think that one of the biggest things was that we got over the culture shock of the upgrade that we did in 2012, which people found hard to digest. I think people have learned to read story streams, and the Vox Media tech team is just an incredible machine that continually hones and perfects the product, and it has shown. Upload times are faster and downtime is way down.
You know, people hate change. When you have a popular, successful site like Bloody Elbow, and you change it, you're going to have some negative reactions. We did it, we got through it, and I think that in the end the readers that stayed, and the many more readers who have joined since then, like the new stuff. They like the new tools like story streams and like being able to find things. We can put out a lot more content and feature a lot more officially than we were ever able to do in the past.
In the old days of the vertical blog, we could only really feature two or three stories at a time. Now on a fight night we can still break multiple stories that have nothing to do with the UFC that's going on that night. I think it's a win/win, and I just couldn't be happier to be involved with such a great company and such a great team of writers. I've been very blessed with the folks we've been able to bring on board to the site. If I've forgotten to mention anybody, beat me up in the comments, I apologize.
MMA Sentinel: We've touched on the great stuff, but the truth is no matter how well you do with a site, there's going to be something you've either done that you wish you had held off on, or that you choose not to run with, that you wish you had. What's your biggest regret of the year with Bloody Elbow?
Kid Nate: This isn't something from this year, but I do regret letting Luke Thomas go to MMA Fighting. Not that it was my choice, but I do sometimes wish we had more of the old gang back together. Not just Luke, but a number of guys that wrote for the site in the past, some of whom have stayed in MMA like Jonathan Snowden and Jack Slack, and some of whom no longer write about MMA, like Michael Rome and Nick Thomas, who was just a savant of multimedia. I miss him, but we've got ZombieProphet now, so it works out. We lost Jack Slack, but Connor Ruebusch stepped up. There's nobody really replacing Snowden, but that's probably as much a good thing as a bad thing [laughs].
MMA Sentinel: [Laughs] Snowden is definitely a polarizing figure. We're big fans of him here on the show, but he has his fair share of enemies, or haters if you will.
Kid Nate: He works pretty hard to create them. Like I said, Snowden is a double-edge sword. Much love to Jonathan.
MMA Sentinel: MMA Sites have a sort of unique insight into the business of MMA in terms of being able to see who is generating traffic. Sometimes it's hard, especially for hardcore fans, to realize what's getting over with the casual fan, but traffic is generally a really good indicator of that. What has surprised you most about the traffic this year on Bloody Elbow?
Kid Nate: I think one of the bigger surprises has been the failure of Cain Velasquez and Jon Jones to really make it to that next level. I think what we saw this year was that Anderson Silva and GSP were still the big boys. Ronda Rousey is somebody that really did step up to the next level with the traffic she drew. I'll be very interested to see how she does with her next event. It will be hard to tell because the Anderson Silva rematch is going to be on the same card, and I kind of wonder if the UFC didn't make a mistake in putting her on The Ultimate Fighter instead of having her fight a couple more times this year.
I was pretty surprised and disappointed, not that there was a lack of interest in Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos 3, or in Jon Jones vs. Gustafsson, but there was not as much as I might of hoped. I remember back in the day, our traffic would constantly blow me away. Event night was very fun, because every time there was a major event, we would set new traffic records. It's harder now, because we're a bigger site and it's harder to grow, and although we grew very much this year, there were a couple of events where I was like, ‘Damn, I really thought that would get over more.'
Now that Cain has his shoulder injury again, you've just got this whole roster of UFC champions that are in the shop more than they are out on the road; Cain Velasquez, Anthony Pettis, Jose Aldo, Dominick Cruz... That's very frustrating for fans who are trying to get to know them. These are really the years when they need to be fighting regularly, and that opportunity has been kind of missed.
As far as traffic surprises, I would say Manny Pacquiao is still a draw online. I was really surprised to see that his Pay-Per-View numbers had fallen off so much, because online his last fight was just as big as any before he lost two in a row.
Another one that was kind of a sleeper was Ben Askren. I really think anybody who says that Ben Askren wouldn't draw in the UFC isn't seeing what I'm seeing, which is Ben Askren, at least during the controversy about whether or not he would sign with the UFC and what happened when he didn't, was drawing a lot of traffic. I really think the UFC missed the boat with Ben Askren, especially since he was a rival of Johny Hendricks at college. I think that Johny Hendricks has the perfect style to snuff Ben Askren, I think in an MMA fight he would beat Ben Askren eight out of ten times. Despite them being pretty even as wrestlers, I think that Askren has no answer for Hendricks' power.
I think that Askren's personality is so outspoken, vocal and dynamic, even though his fighting style is... It is dynamic, but if you don't like wrestling, you're not going to enjoy it. His personality is so out front though, that I think he could bring Johny Hendricks out of his shell and introduce MMA fans to the same Johny Hendricks that wrestling fans loved to hate so much.
Johny Hendricks is a guy who could pack any college gymnasium in the Midwest with people who were dying to see him lose, and he hasn't really come across in any particular way in the UFC; he's just the guy with the beard who gets knockouts sometimes. The potential is there for him to become one of the most hated fighters ever, though. If you watched him in college wrestling, this guy has a real gift for antagonizing fans, and I think he and Ben Askren is just such a perfect rivalry, and I think for the UFC to piss that away was really short sighted and foolish on their part.
They have challengers for Johny Hendricks, but I don't really see anybody that has that same dynamic, that could build that same kind of heat against Johny Hendricks. It takes two to tango, and I think that's one of the things that held Jon Jones back from being a breakout star; until the Gustafsson fight, he never had anybody that could really push him in the ring, and Gustafsson only pushes him in the cage. There's no personal interchange between Jones and Gustafsson. There's no chemistry there. They're just really tough fights for each other. I'm looking forward to that rematch if they book it, but nonetheless you really need rivals.
When you think about Muhammed Ali, you think about George Foreman, you think about Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Leon Spinks, Sonny Liston and there's this great rogue's gallery of opponents. When you think about Royce Gracie, you think about Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, Kimo, Sakuraba, and when you think about Sakuraba you think about Royce, Renzo, Royler, Wanderlei, Arona... You need these great rivals to be a great champion, and I just don't see the UFC welterweight division having that many people to challenge Johny Hendricks.
To get back on topic, Askren would be the last surprise in terms of traffic. There's not really anybody else I can think of that has drawn surprising traffic, unless it's like Felice Herrig sending out selfie shots of her butt, and there's no surprise there [laughs].
MMA Sentinel: I want to open it up a little bit, because Bloody Elbow has a long and storied history, and you'll know from the times we've had you on before that I love to hear about it. I want to open it up to the entire history of Bloody Elbow now, and I want to hear your thoughts on both the most contentious period in Bloody Elbow history, and for you, the most professionally fulfilling period.
Kid Nate: The most professionally fulfilling period would probably be around 2009; the will Fedor fight Brock bit was so fun to cover along with the collapse of Affliction. I don't get to do much blogging anymore, or much writing at all, really, and I was really in a spot where we had the team with Luke running it and Brent right there, with the Bloody Elbow 1.0 team of Rome and Nick Thomas, and the whole gang was really clicking on all cylinders, so I could just focus on covering what the media was saying about things that day. It was just fun as shit.
There was just a ton of back and forth, and a lot of news coverage. There was more latitude; we were kind of a smaller site, so I could be a little bit more outspoken in my criticisms, and be a little bit more inflammatory maybe with my headlines, and it was just fun as shit to rile people up and try to keep up with events that were changing so fast. That was definitely a personal high point.
It's just been a string of high points. Bloody Elbow is probably the most successful project I've ever been involved with, short of helping get Mark Warner elected to the senate. Right from the get go, bringing Luke Thomas on and seeing how he established himself as a true blogger, and made the site a destination was very fulfilling. When we brought in the first wave of guys, that was very fulfilling to see around 2008, when the site was really kicking with five or six different voices. Then later, when we brought in Snowden and it was just really kind of a shitshow, not in terms of the quality of the work, but just in terms of the reaction that he could get from people, and the reaction I could get. The two of us kind of fed off of each other, and that was a lot of fun.
There were ups and downs, and a lot of headaches that went with that. The most contentious period would have been the Snowden period, but that was contention I enjoyed. Obviously there was the attempt to do the MMA Nation project, which became irrelevant when the parent company bought MMA Fighting. That was frustrating, because that was a project we were just working to get off the ground, and we had to snuff that in short order.
Behind the scenes, that was one of those situatiosn where you put together your idea of a fantasy team of people, and the chemistry just didn't click. It wasn't a great environment backstage. Then there was a transitional phase shortly after that, when we bought MMA Fighting. We had to let some people go from Bloody Elbow, and that wasn't very fun. I didn't handle that perhaps as well as I could have.
When we launched SBN United and had to deal with the web design not being perfect. It took two or three iterations to get to a point we were happy with it. That was pretty painful, and a pretty unpleasant experience professionally. When you're on the front lines, you're basically working retail and corporate has come out with a new McRib that just is not what people are jonesing to eat, and you've got to sit there and smile and say, ‘Oh they're hot and fresh and delicious!' Even though you're spending your time behind the scenes screaming and yelling and saying, ‘We've got to fix this,' or sometimes I was just going, ‘What the fuck is happening?' And having no idea what we should do.
The consistent course of feedback was people that were less than thrilled with what we were doing, so that was very difficult and frustrating. Like I said though, I was very impressed with the way the Vox tech team just worked through it. They stuck with it, kept their nose to the grindstone and constantly improved it, slowly rolling out iterations and paid very close attention to the user feedback, and changed the things people didn't like. In the end it was a very positive experience, and the site has continued to grow, which I don't think we could have if we had stuck with the old format.
I feel like we're in a much better place, and now that we've got MMA Fighting on board, and despite what people may think, we've always had a tight relationship with MMA Mania behind the scenes, and with our blog partners; Bad Left Hook in boxing and Cageside Seats in pro wrestling, we've got a pretty good handle on things. Especially with the new tools, we can share content and share traffic in ways that make it a real delight, and I think we'll be able to cover the expansion of the UFC in a way that other sites won't, just because we'll have the resources and the ability to cover that stuff while other people won't be able to do it as efficiently.
MMA Sentinel: I have one last question for you before we close this segment out, and my question is this: I would like you to make a prediction for Bloody Elbow for the year 2014.
Kid Nate: We're gonna be number one baby! Number one! I don't know, what am I supposed to say? [Laughs] People are going to point, click and read Bloody Elbow?
MMA Sentinel: I was hoping that you could give us a little something about maybe adding something new to the site, or something like that?
Kid Nate: Santa and his elves are cooking some stuff up. I think we'll see more video content and more original reporting. More of the same, but better. More multimedia. Zombie Prophet will be back, hopefully. Please encourage Zombie Prophet to stay with us. His contract is coming up, so let him know what promotion you'd like to see him with; tell him not to pull a Ben Askren and go to One FC.
I think it'll just be more of the same, but better. I don't think there's any big creative direction shifts or anything like that, it should be a good year and I'm looking forward to it.