Four things to remember on your way to becoming an MMA Star

At the conclusion of Epic Fighting Fighting  21, Jason Stewart (center) posed for several photos with David Fabian, the new Lightweight Champion and Stewart's proud father. Photo: Jim Wyatt

At the conclusion of Epic Fighting 21 on Friday, November 8, 2013, Jason Stewart (center) posed for photos with David Fabian who not only won the “Submission of the Night” honor but became the new Lightweight Champion. On the right is Stewart’s proud father.

Enclosed is an open letter to up and coming MMA Fighters from the CEO of Epic Fighting, Jason Stewart

1. Focus on your accumulation of skills

For your benefit and safety, your first priority should always be preparing yourself as a fighter. A common mistake I see fighters make is training very hard to get in the best condition, while their skills remain stagnant. Yes, you need to be in the best physical shape possible. Just don’t neglect your skills. If after five years of training you’re still a white belt grappler with mediocre wrestling skills, and swinging for the fences is your only solution for a stand up exchange, then you haven’t learned the essence of MMA. End result, we see more and more of the newer fighters with far less experience getting the better of you.

On the other hand, if you add and perfect skills along the way, you’ll be a more efficient fighter (less likely to gas out) and more importantly a more effective fighter. Even if you face someone who is stronger and in better shape, your skills will save you and more than likely you’ll win the fight.

Don’t neglect the drills. So many people (myself included) get impatient with drills and want to get right down to sparring. Like Bruce Lee once said, “Fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

The same thing can be said about Grappling. When one person is defending a submission and the other is trying to submit, the one who has drilled the most usually ends up winning, based on that distinction alone. At each practice, you must strive to learn and/or perfect at least one skill and get comfortable enough with it to pull it off during a grueling fight.

Solution: incorporate conditioning, strength and power exercises with real fight movements or drills. Sparring is just as good for your cardio, as running, and flying knee drills. Sprawls can be done in place of the basic lunges or jump squats.

Kicking a bag a few hundred times and doing triangle and arm bar drills from the bottom (with or without a partner) can be just as good for the abs as crunches and sit-ups. I’m not saying don’t do jump squats and sit-ups. What I am saying is there are exercises that kill two birds with one stone.

Remember conditioning can come and go quickly. Skills, however, can be brushed off and picked up where you left off. Power, strength and conditioning, although crucial for a fighter, cannot be accumulated exponentially over time, the way skills can.

training at the Arena

When you train at the Arena MMA in Point Loma there’s always an emphasis on your technique. Just ask Shane Kruchten seen here applying an arm bar in a sparring session.

2.Don’t be a secret fighter

Fighting can be fun, thrilling and a bit costly (at least relative to most fighters’ budgets). To fight amateur it cost between $115-$300 a year after medicals, blood work and licensing. Fighting pro can cost over $1000 per year, and most pro fighters only make $100-$500 for their first few fights.

Compared to most sports, the cost of participating in MMA isn’t that much, yet I’ve seen many fighters add stress to their training as they worry about coming up with the extra cash.

So what’s the best solution to counter these costs and possibly make a little extra dough? Sponsors and ticket sales! I get it, you’re not a salesperson, you’re a fighter. That’s fine…if you don’t mind staying broke or money isn’t an issue. But if you want to be successful, especially in the smaller or local shows, you have to be marketable. The truth is a promoter sees more value in an average fighter who sells 50 tickets than an amazing fighter who sells none.

Sponsors feel the same way. Why put their company name or logo on a fighter that no one knows is fighting. A smart sponsor will invest in the fighter who is all over Facebook and Twitter and telling all his family, friends and co-workers about his fights and his sponsor.

Yes, you can be a Jose Aldo or Anderson Silva and be the best in the world, but who’s made more money than them? Who isn’t as talented? Tito Ortiz! He’s one of the highest paid MMA fighters of all time. And look who’s catching up, Chael Sonnen. Even though these two are amazing athletes, they are not the best fighters. Yet, they’re entertaining and highly visible outside the cage as much as inside it. Simply put, they are marketable whether they win or lose.

Have you ever seen a fighter in the UFC that doesn’t get cut after several losses even though many other talented fighters keep getting cut? It’s because they have fans!

Solution: Get out of your comfort zone! Get your social media going. Update your status concerning your training and instructions on how people can buy tickets to your show. Also remind your friends, family and coworkers often; especially a day or two before the fight. No matter how strong people’s intentions are, most of us need a last minute reminder.

3. Get a sponsor and make them love you!

If you do a good job of promoting a sponsor, one of two things can happen. They will see your value and continue to sponsor you, possibly increasing your pay, or some other savvy business owners will notice you and make it even easier for you to get additional sponsors.

I don’t care if your first sponsor gives you a crappy T-Shirt and a stick of bubble gum, use that for traction. Now you are a “sponsored athlete.” That’s a big deal to most people. Hopefully, you’re going to benefit that company.

Sometimes a company won’t grow due to factors beyond your control, and that’s fine. There’s nothing you can do about that. At least use them as an example for the next sponsor you approach by showing what you did for the previous company.

Another good way to get sponsors is to itemize what you need. I need a $200 sponsor to cover my Medicals or $100 for a pair of trunks with my name and possibly theirs on them. Other examples include supplements, food costs, gym memberships, private training sessions, gear (gloves, shin pads, mouth guards, wraps, head gear, etc). Itemize the things they are paying for and they’ll feel comfortable knowing their money is being put to good use. It’s also more rewarding and fulfilling to them, when they realize they are helping you to become a better fighter.

I’ve seen amateur fighters pull in $1000 per fight from sponsors to make more than most pros after you combine both their purse and sponsorship money. You can have multiple sponsors on your shirt, shorts, and hat, plus the social media options are endless.

Solution: People in general love to help. Don’t be afraid to ask a couple dozen companies to sponsor you. One out of 10 is the average success ratio in marketing. So simply ask 30 people and you’ll end up with at least three sponsors.

Don’t forget to represent your sponsors between fights, and if you have apparel with their logo on it, show it off at the gym and in public as often as you can. Make sure to take pictures of yourself wearing it, so your sponsor(s) see that you’re supporting them as much as they are supporting you. Always make your sponsors feel like they’re getting more than their money’s worth.

I know big name fighters who wear their sponsors’ apparel every day, just in case someone ends up snapping a photo of them. Their sponsors know that athlete is thankful and doing his or her part to promote the sponsor.

Eduardo Telles shown here with his family at his 99 Gym on Governor Drive in San Diego is always mentioning wearing his sponsors and wearing their logos and apparel.

Eduardo Telles, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt under Fabio Gurgel and recent winner in the No Gi World Championships in Longbeach, shown here with his family, (l to r) son Jason, mother Sonia, wife Maria at his 99 Jiu-Jitsu Gym on Governor Drive in San Diego, is a good example of an athlete going out of his way to mention or wear his sponsors’ apparel.

4. Choose the right team

Proximity is important for an MMA fighter, and not all gyms in your proximity are necessarily for you. Some gyms are great at one or two things, but when it comes to meshing it all together, they may lack the needed resources. Some gyms have great programs for the kids and moms or for the fighters at the UFC level, yet they’re sorely lacking when it comes to the interest and focus needed for an upcoming fighter.

Also, who from that gym will be going to the fight to corner you? A good corner can make or break a fight. They add the peace of mind that can be invaluable. Make sure your corner is familiar with your fight game. It’s hard to corner someone or yell out combo’s when the fighter doesn’t know what he’s talking about. You often see this with fighters who have a friend or someone from their gym cornering them. Don’t panic if you find yourself ready to enter the cage with no corner to coach you. If you do end up with a last minute corner, simply take a deep breath and communicate before the fight about your game plan and fighting style. To be honest I’ve seen many a fighter just get in their zone and do what they do and give an impressive performance.

Make sure you mesh well with your coach or coaches. If you don’t respect them, you won’t take their advice seriously, and having a coach whose advice is ignored, is worse than having no coach at all.

Imagine having the benefit of this group of trainers/instructors in your corner. Jon Tuck (second from the right) did when he fought in China. (l to r) Jeff Clark, Jon Tuck, Vince Salvador and Pat Speight. Photo: Jim Wyatt

Imagine having the most experienced group of trainers in the U.S. in your corner. Jon Tuck (second from the left) did when he worked out at The Arena MMA gym recently before fighting in China. (l to r) Jeff Clark, Tuck, Vince Salvador and Pat Speight. Photo: J. Wyatt

Solution: Analyze your needs. Then analyze what the gym has to offer. Most fighters need a ton of work on everything. Others have clear, strong and weak points. Like the amazing striker that can’t defend a takedown, or the Brown Belt in jiu-jitsu, whose answer to every stand up encounter is the clinch or a takedown attempt.

For some fighters two gyms is the answer. I know many fighters that will travel to one location for sparring and another for pad work. One gym might have a great wrestling program, while another has great jiu-jitsu or ground and pound training.

*Jason Stewart is the Owner and CEO of Epic Fighting; a leading Southern California based MMA Promotion company. He also trains, and has competed in several combat sports to include MMA.

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