A Throwdown with Showdown: Talking MMA with MMA Connected Host “Showdown” Joe Ferraro

By E. Spencer Kyte (espencerkyte@mmaratings.net)

If you’re talking Mixed Martial Arts news and information in Canada, one name comes to mind: “Showdown” Joe Ferraro.

What? You thought I was going to say me?

From hosting his own radio show and delivering analysis on Rogers Sportsnet, to the creation and immediate success of his show MMA Connected, the man simply known as Showdown Joe has quickly become the country’s most recognizable and respected expert on the rapidly growing sport.

Earlier this week, we sat down to discuss everything from the UFC’s expansion into Canada and his path to MMA Connected, to the idea of teammates fighting and the always entertaining Keyboard Kimura Questionnaire.

This is The K2 Interview Series … with “Showdown” Joe Ferraro.

So everyone who has done an interview with me has lost their next fight, including guys who just thought about doing an interview with me. Any concerns that Sportsnet is going to axe MMA Connected on Monday now that you’re doing this?

Really? Every time someone does an interview with you, they end up losing their fights?

There have been a couple people who haven’t fought yet since we did the interview – Cody Donovan and Sarah Kaufman – but everybody else is 0’fer. Kenny Florian lost to BJ, Sam Stout’s fight got canceled, Tim Hague got stopped in seven seconds. So people are kind of on me now that I’m a curse…

If I lose my job at MMA Connected, I’m coming knocking on your door. But I wouldn’t believe that for a second. Each one of those fighters, they’ve got their destiny in their own hands and they can do what they can to win their fights and it’s just mere coincidence.

It’s like the [the EA Sports Cover Curses]; they’re in charge of their own careers when they step through the cage door and it has nothing to do with your interviews and it’s not a curse.

I hope not.

With that out of the way, how did you get involved in MMA?

The first time I watched Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock, we’re talking ‘93-‘94 and I was just “I’m in love with this sport. This is crazy stuff going on here.”

I kept following MMA in general and the UFC and after a while, I started realizing that sitting in the bar, I was the only guy amongst all my friends that realized you could win a fight without knocking a guy out. Without punching or kicking, you can actually take a guy down, control him and submit him and all my friends were all, “No, no, you can’t do that. That’s not how you win a fight” but in the ring, that’s what guys were doing and I realized I gotta take this jiu jitsu stuff.

I have a boxing and a bit of wrestling background and I started taking jiu jitsu and amalgamating everything and got injured all the time. I spent more time off the mat than on the mat and realized that I gotta make a different decision here.

If I wanna be involved with the sport, because I know one day this sport is going to blow up – people are going to want to see this stuff, they’re gonna fall in love with it. People that are watching boxing and karate are going to realize that you can mix everything together and put everything together to create a style, so I was just trying to figure out what I could do and ended up meeting a couple friends and we opened up a clothing line, Showdown Fightwear and Showdown Boxing, which is an equipment line.

From there, we started sponsoring fighters at various events and then I met up with some promoters. They fell in love with the knowledge that I had and how I could break down fights into what this guy needs to do to win and what that guy needs to do to win, and then during the fight I would explain what guys needed to do to get out of a position and they said, “Did you ever think about doing commentary?”

I said, “Not really, but I’ll give it a shot.” They hired me on the spot after I did one fight with them and then it just expanded from there. I started managing, consulting, promoting, and just doing a whole bunch of things and before you knew it, I ended up getting my own radio show and TV show.

What led you to Sportsnet and the creation of MMA Connected?

MMA Connected was an idea of mine from probably 2003. I pitched it to pretty much every network in Canada sports-wise and got shown the door saying we don’t want this stuff, it’s barbaric, but my theory was simple: you’re either in or you’re in the way.

You can choose to get onboard first and then follow this or someone else is going to do it. [The response was always],”Yeah, yeah, Joe, whatever. Talk to us later on.” So I kept the idea going and eventually I ended up getting a gig with [sports talk radio station] The Fan 590 in Toronto which is syndicated across the country.

About three or four month in, the guys from Sportsnet started getting into MMA, they started covering the UFC and they decided, “We need an analyst; someone who is involved in the sport and can pick up the phone and call Chuck Liddell or Randy Couture.” So they started looking around and realized that The Fan 590 is owned by the same company as Sportsnet – Rogers Communications – and said, “Who’s this Showdown Joe guy? Let’s bring him in.”

I went in for the audition and basically got hired on the spot and took it from there. As I got my foot through the door, I eventually got really close with one of the producers Bob Torrens and I showed him the idea for the show and his eyes just lit up.

He thought it was a great idea and that we really needed to do it, so we started pitching each executive, each VP separately until they all realized, “You know what? Sponsors want this. We want this. The public wants this. Every time Joe goes online to post an article, every time we post one of his hits online gets all these crazy numbers that are mimicking hockey and baseball, we got something there.”

Next thing you know, they said, “Okay, let’s do the show.” The show took off on April 20th and we haven’t looked back since.

Obviously you’re with Rogers Sportsnet, a network that has fast become the home of MMA in Canada, which I’d like to thank you for by the way.

Conversely, “Canada’s Sports Leader” doesn’t offer up and ounce of coverage on the sport; not a report from major events, not profiles on Canadian fighters, zip. What the hell is TSN’s problem with MMA?

They’re eventually going to wake up and realize that MMA is big, it brings in numbers and you’ll see something coming out of TSN. I’d hate to say it’s not going to happen because sports networks in general, radio networks in general, it’s all about money and MMA brings in money and ratings.

Mind you, TSN have got really good deals with the NHL and other types of sports, so they might think, you know, right now we don’t need it, but eventually it’s going to come.

They’ve got the WEC right now. I’ve always said it, “One day, TSN is going to wake up,” it just depends how far behind the curve they are. They’re smart, they’re a good network, they know exactly what’s going on and I think it’s eventually going to happen at TSN. It’s just figuring out how far behind they are from Sportsnet because Sportsnet is taking off with it.

They’ve got The Ultimate Fighter, they’ve got MMA Connected, they’ve got Ultimate Fight Night, they’ve got regular features; we always talk about MMA or UFC in the Connected shows which is like TSN’s SportsCentre. I’m always sending in updates, there is coverage of Canadian fighters, or Chuck Liddell on Dancing with the Stars or something that’s newsworthy and people want to know without having to wait for it on MMA Connected, so talk about it right now.

I agree that they’ll get there eventually. I just continue to find it amazing that they haven’t done anything with MMA already when they’re “Canada’s Sports Leader.”

The one theory that I have when it comes to these radio stations and these networks, and we’re talking globally, what eventually happens is there is a shift in power where the older guys eventually retire and you start getting guys that are my age or your age into positions to make decisions where its, “You know what? I grew up watching MMA. I grew up watching Royce Gracie, Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell and Georges St-Pierre. Why don’t we have it on the network?”

As time goes on and as the sport continues to evolve, you’ll see a change and a shift in power where the decision makers are going to be guys our age who will say, “Hey, we’re going to put MMA on no ifs, ands or buts.”

I said that exact same thing in an article like two weeks ago, so it’s refreshing to hear someone in the industry echoing those thoughts.

What advice would you give to aspiring MMA journalists out there who want to break into the business? How can they get their foot in the door?

Never take no for an answer. More no’s will eventually lead to a yes; it’s a stubborn industry and very difficult to break into. The bottom line is that for anyone that wants to get into any industry, you need connections; you need to be connected with the fighters, you need to be able to pick up the phone and contact a celebrity or a fighter or somebody.

When they start seeing that you start writing articles or doing interviews and people are taking notice of that, it’s all about numbers. If you’re websites or articles start getting the hits, it’s a lot of work, but eventually it pays off.

Nothing great comes without sacrifice; you’ve gotta bust your butt and believe that you’re going to succeed one day.

D’you know what I think would help? Getting a shout out on an upcoming episode of MMA Connected on Rogers Sportsnet. I’m not greedy; it’s not like I’m asking to guest host or anything, although I would do a better job than Tito and not wear shirts calling you my bitch either.

(Laughs) You never know what can happen. Keep plugging away.

Before getting around to some more insightful and investigative journalism-type questions, let’s run through the Keyboard Kimura Questionnaire:

Favourite fighter?

To me that’s a loaded question. Coming where I’ve come from, seeing my friends get into the business and never having been able to fight a pro fight in my life, anyone who steps through the ropes or steps in the cage gets my love. I respect them all, man.

Most Underrated Fighter and Most Overrated?

In terms of overrated, it was obviously Kimbo Slice because he was pumped up so much and doesn’t really have the skills, but that’s not to say the guy isn’t working his butt off to be the best MMA fighter he can be.

He’s one of those guys that’s going to try his best, but unfortunately due to age and the condition he’s in right now, he might never be a championship fighter, but again, give the guy credit.

In terms of underrated, I think people better really start paying attention to Jon “Bones” Jones, because this guy is going to one day be the UFC Light Heavyweight champion, provided he’s got the right people around him.

This kid is phenomenal; he’s the next evolution of MMA fighters, it’s unbelievable. He pulls off these jab-cross-fake the takedown – spinning elbow combinations. Who does that? That’s just something you see in movies. He’s unbelievable.

Best Prospect – somebody who is slept on or a lot of people might not know?

You gotta think guys that are outside of the UFC. Guys like Joachim Hansen or [Tatsuya] Kawajiri or guys like Jake Shields. People are starting to realize who Jake Shields is but he doesn’t have the mainstream appeal that a UFC fighter would have. Guys of that nature.

I’m really liking Marius Zaromskis, the guy that won the DREAM Welterweight Grand Prix; that kid is ridiculous. The other guy, and if he can keep his head in check, is Joe Warren. In two fights, he beat Chase Beebe and Kid Yamamoto – that’s no joke. I won’t be surprised if this guys pulls off the Featherweight Grand Prix. The guy is unbelievable.

Scotty Jorgensen [whom I also interviewed today] is actually good friends and occasional training partners with Joe and said the same thing.

I completely agreed with him and I completely agree with you; if you can have your first two wins be over Chase Beebe and Kid Yamamoto, you have all my respect.

Best fight you’ve ever seen – live or otherwise?

Wow… great questions. I’ve seen like thousands of fights. If people can see these fights:

Steve Vignault against David Loiseau because they were best friends going into the fight – and are still good friends – but just said one of us has got to win this title in the UCC.

There was Joe Doerksen versus Denis Kang in the UCC. One of the most amazing fights I got to see live was when Jens Pulver got knocked out by Duane Ludwig because all of us were like, “Oh my god, we just signed Jens Pulver” and Duane Ludwig comes in and just totally messes him up.

As far as the UFC, two fights stick out to mind the most:

Randy Couture versus Brock Lesnar because of the atmosphere, but the one that sticks out the most was Georges St-Pierre – BJ Penn 2 because I’ll never forget pretty much 90% of media row that is supposed to be unbiased and sitting down, we were all standing up when BJ Penn walked into that Octagon. You can tell your grandkids you were at this fight.

The very first UFC I got to see live, UFC 79: Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva, I remember just sitting down and going into a shell and realized that I made it. Here I am, Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva, two guys I’ve been watching for years and when they started going at it, I literally had to fight back tears. I’ll never forget that.

Dana White said they’ll be coming to Vancouver this coming summer, but there have been no official announcements or legislative decisions out here to solidify his remarks one way or the other.

Do you think you and I will be enjoying a frosty beverage, watching the UFC at GM Place next summer?

Generally, I would say wait until the announcement comes out, but when Lorenzo Fertitta comes out publicly and says something about Vancouver like he did at UFC 100 at the Q&A with the fans, you tend to believe that something is going on here.

Once it gets solidified with the Attorney General out there, I think it’s going to happen. Vancouver is going to go through a really hot period with the Olympics and then people are going to realize the Olympics brought a lot of money and awareness around Vancouver and I think the UFC will do the same thing in June of 2010.

We both know that it’s not certain until it’s announced, but I’d love to shake hands with you and put down a few wobbly pops and enjoy an amazing UFC event.

We’ve had two successful shows in Montreal, but Ontario still has yet to pass legislation regulating MMA in the province.

What is the current status of that process and when do you think we’ll finally see MMA come to Ontario?

As it stands right now, the UFC has hired a couple different firms to take care of a couple different things: (A) getting it sanctioned in Ontario and (B) taking a look at Section 83 of the Criminal Code of Canada.

I met up with one of the firms a couple weeks ago and they broke everything down for me. It’s going to be a step-by-step process; it’s not going to happen overnight. Is it going to happen? I think we’re far closer now than we’ve ever been to date.

When you get the UFC hiring the legal firms to get this stuff done, it’s going to happen. Whether it’s 2010 or 2011, the way I feel now is that it makes no difference to me because it’s going to happen, and once it does, the floodgates will open.

You really don’t know how big MMA is going to be until you see it legalized in Ontario. We’re really going to see a different evolution of the fighters coming out of Canada once is legislated in the big cities like Vancouver and Toronto.

We see MFC becoming a choice destination for the best young talent in the country, as well as veterans looking to rebound, and guys just looking to gain more exposure like Bobby Lashley.

What do you think the future holds for the Edmonton-based organization?

They’re doing the right things; they’re building their guys, they’ve got good events, they’ve got their local market pretty much cornered. They understand the importance of putting on good events, selling out the venue and building up fighters which is exactly what you want to do.

So the next thing, the next big step that’s going to happen from the city of Edmonton is a UFC event. They can pull from Calgary and the surrounding area. I would not be surprised if you see a Fight Night there soon, or an Ultimate Fighter Finale or even a full pay-per-view UFC event because the numbers are there and if the UFC knows there are major pay-per-view buys coming out of the Alberta region, so they’re going to hold an event either in Calgary or Edmonton.

Jason MacDonald is a regular contributor to Connected. Do you look at other guys on the UFC roster and wonder how they’re still employed while a guy like J-Mac faces some serious competition and gets dropped?

Obviously it’s part of the business. Do I think Jason MacDonald should be in the UFC far more than some other guys? Of course; there are guys in there who I think don’t belong there, but it’s all about the depth of the division and where you stand in the rankings.

Can you get close enough to be a contender or challenger to whoever is holding that title? They obviously believe that with Jason MacDonald losing the fights that he did, he wasn’t getting passed that certain level, so do we need to hold onto him or do we need to bring in some new blood and see if they can get passed that certain level and become a challenger to an Anderson Silva?

It’s happening right now with Georges St-Pierre’s division, the welterweight division. What’s going to happen with Lyoto Machida and Shogun? What if Lyoto Machida absolutely annihilates Shogun? They got a bunch of fights that he can still have, but…

Look at Brock Lesnar. Who’s next for Brock Lesnar if he takes out Shane Carwin? It’s one of those situations where each division is eventually going to need some new blood if the guys don’t start cleaning each other out and new contenders emerging.

So with Jason, he had a terrible fight with Nate Quarry and he’s the first one to admit it and what happened happened. If he keep beating names that are on the UFC’s radar, he’ll be back.

Time to tackle some of the highly debated topics in the MMA community…

There has been a lot of talk about a potential merger between the WEC and the UFC, as both are owned by Zuffa LLC.

What do you think about such a move? Would it be beneficial for the WEC and their roster or does there become a risk of getting lost in the shuffle by joining forces with a larger organization?

That’s exactly what’s going to happen: if the UFC and the WEC merge, the guys that are in the lower echelon are going to have to find work somewhere else. But do I think it’s a good idea? Yes, because if the UFC is the Super Bowl of Mixed Martial Arts then all the champions that are under their banner, whether it’s the UFC or not, they should be able to fight for the UFC.

A guy like [Mike] Brown and [Miguel] Torres and [Urijah] Faber are stars and they should be champions in that division and they should be the ones fighting under the UFC banner because those guys need pay days.

You know, Miguel Torres and Urijah Faber are always talking about not getting the pay days they deserve and it’s because they’re in the WEC. They’re on free TV, not pay-per-view; they can’t get pay-per-view buys.

Ideally what I’d like to see is championship fights on every UFC pay-per-view. Take nothing away from UFC 103 with Vitor and Rich Franklin – great fight – but a main event to me has a title and if you bring in the WEC champions, then you can guarantee yourself a title fight pretty much on every pay-per-view because you go from five champions to seven champions. If they start bringing in the smaller guys – the featherweights, bantamweights, strawweights – it doesn’t matter what it is, you’ll now have champions from every single division that can fight on every single UFC and that to me is real Mixed Martial Arts.

People love to see championship fights. They want to associate a champion with their division.

One of the things you mentioned in there is guys like Faber and Miguel Torres both talking about that lack of pay and one of the things Urijah Faber has talked about as an avenue to better pay days is a Fighters Union.

Do you think there is merit to the idea or would it do more harm than good?

I think it would be a complete logistical nightmare to actually pull it off because we’re at a stage right now where “Who is going to mess with the UFC?” No fighter is going to step out from under the UFC and say that, unless a guy like Randy Couture retires.

All these guys really want from the UFC in terms of a Fighters Union is to be able to say, “I fought and I can retire, I’ve got benefits and my body is going to get taken care of.” I’m sure the argument was the same before the NHLPA and NFLPA because who is going to step up and who is going to do it when you have nowhere else to go?

Eventually it happened, but will we ever really see a Fighters Union? It’s tough to say because it never really happened in boxing other than the introduction of the Muhammed Ali act. Who is going to be courageous enough to take that step and step away [from the UFC]?

You would need a big name like a Georges St-Pierre to take a stand and do that. It will be very difficult. People are finally starting to get the pay days that they want and you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you, but eventually you’ve got to take a stand.

It’s going to be a guy like Randy Couture once he retires, if he gets into another scrap with Dana White, that comes out and does something like this. Same thing with Tito Ortiz; these are the guys who would do something like that, but right now, both guys are back with the UFC and I don’t think things are going to be changing any time soon.

Teammates fighting: Dana has always maintained he doesn’t think it should matter, while the fighters themselves have always said they’re not interested.

What are your thoughts? Do these guys need to set aside friendships and get in there to see who is best or do you understand the hesitation?

Understanding the hesitation is 100 percent; does anyone want to get in there and fight their friend that they’ve been training with for the past year or two? Not necessarily, but you’re talking about a pay day here. You’re talking about some big money.

If you put Anderson Silva against Lyoto Machida, it’s going to take a lot of money to get that done. Would I fight my best friend or any one of my friends? Yeah, of course and I’m sure they’d say the exact same thing. If you’re going to put a couple hundred thousand dollars on the line for both of us to show up and an extra couple hundred thousand dollars for whoever wins, let’s do it because we’re going to put some money away for our kids, we’re going to pay off our mortgages, we’re going to get our stuff done.

I’ve never had a problem with friends fighting each other. I don’t have any issues with it at all, but it’s always the fighters. They’ve got to get passed the friends and the mental block to separate from your training partner for at least eight weeks.

I can understand what Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida are saying, but it’s all about fights. People want to see the best fights. Like the American Kickboxing guys, do they want to fight? Maybe not, but then you’ve got Tyson Griffin and Gray Maynard who say they’ll fight any time. It’s money. We’re only getting paid so many times here and we’re one shin kick away from retiring so, let’s get this done.

Alright, last two…

If you could fight anyone – past or present – who would it be and why?

We’ve had some pretty crazy answers, from Osama bin Laden to Achilles. Who would you pick?

That’s a good question. I’d rather fight someone who is far better than me like Georges St-Pierre or Anderson Silva so I can say, “I almost had him, I could have beaten this guy.” I’d love to have that moment like Travis Lutter, mounted on Anderson Silva thinking, “Oh my god, I’m going to win this fight.”

I look at it more as a challenge, facing the best person, whether it’s Fedor or Anderson or St-Pierre. Figuring out Machida’s footwork; being the guy that can say, “I figured out Lyoto Machida’s footwork. I’m the guy that figured out when to get into Lyoto Machida. I’m the guy that faked going to my left because he knew I was going to go to my left, but I went to my right and hit him with a right cross or a right hook.”

That’s the type of fight I would like to be a part of, something like that. It’d be like playing hockey with Wayne Gretzky in his prime or trying to score a goal on Patrick Roy in his prime.

If you could play matchmaker for one day, regardless of organizational ties or anything like that, what three fights would you make and why?

Dana White is always yelling at me for playing matchmaker, so…

Well I think you’re safe for now. I don’t think Dana is going to read this…

He’s literally always telling me to stop playing matchmaker, so if I could put together a whole whack of fights it would have to be Gegard Mousasi at 185 against Anderson Silva, Fedor and Brock Lesnar only to silence most of the critics because you’re never going to silence all of the critics.

I originally wanted to see Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva until I saw what Anderson Silva did to Forrest Griffin, so now I have no interest in seeing that fight at all, so the other would be Kawajiri against BJ Penn. I like that fight.

I’d like to see BJ take on the best lightweights in the world, not just the UFC. I’d like to see Joachim Hansen if he can get down to 145 take on Mike Brown or Urijah Faber to see what he can do. In my opinion, Joachim Hansen should be at 155; the guy cuts like four pounds to make ’55? If he could get to 145 that’d be amazing.

Any shout-outs you need to give? We do reach a guaranteed audience of 47 people…

(Laughs) I have to thank the guys over at Sportsnet, The Fan 590, UltimateBet.net who is the main sponsor on the show. We’ve got Trojan condoms that just signed on, we’ve had NAPA Auto Parts, Dr. Pepper, so yeah, I wanna thank all of them because if it were not for them, I wouldn’t be where I’m at.

And of course all the support I get from guys like you and the fans out there that watch the show and listen to the radio show, because without the ratings, I’m nobody.

Above all, you’ve gotta thank the godfathers of the sport, man. In every interview I do I try to thank the Rorion Gracies, the Royce Gracies, the Dana Whites, the Fertittas, the guys that if they didn’t do what they did, you and I would not be talking right now.

Thanks for doing this.

No problem. Thanks for giving me a shout. I appreciate it.

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