I hear a lot from fighters “I just want to fight”. Usually this is code for I don’t want to have to worry about selling tickets, I don’t want to find sponsors, I don’t want to execute whats expected of me by having sponsors. On one hand, I understand where they are coming from. In a prefect world, you would just focus on training and fighting. Basically your life would be that of a Gladiator. You train all day, rest, eat, fight, repeat, but this isn’t Gladiator times. This is an amateur mindset. If this is your way of thinking, it will be tough to make fighting your full time profession. If you plan to have a full time job and fight more as a hobby, then you’re all set. If you plan to make a living, have and provide for a family, you have to elevate your thinking and be ready to hustle.
The Grass is not always greener-
I have seen fighters decide that fighting was the career for them, but the truth was it seemed like an easier path than having to clock into a job they didn’t really like everyday. I can tell you as someone who has lived both lives, the 9-5 is an easier path. The dream of being a great fighter, and everything that comes with it is an exciting thought. The work that goes into it is not the story you see on TV though. If you tune into a 24/7 you see the highlights of the life. Not what it took to get there. The road is filled with sacrifice and a grind that only the elite can handle. Not to mention that Muay Thai, and Kickboxing aren’t the most lucrative combat sports you can pick as your profession. Although times are changing and I feel like we are on the cusp of that changing. This is where the proper mindset becomes more important than ever.
I have an alternate perspective on the subject because of the journey thats brought to where I am today. When I started competing I had a full time job as a manager of a Honda Dealership. I did my best to balance training and work. During down time at work I watched videos of fights, and always thought of quitting to pursue fighting. After about a year of this internal battle I decided to make the move. I was offered a job at two MMA gyms as the Striking Coach and decided this was the way. I would coach in the evenings and train during the day. What more could I ask for. My path would eventually be redirected over time. At both gyms all the Coaches were also fighters, we had mixed results in competition and I felt that part of the reason was we were all focused on fighting, no one was focused on being the General. Which is a pretty important part of the team dynamic. Long story short, I decided to step into the role of full time coach and put fighting aside. From the outside looking in, it seems like the perfect job, teach a couple hours a day, train the rest of the time. What you don’t think about is the fact that being a coach is still a job, and you have responsibilities. Many do this, and are able to balance it no problem, but to be honest, I don’t recommend it. I feel that you can be TOO emerged in the life which can burn you out. If you are a fighter, everything you do will naturally revolve around fighting, your diet, your schedule, it even becomes part of your down time. When ever I go on “vacation” I always pick a place based off “where can I train while in town” haha. I’m not saying everyone will get burned out in the life style, but I have seen it a lot. So consider this carefully if this is a possibility.
So as a guy that had full time job, quit to become a full time fighter, and is now a business owner, I have really gone through different mindsets over the years. We have covered balancing work and training, finding what works for you is vital. If you go the path of Full Time Fighter, you have to become a Brand. You have to create a valuable asset for businesses that you want to pay you to stay in the business of yourself.
Just about every fighters least favorite thing to do in preparation of a fight. It’s also one of the most important things that you will do. On this subject I speak to you from a business owners perspective, and previous salesman. In sales, creating value is key. You can’t sell anything to anyone if they don’t feel like it has value. So as a fighter, you have to create value in yourself to promoters, and you have to create value in your fans, friends, family of how important their attendance is. I have heard fighters say things like “it’s not my job to promote the show, it’s the promoters job”, or “why should I have to sell tickets thats the promoters job”. Here’s the thing, they are right, that is a Promoters Job. YOUR job is to create that value in yourself though. So selling tickets, getting people to attend, or tune in if you are talking PPV, TV situations is all you have to show a Promoter a return on their investment in you as a brand. So lets look at it now from the promoters perspective, which I understand as a business owner. If you want to be on the show, and you want to be paid enough to make a living, doesn’t it make sense to help the people paying you? In business the best working relationship is always going to be a mutually beneficial one. How long are either of you going to carry on with a one sided business relationship? At the level where you are talking ticket sales, that is the only measure of return on investment. If you are getting paid $1000 for a fight and not bringing any money in to the Organization how can they justify what they pay you? Also I can tell you that at the regional level, fighters that move tickets, and put asses in seats climb through the ranks quicker. I’ve seen people get salty about that too, but here’s the thing, do you want the guy that brings attention to the event and the entire sport itself or the guy who is just showing up to fight?
I’m not saying it’s impossible to make it to the top without selling tickets. There are always going to be those fighters out there being brought in to lose to a ticket seller that throw a monkey wrench in promoters plans, and just because someone can sell tickets doesn’t mean they can fight. A promoter may protect a fighter as long as they can because they bring revenue to the show. There will always be hungry fighters waiting for the opportunity to take that guy out. It happens all the time, and maybe you springboard your way into some bigger fights and make it that way. It’s not impossible. Beyond creating value in yourself with promoters though what are you really doing to elevate the sport? I understand that not everyone is going to look at the long game, but its important we all look at the bigger picture. Especially here in America. Getting people to shows, pumping the events on Social Media, re-posting video’s and pictures from the event, all these things are steps to elevating the sport so that one day the athletes are able to be paid like Boxers and MMA fighters. Also there are only so many events here in the states considered World Class, if they go out of business paying fighters to fight, and don’t bring any money in, then we all suffer. We are all on the same team. My outlook is, create a great working relationship with the promoters we work with at Level Up, help them in any way I can to grow and evolve, so in turn my fighters have a better shot at living comfortably doing what they love. As long as we have events like Glory on Spike TV, and Lion Fight on AXS TV, people gain interest in the sport, and want to learn more about it, which brings them to the gym, and some go on to become fighters, its a cycle, if you disrupt it screws things up for everyone.
Sponsors- Mutual Benefit
I’ll keep this brief because I feel like this is getting absurdly long. Again, the key element here is “Mutual Benefit”. I’ve been selective of who we work with at Level Up, if I don’t think we can help the business in return I don’t consider them for a working relationship. Now obviously if a business reaches out and says they want to Sponsor one of our fighters, and I don’t think I can give them much of a return I’m not going to turn them away, but I’ll be honest about it. Ideally I want to create a relationship with a Company I can be helpful with. I want a Sponsor that can actually make money off being involved with us. So now we have a situation where they appreciate us, and we appreciate them. For example, one of our Sponsors is a Screen Printing Shop here in Maryland called Ink Generation. When we first linked up with IG the owner was running his business out of his basement. I have worked with many different printers and Eze the owner of IG is the best I have ever dealt with. On every level, quality, production time, professionalism in all our dealings. I literally couldn’t ask for a better guy to work with. I reccomened him to everyone that needs any printing done. In turn he has since moved out of his basement, and into a warehouse, and is now a very busy man, but no matter what is going on if I call him with a crazy order that I need last minute he takes care of me, and provides shirts for our fighters when they have upcoming fights which helps them make money. Our partnership is priceless. So long story short, when approaching Sponsors think of what you can do for them, and present it to them professionally. With Ink Generation, we have campaigned on Social Media constantly, filmed short videos, been photographed at shows like Lion Fight and Glory with their logo, and brought them tons of business through word of mouth.
In short, invest in you, build your brand, use social media to promote your sport. Keep in mind the more successful the sport is, the more buzz we all create, the more sponsors get involved, the more TV time we get, the more people start new shows and create new opportunities for you to make a living. Be a positive part of the cycle. Fight for your legacy in this sport.