Here's What Happens When the UFC Can't Control You
A few words of caution for anyone mulling the idea of going out on your own in media
Earlier this week, Chad Dundas published a story for The Athletic on Whizzered and the resurgence of a very old medium: email newsletters. Ant Evans’ Ultimate Insider and Trent Reinsmith’s C’mon Now were also featured.
I’ve done countless radio and television spots during my career, but I think this was the first time I have ever been interviewed, and certainly the first time by one of my favorite writers. And for my favorite media outlet. I’ve gone full homer for the MMA team over at The Athletic and the work they do under the stewardship of Dann Stupp, a man I consider a mentor, friend and confidant. I’m running a subscription business, which technically means I might be sending potential customers to a competitor. I technically do not give a fuck. The Athletic is great, and if someone elects to subscribe there instead of here, so be it.
I’ve also told you about my weird need for public recognition for my work. I don’t know why I am this way, and I’d like to fix it. Someday.
So when Chad reached out a couple of weeks ago and said he wanted to write a story on Whizzered for The Athletic and wondered if he could call me for a chat, I couldn’t reply fuck yes quicker if I tried.
The Other Side
I woke up on the morning of our scheduled interview and immediately felt a weird combination of nervousness and abject terror; it got worse as the scheduled time approached. By the time I answered Chad’s phone call I was absolutely certain of three things:
I was going to talk way too much and say things I would immediately regret.
Literally every word I said would be the dumbest word ever spoken in an interview.
I would never again mock someone for being a “bad interview.”
I think I’m well-spoken, and I consider myself a fountain of charisma. During this interview, I was neither. I blathered and babbled and asked for things to be off the record after I said them. That’s not how off the record works, of course, but Chad was kind and patient enough to help me through my real-time regrets.
The resulting story, of course, is awesome. I sent it to my friends and family—there’s the public validation thing again—and even contemplated logging into Facebook to post it so people could leave comments like dude, that’s awesome bro and so cool, Jeremy and I always knew you were destined for greatness. I didn’t do it because fuck Facebook, but I bombarded my address book with that URL.
A few days later, I started thinking about Chad’s story and about what it means to go out on your own in the MMA media landscape. Whizzered is a success story, and working on Whizzered helped create a blueprint for the Whizzered Media Group newsletters we’re rolling out.
Whizzered is a success largely because it provided something new, that hadn’t been done in MMA. What if someone reads Chad’s story and decides to try a paid newsletter of their own?
What advice would I give them?
Access is Everything, Unless It Isn’t
Trent recently wrote about deciding to go out on his own and offered a few cautionary tips for those who might consider following the same route. The last tip is the most important. It’s the issue that, more than any other factor, will prevent people from detaching themselves from the UFC and media outlets that actually pay for work:
This last item is the one big thing a lot of folks fear. You're going to lose access. The UFC won't answer my questions and I seem to have made it to the "no dice" list for credentials. Know this could happen going in. If you're not comfortable with the UFC putting you on the shit list, maybe rethink doing all of this. I'm okay with it, but I do have to say that was probably the last thing I shook off. The UFC counts on you not being able to take that last step, especially if you are someone who doesn't have the power of a big site on your side.
Trent is 100% correct here. If you work for one of the major outlets that rely on a steady stream of SEO-ready, analytics-driven Fight Week Content, losing “access” is devastating. If you hope to make money someday working for one of these outlets, you will not find much success if you are on the UFC’s shit list.
It’s hard enough to get a salaried, regular-income gig in combat sports. Those positions are scarce and typically filled by established names and veterans from other media outlets. Trying to break in when you’re on the UFC’s blacklist? It’s almost impossible.
Here’s what Luke Thomas recently said on the Pull No Punches podcast:
If you want to get ahead in this business, generally speaking, you have to attach yourself to power. That's the way to do it. There are ways to do it without it, but they are much slower, they are much harder, they are much longer, they are certainly a lot less grateful and rewarding.
This is absolutely true. How do I know?
I know because I made a career out of attaching myself to power. I spent years chortling the UFC’s proverbial ballsack. I once wrote a fucking instruction manual for my colleagues on how to avoid pissing off Dana White. I did everything I could to keep them happy and to show them that I was a team player who could be counted on. I was in the inner circle. They were my friends. They weren’t my friends, of course. They were using me. That’s their job. It’s what they’re supposed to do. I was too dumb to realize it, is all.
Anyway, I figured it out real quick when I started reporting the things they didn’t want reported.
I knew I would lose access when I started this newsletter. I knew the things I planned on writing would not go over well in Las Vegas. I knew that my days of pre-scheduled 10 minute interviews with an endless parade of fighters were over; this was fine because I’d reached a point where I could not even pretend to muster two fucks about any of them.
I knew the days of PR flacks or Dana calling me with a fight booking story to break in the Houston Chronicle were over, too. This was also fine because there are roughly 67 fight announcements every day, and who the fuck can remember the fights, much less who broke the story?
I knew my days as a credentialed media member were finished, and to that I say hallefuckinglujah. When I covered McGregor vs. Diaz 1, I promised myself that it would be the last time I ever worked a UFC event. I almost broke that promise when I went to Dallas a year ago and was credentialed for the event. But I left the arena and drove back to Austin five minutes after being handed my credential, so my streak is still intact.
From Chad’s story:
He said he knew some of the things he’s published would ruffle feathers in the MMA industry, but they have so far resonated with readers. At this point, he said his only real allegiance is to the newsletter’s subscribers.
I knew people in that UFC office were going to lose their minds when I started writing the things I wanted to write about here. I knew I would be branded an outcast. I knew how things would play out, and I was okay with it. I still am.
I should note one more thing here. I knew the UFC’s response to my work here would be petty, because petty is their thing. What I didn’t know was just how petty and obsessive they could be.
“It Might Not Be Good For You”
A few weeks ago, I asked a longtime friend if they would be interested in pushing some of my Whizzered stories on social media. I told them I’d reciprocate by plugging their stuff in the newsletters received by free list members. We’ve done this sort of thing for years.
They didn’t respond to my text immediately, which was unusual. I didn’t give it another thought until 24 hours later, when I realized they still hadn’t responded. That’s when I knew why they were giving me the silent treatment.
I was right. They politely declined and said they needed the UFC’s support. And, well…
And aligning with you may not be in the best interest of that happening.
This was not a surprise, largely because it wasn’t the first time I’d been told something similar. It wasn’t even the first time that week.
Three days earlier, a project I’d invested serious time and resources on vanished entirely after the partner received a call from someone at the UFC. They’d heard about our project, they said, and were just touching base to let the partner know that working with me “might not be good for you.” And because the partner did business with the UFC, and would like to continue doing business with the UFC…
That was the end of the project.
I wasn’t mad. Not even a little bit. It was a business decision for them, plain and simple. They have to earn a living, and if associating with me or this brand endangers their livelihood in any way, they made the right decision. I would do the same thing. Every time.
But this is where I’d like to add two points to those included in Trent’s list. These are crucial and must be considered by anyone looking to go outside the UFC’s umbrella.
The UFC can’t control you, but they absolutely will fuck with you.
There are a lot of UFC employees who subscribe to Whizzered. A lot.
Most of them use personal email addresses. I receive encouraging messages from almost all of them them on a regular basis. They use their personal email address because they enjoy the work here and know that, from time to time, I’m going to write about something they haven’t heard a peep on from executives.There are those who subscribe with UFC email accounts. There are the PR flacks who are tasked with “monitoring” Whizzered and, for whatever fucking reason, printing my stories for a compilation binder. It is almost 2020, people. You don’t have to print things.
See, I know the UFC is hot and bothered by Whizzered. I know this because they are petty and mean and predictable. I also know this because people at the UFC have seemingly told everyone in the industry that Whizzered is Real Bad, and that it might be in their best interests to distance themselves from this Real Bad thing. All of this is fine with me. It means I’m doing what I intended to do when I launched this thing, and doing what I should have done all along. They can monitor things in whichever fucking way they want, because their subscription money is the same as everyone else’s.
The UFC does not want you free and independent.
They have never sought a free and independent press. Never. They want a promotional partner, and the MMA media has largely been compliant.
So if you do go out on your own, and you start writing things that make them uncomfortable, writing things they cannot control, remember this: They will do everything they can fuck with you. Your colleagues who used to promote your good work will, for the most part, go silent in public while encouraging you in private.
If you read through all of these points of caution and still want to give it a go? Let’s talk.
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