MMA Matchmaking: Insider Reveals More to Job Than Meets the Eye

The UFC’s Joe Silva has the dream job of all MMA matchmakers.  I hear all the time in interviews that Joe did it again, another tremendous matchup.  I am not going to bash the man because he is in a position that I truly envy, matchmaking with the best organization in the world and with an unlimited bankroll.  The only obstacle in his way is the odd injury here and there, which for all matchmakers is an unavoidable, inevitable, monkey wrench.  However, I am not going to jump out there and say that he is the best at what he does either because I think there are a long line of matchmakers that deserve credit for outstanding jobs.  That is especially true when you start to factor in many things about matchmaking that the general public never sees and almost certainly doesn’t understand. I was the matchmaker for two small shows you certainly never heard of before.  They were called Fite Nite and before that CR Fights.  Some videos of both those events still remain up on YouTube.  These shows took place in Costa Rica, a Latin American country, where at the time, MMA was brand new and there were very few fighters to choose from.  Not only that, but the neighboring countries Nicaragua and Panama had even fewer fighters available to choose from. So, for a small promotion starting out with a tiny budget and few local fighters to fill a fight card, matchmaking was extremely difficult and took a creative mind to get the job done.  If you have millions of dollars, you can go out and hire Josh Barnett to fight Fedor Emelianenko.  But if your entire matchmaking budget is $5,000, including the money you need to cover airfare, hotels, and food for traveling fighters, it becomes difficult to find a way to have eight to 10 MMA fights on the card. I am sure Silva never had to tell a guy, ”Look, I can’t afford to fly you here.  However, if you do show up, I can guarantee you $300 to show and $300 to win and a hotel room for four nights, so you can make a vacation out of it here in Costa Rica.”  I learned very early the hard way by buying a plane ticket, and then the fighter never gets on the plane.  I am out a match on the card and the money for the ticket, which I will never get back and could have added up to be 15 percent of the total purse money for the fight card.  That stings! If a fighter buys his own ticket, trust me, he is getting on a plane and showing up to fight!  Some of these guys would show up in Costa Rica having no idea who the opponent was going to be, and sometimes they weren’t even known by me until just a few days before the fight.  Fighters at this level in the sport are not seasoned athletes.  Some of these guys have only been training for one or two years, especially in a country like Costa Rica where the sport was so new.  These guys get one look at their opponent and think, “Oh man, he looks in better shape than me,” then they don’t show to the weight-ins the next day after the press conference.  That starts me scrambling for a replacement the day of the weigh-ins, something that would never happen in a state with a commission.  But in Costa Rica, there isn’t one, so it becomes an obstacle.  These types of setbacks are common for a small event. Money is a big issue, and in matchmaking it can solve lots of problems.  Another problem is the fighter’s record and the film department.  In these small shows, there is no film.  Some guys have only one or two fights, and you need to match him competitively against someone you have never seen.  Or they lie about their record to get an easy opponent while some crazy guys even say they have more fights than they really do just so they can get a tougher one!  A perfect example of this happened when veteran heavyweight Mario Rinaldi flew here to Costa Rica to fight and his opponent from Panama (no Costa Rican had enough experience to fill the spot) told me he had 20+ fights so he could take the fight, which is probably the worst matchmaking mistake I ever made.  Thankfully, Rinaldi was a gentleman and didn’t hurt that poor guy.  Rinaldi actually spent more time doing backflips after the fight than the fight lasted.  You need to ask the fighter questions about who he is training with, how much experience he has in each discipline, speak to a coach if you can ever get ahold of him, and if you’re lucky enough, watch some tape if he is from outside the country or with the locals here go see him train or spar to get a feel for what he can handle.  The last thing any matchmaker wants is for someone to be so overmatched that someone gets hurt.  Dominating performances happen no matter how high the level of both fighters, and early knockouts and early submissions happen at even the highest level.  That doesn’t necessarily mean the matchmaker did a bad job.  Did Silva do a bad job matching heavyweights Brendan Schaub and Ben Rothwell last Saturday at UFC 145?  Surely not!  Guys get caught sometimes, even some of the best. Matchmakers have done a bad job when someone is so overmatched that he gets seriously injured, something that is really not even a worry for a guy in Silva’s position who gets to choose from the cream of the world’s crop fight in and out.  For the small show promoter, this is a scary reality in at least 40 percent of all the matches they have to make because of all the unknowns.  State commissions give some protection by having each match reviewed and approved.  This was a luxury or a safety net I never had here in Costa Rica with no oversight authority.  If someone got hurt, it was my fault, and I didn’t take it lightly either.  There was more than one occasion after seeing guys show up and watching them train for the first time that I had to change their matchup on the spot because it was painfully obvious this kid had no idea what he was in for with the match he accepted and would undoubtedly get hurt. After matching fights for over 25 MMA cards here in Costa Rica, I have lots of respect for those matchmakers working the small show and filling cards with limited budgets and limited knowledge of who they are employing and have to make competitive and entertaining bouts.  My hat’s off to you guys!  As for Silva, I know you worked hard to get to where you are without a doubt in my mind.  But you are one lucky guy, and I hope you enjoy your job as much as I like watching your creations!

Written by MMA OddsBreaker

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