The changing landscape of the MMA industry continues to evolve. With that the UFC and Zuffa look to lead the way in innovating thinking with the athletes who compete in the sport.
For the past few years, Zuffa has flown almost every fighter under contract out to Las Vegas for what has been dubbed the “UFC Fighter Summit,” where the athletes meet with bosses like UFC president Dana White and owner Lorenzo Fertitta, as well as a litany of other speakers, and are presented with a bevy of information on numerous subjects.
Somewhat similar to the rookie meetings held in the NFL, the officials at the UFC are trying to educate the fighters on different mediums that can help make their careers more successful and longer.
Subject matter at the UFC Fighter Summit ranged from the newly introduced fighter accident insurance to social networking skills to doctors giving seminars on weight cutting and concussions, all the way to keynote speeches from the men in charge.
For some fighters like UFC lightweight Yves Edwards, who has been competing professionally in the sport since 1997, the UFC Fighter Summit was like something he had never seen before. It was definitely not something he saw coming when he first fought for the promotion in 2001.
“It was pretty good, it was continuing education,” Edwards said when describing the meeting. “I think it was good to hear some of the things that was talked about and some of the things they touched on was pretty important.”
Welterweight fighter Charlie Brenneman found out about the Fighter Summit in an email from the UFC, and without knowing much about it, because he was in the middle of a training camp, he asked his coach and manager Mike Constantino if he could get out of going.
His manager immediately answered not a chance.
Once his two-day trip was over, Brenneman walked away with an entirely new perspective on the business plan that White, Fertitta, and the others in charge at the UFC had in store for the company’s future.
“They’re on top of everything. I equate them to Facebook,” Brenneman said. “Mark Zuckerberg’s not your traditional businessman. He has initiative. He does things differently. He’s not the standard business guy. Dana and the UFC are the same way.”
One of the biggest pieces of information relayed to the fighters attending the UFC Fighter Summit was that at as of June 1, they will all be covered under the new accidental insurance policy. Fighters who previously had to go without medical treatment or pay out of their own pocket for things like training injuries, would now be covered with the Zuffa paying for the premiums.
The change was a revolutionary idea in combat sports, something that’s never been done before by any major organization or sanctioning body.
Almost all fighters have been banged up during a training camp and a lot of them avoid the doctor simply because the cost of treatment is too high. Without full-time medical insurance, a routine doctor’s visit coupled with x-rays or treatment start running into the thousands of dollars, and that’s something the average fighter can’t afford.
Brenneman had to take a step back when first hearing about the fighter insurance, because he had to remember that the way he leads his life or has led his life is different than so many other fighters. This insurance could simply be seen as a lifeline.
“You assume in my dealings with fighting and my career, you meet so many new people, you just kind of assume that everyone’s the same as you. That everyone went to college, and everyone has a savings account, but really that’s not the reality of it,” explained Brenneman. “So many of these guys are completely on a whim and they don’t have any backing in terms of health, so for those guys it’s unbelievable. It’s like an answered prayer.”
For fighters like UFC middleweight Tim Boetsch, a program like accident insurance goes beyond just getting injured and having to drop out of a fight. It’s also just going through the rigors of everyday training, suffering a minor setback, and being able to make a trip to the doctor just to get checked out.
“Guys can take care of injuries as soon as they happen rather than putting them off till they can save up enough coin to take care of them, so it’s going to do good things for the sport,” Boetsch said.
“It’s only going to make performances better. Like I said, guys that get injuries can go get them fixed and get back on track and get in there and fight. It’s a great thing.”
Yves Edwards takes an even different approach when looking at the new UFC fighter insurance. He sees it as a major company looking out in a major way for their employees, something he doesn’t believe happens that often in the United States when you’re talking about a billion dollar type industry.
“They’re looking out for us to a degree and you have to appreciate that. Ultimately, it is a business, so for me I completely understand that, it’s capitalism. The first thing is for them to make money, but you see all these companies that are shipping jobs overseas and shutting down so their CEOs and their millionaires can make more money,” Edwards stated.
“When you live in a country where the rest of the world the CEOs to the drones are making like 13 to 1, 14 to 1, 20 to 1, and we are living in a country where the CEOs to the drones are making 475 to 1. It’s good that somebody actually cares about and wants to take care of the guys who are bleeding for their company.”
Just about everyone from ages 18 to 34 these days has a Twitter or Facebook account, and the numbers are only continuing to grow. Those age groups also happen to be the main demographics that follow the UFC and the sport of MMA, so for that purpose alone, social networking has been embraced by Zuffa and its athletes.
At the UFC Fighter Summit, the fighters learned that not only are they encouraged to utilize their Twitter and Facebook accounts, but they would even be paid for their time.
With bonuses totaling $240,000 a year (divvied up amongst the top performers), the UFC will dole out money for fighters who add followers and are deemed great at social networking. It’s really a revolutionary step for a major sports brand to reward athletes instead of penalizing them for embracing the social network.
“What I see the UFC doing is kind of aligning themselves with Twitter, which is an ingenious idea because Twitter is the next big thing. They were saying at one point the UFC had eight of the top trends (on Twitter). When you can implant yourself like that on pop culture it can only mean good things,” Charlie Brenneman commented.
“It’s the simplest way to get yourself out there and it costs nothing.”
For some other sports, Twitter and Facebook actually cost the athletes money. The NFL has cracked down on several players for using Twitter in and around games, most notoriously Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, who has been nailed with a few fines, including a $25,000 hit, for tweeting during a game.
The NFL even has policies in place that will fine players for tweeting within 30 minutes of game time.
NBA guard Brandon Jennings has also felt the sting of the league’s crackdown on social networking. The Milwaukee Bucks player was fined $7,500 just for tweeting after a game.
The UFC and Zuffa have made social networking part of their marketing approach. UFC president Dana White boasts over a million followers on his Twitter page and routinely gives away tickets and prizes to fans that follow him.
Digital Royalty head Amy Jo Martin was brought in to teach the Zuffa fighters ways to increase their presence online. When the week was over, her presentations seemed to be the biggest hit among nearly everyone in attendance.
“I’m an Internet nerd. I spend a lot of time on YouTube and I do like to tweet and Facebook and things, so some of the Facebook and Twitter information was really good because I had no idea some of that stuff was going on,” Edwards commented. “It was kind of like a Facebook tutorial and Twitter tutorial. It kind of opened my eyes to a few new things, and a few things I can do on Twitter to make it more fun for me and the people that follow me.”
Brenneman is a fighter who has already embraced the social networking side of promoting himself and his career. He got on Twitter right away when he started fighting, and created a personal website as well.
The tasks and the time it takes as Brenneman says are taxing, but hearing Martin speak about the future of social networking and what it can do for his career, made him believe it was all going to pay off.
“It made that feel worth it,” Brenneman said. “That stuff’s not easy to do. It’s time consuming, it takes energy, but it just really made me feel like alright I’m on the right path and this is great.”
Even for a novice like Tim Boetsch, who admits that he forgets what his Twitter handle even is sometimes, he learned the benefits about social networking and plans on working to implement some of the things he took away from the Fighter Summit to help him build his career further than just fighting in the UFC.
“I picked up on quite a few things,” Boetsch said. “I definitely learned I’m pretty much a complete idiot when it comes to using Twitter and those sorts of things, so I definitely need to get better at that. But I’m trying and hopefully can have more of a presence on there than I have in the past.”
NEWS AND NOTES
The fighters all took away something different and unique when the UFC Fighter Summit was all said and done. Some of them learned how to use Twitter, while others were extremely excited about the insurance.
Despite nearly 15 years of service in the sport, Edwards still enjoys learning new things and says there were a lot of eye opening subjects covered during the two-day event.
“Things that I enjoyed the most or I felt like I got the most from was listening to the doctors talk about weight cutting, and lacerations, cuts, injuries and whatnot, different things to focus on and different things to worry about. Also, the information about the insurance was a big deal and it was good to get clarification on what that was all about,” Edwards commented.
Of course with a roomful of fighters there were bound to be a few non-Summit related occurrences happening as well. As Roy Nelson videotaped and documented, a heated exchange happened between former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz and heavyweight Matt Mitrione due to comments Mitrione had made about Ortiz and his girlfriend Jenna Jameson recently.
Overall, Brenneman was impressed with the level of professionalism shown by the fighters, even when they were sitting just a few feet away from the guy or girl they were getting ready to fight mere weeks from then.
“I was actually interested in that, but to be honest I didn’t really see any guys that had this ongoing beef. (Anthony) Rumble Johnson said it in a interview recently, and they were talking about how he and John Howard were at odds, and he just said, whatever, we have a beef, but if we go somewhere and we see each other, we’re professionals and that’s where it ends,” said Brenneman.
UFC welterweights Josh Koscheck and Dan Hardy took to heart the teachings about social networking. While they were literally just seats away from each other, decided to talk a little trash via Twitter instead of letting it boil over in the room.
Other athletes decided to bring a little levity to the classroom setting. New UFC middleweight Jason “Mayhem” Miller was dubbed the class clown, cracking more than just a few jokes that kept the room laughing, while UFC heavyweight Pat Barry opted for a different comedic delivery.
While a seminar was going on, Nick Catone, Charlie Brenneman, and Matt Wiman sat in a row listening to the information being given out. In the midst of this, Barry somehow had the time to strip down all of his clothes and decided that sitting in class only in his underwear was the best way to take in the knowledge.
“I was literally sitting six feet away from him and talking to Matt Wiman and Nick (Catone) tapped me on the shoulder and goes ‘look at that.’ It was already done, he was just sitting there in his underwear,” Brenneman said with a laugh.
The UFC Fighter Summit ended up lasting the better part of four days with fighters from both the UFC and Strikeforce attending the seminar.
As each person left the building and headed to the airport, it seemed to give them a renewed energy about ways they can be successful in the sport of MMA. For every Georges St-Pierre, there are 20 undercard fighters who are striving to be him, and the UFC Fighter Summit gave them a lot of tools to continue to build their brand to get there.
Whether it was educational seminars like doctors discussing concussions or social networking classes that taught fighters how to use Twitter, everybody took something away from the summit.
Brenneman may have said it best after he flew back home to New Jersey, “If I keep winning, life’s going to get really, really good. That’s probably the biggest thing that I took from it.”