So You Wanna Be a Fucking Writer?

Sunday, November 4th, 2012 by Tony Reid

Well do ya? If so, Let Uncle Tone take a few minutes to fill you in on the super secrets of the industry and pull the curtain back and expose the seedy, unsavory truths of being an MMA writer. What I am about to cover applies to more great people in this industry than you can imagine. It’s not just me; I’m just the one sharing the war stories. Here we go…

Everything you see that has my name attached to it starts from scratch, from square one (read: from an idea in my head) and it is up to me to see it through from phase one until the final product (read: I do all the work). Writers far better than I have said you don’t choose to be a writer (or whatever you want to call what I do) but that it chooses you. Let me take a moment and confirm that statement 100%. It literally pains me if a few hours go by on any given day where I’m not writing, researching my next subject, contacting someone to set up the next interview, selling myself to other magazines that I don’t currently write for, or being involved in some capacity in the sport I love. I’m always thinking, always trying to do more, to do better. The bottom line is that I want to be the best; I want to be great at what I do. In all honesty it would be nice to not have to do that once in a while, you know, take a break. Take a break? Nah, keep working, keep pushing, keep going. It’s what I love and that is much more fun than resting would be anyway. Everything you see my name attached to came from my own ideas, my own contacts that I have spent years networking to grow and only through hard work, trust and past performance do I get to continue doing what I love to do. If I screw up a few times I can kiss my integrity and jobs good bye. I get that feeling that some uninformed people think that TapouT Magazine hands me their little (or big) black book or Rolodex and I just get to run my fat little fingers through it and play eeny meeny miny moe and contact whoever I feel like talking to that particular day. Not the case, as my interviews number in the triple digits and I can count on one hand how many times I have asked for a contact name or number in trying to track down a fighter. As one of my favorite rappers says I do more legwork than centipedes

I also do my own research as there is no “stats guy” or research department. I spent hours researching leading up to the interviews I conduct. I will read every interview the fighter has given in the past year leading up to ours. I pride myself on digging deeper than most and digging deeper than the very lame and very weak line of questioning that gets no further than asking about a fighter’s last fight and next fight. I mean, how many times over the course of months leading up to said fight can a guy be asked about his last or his next fight or how his camp is going? I could have my seven year old son handle that line of questioning for me. I want to talk about the dude’s childhood, his life outside of fighting, what made him who he is today, what makes him tick, his thought process, his life, his favorites (fights, women, video games, drugs, everything!) I want to ask an interview subject questions that simply by asking them the person knows I did my homework. From time to time I will even text or call a few of my interview subject’s acquaintances in the sport and ask them for a nugget or two that might not have been covered before. And of course I will check Twitter, Facebook and all social media to find the latest information on the fighter. I take a great sense of pride in the fact that some of my interview subjects have told me that the questions I asked them are some of the best they have ever received. These cats are busier and busier every day with the sport blowing up the way it is and with all the opportunities that present themselves and they don’t have to grant my (or your) interview request so I don’t waste their time with questions they have already answered 50 times. I make it worth their while and I make it worth my while.

I am also responsible for my own travel arrangements and costs to any event at which you see my pretty little face. I pay my own way in full from tickets (airfare and speeding) for travel to hotels (read shady motels) to (fast) food and everything in between. I do not ride in the TapouT Bus or fly on the TapouT Plane. I generally drive a beat up old Grand Am or if my wife is feeling generous I get to drive her Volvo around. This travel also means time away from my paying job and time away from my family.

I am a salesman. By that I mean I am constantly selling myself. Not like that you weirdo. I sell my ideas, my partially finished work, my finished work, well I take that back. I don’t sell them at least not in the monetary sense, you see, I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote some more, for over three years in fact, before ever seeing a single cent for all of that hard work. All this for no pay. I have worked for nearly four years for certain companies, magazines and publications withouT seeing a single penny. You would have thought that this gig sounds pretty glamorous right? I must be making out pretty well, right? Nope, I’m still waiting for my first paycheck from many of the magazines I write for, you see, there is a certain unwritten rule that for an undetermined period of time you work for free and when you think that period is over and that you might actually get a check, the period of time seems to stretch a little longer. So a piece of advice to all you young bucks about there… if you are in this for the money I must inform you right now that you are wasting your time. If you are in it for the love of the game, the reward of seeing your work in print then you are on the right track. It is like Christmas morning every month when I get the copy of the magazines I write for and see my work right there in print for the world to see. It never gets old. I give props to Ultimate MMA Magazine. They paid me from the first time my work appeared in their magazine. It felt like I won the lottery! Thanks to the good folks at Beckett Media I can now proudly say I am a professional writer after being an amateur for 4 years. When I got that first check it was one of the proudest days of my life. To realize after all this work that I might be able to make a few bucks doing what I love to do. It’s only a couple hundred bucks, but it’s the small things in life, the small victories, I guess.

And let me tell you something, it’s not just me. I have spoken to a number of well known journalists in this game and most of them echo the same sentiment. I won’t mention any names here but just ask around.  This goes for websites, too. If you know of a site that has the letters MMA in it, consider it included on the list. Like I said to someone recently as we were discussing the many ways fighters are still getting screwed over in the sport, I may be a writer but I am still getting screwed over by people in the business, too. I feel their pain, well some of it anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, I do it because I love the sport, I truly love it. I love being close to it and I love interacting with the great athletes and personalities of the sport. I’m not complaining, really I’m not, I’m just stating facts and there are many writers, reporters and journalists much better than I that do this on a much larger, more in depth scale. I am first and foremost a huge fan of the sport. Anybody can go to school and major in journalism but for me personally I would rather have an intelligent, passionate person writing about the sport. Of course there are certain basic ideas and skills that one must posses but I would rather have someone who loves the sport be involved than just another journalist who would be just as content covering badminton or the spelling bee.

I generally don’t get paid monetarily but I do get paid just by having the opportunity to do what I love. I have so many great stories, so many great times, and so many great interactions that can’t be quantified in dollars. Let me bore you with a few of them off the top of my head. While interviewing Bruce Buffer we got on the subject that I was getting married shortly after our interview. I thought it would be cool for him to introduce us at our reception. So, I wrote a script and he was kind enough to record the audio and now BB is a permanent part of our wedding day. I met with the greatest wrestler in the history of the sport, Cael Sanderson, in his office on the campus of Penn State University. After our interview I mentioned how my five year old son had just started wrestling and how I would like to get him to a Penn State meet at some point. The team only had one meet remaining that season and Cael was kind enough to offer his seats to the sold out final dual meet against Wisconsin. My little guy and I sat right next to Cael’s wife and kids and watched Penn State beat Wisconsin in their final meet of the season and during the season of their first run to a team national championship. Prior to the meet I had the opportunity to take Tyson “backstage” to meet Cael. What an experience. While interviewing the famed cutman Jacob “Stitch” Duran we both thought it would be a good idea if he wrapped my hands as if I were headed to the Octagon for a fight. So, right after our interview he went up to his hotel room to grab all his gear and came back down to wrap my hands. I believe he said that I was the first writer to have my hands wrapped by him and he welcomed me into a pretty exclusive club of great fighters. I have had fighters call and text after our interviews stating that the questions I asked were the best that they had ever been asked during their entire career. These special moments are payment enough for me.  That is why you can’t wipe the smile off my face when you see me in a picture or video interviewing one of the great people involved in combat sports. Pay or no pay, consider me the happiest writer in MMA. Co founder of the UFC and famed member of the Gracie Family Mr. Rorion Gracie he told me during our extensive interview that “Money is a consequence of what I do; it’s not a reason why I do things.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.