Ever wonder how this fine establishment came into existence? The place that I call my home has six years under it now, and is chugging along at a good clip, with 100k+ views a day and a reader community that rivals any of the top sports news sites. It's a one stop shop for many, featuring news, technical breakdowns, historical pieces, fresh interviews and more. It's more than just a news aggregator. It's Bloody Elbow.
After I had to start my radio show over a few months ago after 7.5 years of running it, I decided, due to the sage advice of Iain Kidd, that I would feature some of the more prominent members of combat sports media each week. Naturally I started in my own house, interviewing Brent Brookhouse, Tim Burke, Luke Thomas and finally, this week I'm bringing you the big kahuna, Kid Nate. Iain and I interviewed him for 30 minutes yesterday, and got some great history, stories on run-ins with other sites, writers, both past and present, and much more in this great interview. Here's what he had to say:
The Beginnings Of Bloody Elbow
Bloody Elbow started on February 14th, 2007. It has always been part of the SBNation family of blogs. I used to be a political consultant in a former life, and I was working for one of the founders of SBNation, Jerome Armstrong, and I kept busting his balls that he needed to have an MMA blog, telling him how fast the sport was growing and how popular the UFC was getting, etc.
One day, he just walked in and said 'You've got a blog!'. I really hadn't planned on running an MMA blog, but there I was, and in a moment of ill-advised whimsy, we named it Bloody Elbow and the rest is history. Then, I found Luke Thomas blogging at a site called Mad Squabbles and recruited him, and Luke is really the one who got it off the ground.
It took years to really take off. In the first month, February 2007, we had 500 visitors for the entire month. We probably have more readers than that on the site at any given moment now. Basically Luke just wrote things that got people's attention, and got links in from other sites. Zach Arnold of FightOpinion.com was probably the first person to link to us, Fightlinker.com linked to us a lot, Sam Kaplan at 5ouncesofpain.com linked to us, we got some links from MMA Mania and Sherdog was an early supporter, too.
It really blew up in 2008 when we brought on the first crew of writers to supplement Luke and myself. Brent Brookhouse joined quite early on, as he was the third person on board and he started doing live blogs, but it was really when we brought in Michael Rome, Nick Thomas, Chris Nelson and Mike Fagan and those guys that it really blew up. It had been building before that, but once we developed the swarm approach to blogging, things really kicked off.
Stories From The Early Days
Well, originally I had about 6 sock puppet accounts on Bloody Elbow, so whenever I put up a post, I would log in with my sock puppet accounts and comment on them, and I made my wife have a couple of sock puppet accounts, so we would have these little fake conversations between ourselves, trying to create the appearance of a community there. I mean, blogging's really frankly just not that crazy, it's dudes sitting at their computer typing.
One time in the early days, I was traveling and I was in some motel in Mississippi and I couldn't get the Pride PPV, so I had to quote-unquote 'live blog' it based off of Sherdog and MMA Junkie's live blogs. A total fail of journalistic ethics, but there you go!
We've had tons of bad run-ins with lots of people, most of which we've buried the hatchet... some of which we haven't. Early on, I had a nasty run in with Sam Kaplan - there were basically differing accounts of the death of Evan Tanner, and Military.com had a report from the US Military personnel who were on the scene, and Kaplan posted something that was quoting Sherriff's deputies, and they both had wildly different accounts of Tanner's death. It turns out both were wrong; I can't remember the guys name, but a journalist finally investigated and got the full account, so Sam and I were basically pissing and moaning at each other based on half-truths. We both had one side of the story, and I don't know why he got so upset, but I got upset because he was upset and it took us a long time to patch it up. He's at Bellator now and we're on good terms again, but for a while it was pretty ugly.
Oh, and I almost lost my eyebrows to Fightlinker... [Iain] This I need to hear! [Steph] Your actual, physical eyebrows?
Well, yeah! I was going to have to shave my eyebrows, although I was actually going to use some photoshop trickery to avoid doing it. I had said something about Roger Huerta being a winner, and Clay Guida not being a winner, and he called me on it, so we put a bet on the Huerta-Guida fight. That was a close one, because Guida won the first two rounds and it wasn't until the third that Huerta kneed him in the face and choked him out. Fightlinker bet that he would recreate Edith Labelle's (the octagon girl) softcore porn pictures where she has a cluster of grapes on her crotch. So he recreated that, the sporting gentleman that he is.
I had worded my bet such that it said something like 'if I lose this bet, I will lose the eyebrows you see in this photo.' So I was just going to take the photo and photoshop the eyebrows out. From there I was going to do several chickenshit, non-shaving of the eyebrows things, but eventually I would have honored the bet. I just wanted to drag it out and piss people off. My wife was really panicked about that one, because I was working for the governor of Virginia at the time, so she really didn't want me going into work with shaved eyebrows and some stupid story.
Bloody Elbow Community
I have to give props to the moderators who police the cesspit. I can't name them all now, but those guys are the real backbone of the community, the secret sauce. Luke and I always moderated pretty heavily. Luke really started that, and I was basically happy to have anyone there commenting, but Luke doesn't suffer fools gladly - he cracked the whip pretty hard, pretty quick and that set the tone.
There have been some great commentators and contributors; John Nash has done some great historical pieces, NickPT is a physical therapist who has been writing posts about fighter injuries from the standpoint of a professional, licensed physical therapist, which is pretty cool. Almost all of our staff writers came out of the community, the ones I liked best, I recruited.
The worst ones are obviously the ones who just show up on event nights and spam illegal streams. That's just pestilence that we have to expunge without mercy. I don't really bear any grudge against the people we ban, because some people are just a poor fit, and it seems like a lot of people who get banned are just young kids.
Whoever the A-Hole is that keeps subscribing me to every newsletter on earth for being banned, is probably my least favorite member. He's got some sort of program that just goes through and signs me up, but thanks to Gmail that pretty much filters itself out, so it's not really the headache he thinks it is.
Some of the other writers have received death threats and things from community members, but I've never really had that level of unpleasantness. Spam is probably the worst thing I've ever had to deal with.
Subo & What It Takes To Be A Blogger
Subo is actually permanently banned at the moment, and probably forever, but for a long time we had a back and forth. It started because he insulted my wife in the comments, and I totally got pissed off and banned him. My wife is a prosecutor, so she's not really somebody you want to fuck with. That's how Subo got started. I like Subo, he's a good guy, we've had our ups and downs, he's pretty much a public figure.
The biggest issue with Subo is, we tried to bring him on as a writer on numerous sites, and he's just not a consistent contributor. That's really the reason that Subo isn't on the masthead. You need guys that show up every day and post, not just guys that post when it's fun.
That's what separates the bloggers from the wannabes, the people who are willing to get up on a totally boring, dead Tuesday morning, or the day after Christmas, and just grind out some crap, just because the site needs some content. Not people that are insisting on producing a great American novel, or only post when they feel like they have something insightful to say. Frankly, you just have to churn out stuff to keep a blog going. You know we try to do the best we can, and definitely write when we have insights, but sometimes you've just gotta fake it. That's just how a blog works. It's a pretty brutal schedule, really. It's a novel thing in the history of human publication to have a 365 day a year, 24/7 publication schedule, but that's the world we're in, so that's what we've got to do.
Who He Would Like To Have Writing for Bloody Elbow
I'd love to have Luke Thomas back, but he's moved on to MMA Fighting. Michael Rome, I think was one of the best op-ed writers we've ever had, and I'd love to have him back. Michael Fagan was one of the best gambling analysts we've ever had, or anybody's ever had. He stopped doing it for us and he's moved on, and isn't missed in any other regard, but I do miss his gambling posts.
Jonathan Snowden, I think, is one of the most talented writers in the MMA media, definitely the leading historian in the field. I don't miss working with him one bit, but I do miss his content on the site. I think a lot of times he pisses people off, but honestly, I don't think he does it just to troll people or just to bait people. I think he just has a different view of the world than most people.
The post that probably got people the most pissed off, was when he called out Lesnar vs Carwin for being a sloppy, bad fight, technically. I think time has proven him right - Brock Lesnar didn't like to get hit, and Shane Carwin didn't have any cardio. That was a great fight and those guys were animals, stars of the sport, but they were not skilled martial artists in any way, shape or form... I mean, I think they had skills, but I don't think they were among the greats, and Snowden was one of the first to recognize it.
Bloody Elbow Being Critical Of Fighters
Sometimes having a contrary opinion gets you closer to the truth, and it's about the debate and crossing swords and trying to disagree, without being disagreeable. That is the thing Bloody Elbow is all about. Coming from politics, where you can say virtually anything about a politician and they can't really sue you for libel or slander, I mean, you can even accuse politicians of crimes they haven't committed and they really can't say anything.
But, with fighters if you say something like 'Well he's got a great right hand, but his left is a little weak' or 'Sometimes he looks down when he throws an overhand right', you'll have guys come back at you on Twitter like you said something insulting about their mother.
They're big babies and sissies about criticism, frankly. I think that they've gotten better since we've been in the game. I think Luke and I just brought a different approach, more in tune to what the rest of the media is like, rather than fanboy, ass-kissing which I think typifies a lot of the MMA Media, so I think fighters had a hard time adjusting to that. I think they're getting more used to it. I think the ex-fighters turned commentators like Bas Rutten and Kenny Florian have been very critical of fighters, and that's sort of made it more acceptable, and made it easier for fighters to take criticism.
Future Direction of Bloody Elbow
I'd like to see us continue to do what we've done. It's about community and commentary. I think the community has it's ups and downs, it flows with cycles. When the sport has a wave of popularity, we get a wave of new community members and things change, so I'd like to see the community continue to renew itself and re-invigorate itself, but not get so big that it's unmanageable and you can't have an intelligent conversation.
As far as the writing goes, we've got great technique writers, still - Connor Ruebusch has stepped up, we've got Fraser Coffeen and Mike Riordan. Riordan, I think, is the best writer on wrestling in the sport. We've got Tom Grant and Ben Thapa writing on grappling, and I hope we can continue to provide fans with technical insight.
I'd like to get more interviews with coaches and fighters, more of an expert's perspective as well as a fan's perspective. You know, our writers have trained and coached themselves. It's not like when I was doing the judo chops and it was like 'Wow, I saw something, here's a video I think might explain it', or something I read in a book or saw in a class. I'd like to see the technique stuff continue to expand.
The MMA History stuff - we've got the Fight Nerd now, and Zane Simon, and T.P.Grant's Gods of War series and other guys looking back at this history of the sport. I'd like to continue doing that, onwards and upwards.
I think Steph, that you've brought a lot to this site with your interviews, and integrated us more into the MMA community. I don't think we're quite seen as the outlier and the freaks that we were before you came on board. You've been a good ambassador, and I hope to continue that relationship.
You know, more of what we're doing. More of the same, but better is where I'd like to see the site going.
The Goal of Bloody Elbow
We have a mix of original interviews and original analysis, and aggregation is always going to be part of what we do. Our goal is to be the one stop shop. For a lot of fans, Bloody Elbow is their only source of information for MMA, so we try to cover the sport comprehensively, and if somebody else gets the story first, we'll re-post and link out to it, which we try to do fairly and efficiently.
Vox Media just has an incredible blogging platform, so we just try to push that to it's limits. They're constantly improving it, and we're trying to take advantage of that with tools like with the story streams and photo galleries and doing more videos, more podcasting - just trying to take advantage of the technology.
Best Fighters For Traffic
For the most part, it's the usual suspects: GSP, Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, even B.J. Penn is still a popular figure. As far as new fighters who have come out of nowhere, I'd have to say Fallon Fox has been a huge traffic magnet. She's very controversial. I have serious reservations about whether or not she should be allowed to fight women in a cage. I'm all for her finding her identity and being a transgender person, much support and props for that, but when it comes to actually punching someone else in the head, when you may have a physical advantage, I've got serious reservations about that.
We just had a female boxer in Sweden get put in a coma, just from a boxing match with another woman. I would hate to see someone get seriously hurt in a fight with Fallon Fox. I think that could have some real ramifications for the sport.
So, yeah, Fallon has probably been the emerging dark horse. What's Miesha Tate's boyfriend's name? Bryan Caraway? He's been another one that's sort of inadvertently made himself a blogging star, with a succession of deeply unpopular comments and tweets that he's put out.
Fighters that talk a lot and don't back it up, people love to hate on them, so King Mo's loss was probably the biggest traffic we've ever gotten out of Bellator. You know, that's too bad, because I really have a lot of admiration for King Mo's skills. I think he's a real student of the sport, almost to his detriment. I think he studies fighting too much and is too good at learning, and I think he's learned some bad habits from some of his coaches and has actually moved backwards in his fighting career, so it'll be interesting to see how he does in his fight on Wednesday - I'll be rooting for him.
Jon Fitch the other night ... here's a fighter that's bravely speaking out about the UFC's payment policies and fighting for fighter rights, a pretty unpopular fighter based on his fighting style to begin with, then Dana White [blasts him], and a lot of fans, if Dana says 'Jump', they say 'How high?' and if Dana turns on a fighter, they turn on that fighter, so there was a lot of hate and 'In your face' when Jon Fitch lost the other night. I think that got more traffic than UFC 161 actually.
Bad PR is always good for business, Josh Thomson I have to give a shout-out to, because of his idiotic comments about gay marriage. That's the kind of tempest in a teapot we specialize in, so thanks Josh! Keep em coming.
Is Dana White the most popular non-fighter subject?
Sure, hands down. He might even be the most popular subject even including fighters. He's got a deliberate strategy, modeled off of Vince McMahon and the WWE way of putting himself forward first and foremost in front of the fighters. You know, he's a very charismatic figure, a very divisive, lightning rod figure, and on the whole, he's been a huge plus for the sport and I'm glad he's there. I hope he recovers from all of his health issues and continues to be involved in the sport for many years to come.
Without a doubt, Dana White is probably the central figure in the sport. Sometimes we're seen as being critical of him, but we're just trying to tell the story and give different perspectives, and there's no way you can be what he is in the sport without some controversy.
Fighters That Should Get More Press
Well, that's a problem I can solve any time I want to. I always try to give Frank Shamrock props for his brilliant run in the UFC in the late 90's. I think he's kind of the dark star of MMA history, the first multifaceted fighter and still to this day, one of the most intelligent fighters we've ever seen in terms of coming up with a custom game plan for every opponent and implementing it with just an incredible killer instinct.
I always like to give Royce Gracie props, for the same reason; for being such a pioneer in the sport and having such grit and killer instinct, and also the Pancrase guys, the Luta Livre guys in Brazil - all the early Vale Tudo guys, the early Chute Boxe guys like Pele, I like to see them get their props.
This is an area where I've fallen down, but I think the 'Dark Ages' needs more documentation. I think some guys like Pat Miletich, Dave Menne and Ricco Rodriguez, that really excelled in a period when the sport wasn't really getting attention, deserve to get a little bit more recognition.
Some of my newer favorites are guys like John Makdessi, James Krause, and Stephen 'Wonderboy' Thompson. We're seeing this new wave of guys that are integrating the traditional martial arts into MMA in a novel way that I think is a lot of fun. Of course I was also a huge Lyoto Machida mark, and still am.
I want to give a shout-out to Frankie Edgar, too. I think if there's one fighter who deserves to have a better reputation with the fans, it's Frankie Edgar. I mean, the guy put on two of the most incredible performances against Gray Maynard in the history of the sport - in the history of any sport.
I've never seen anybody, in any endeavour, take the beating he did in his second and third fights with Gray Maynard, and to come back and tie the first and win the second definitively, was so incredible and I think fans really... I think they just didn't see the fights. They sold Frankie Edgar short and didn't watch those fights. If you missed the Maynard vs Edgar series, you really missed out.
If you could say one thing to BE readers, what would it be?
I say it all the time - 'Shut up and listen!' [laughs]
We only had a limited window of time with Nate, and have so many more questions for him, so we've invited him to come back, ato give us more great insight at a later date. You can follow him via his Twitter account, @KidNate or his YouTube account, MMANationdotcom.
Link to audio: Kid Nate