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Better Know a Blogger: Bloody Elbow's Luke Thomas

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This is a landmark week for the sport of mixed martial arts.  On Saturday, July 12, UFC 100 will happen marking a century of big-time events for the biggest organization in the sport.  In honor of that, I figured the best person to talk with this week was Bloody Elbow's Editor-in-Chief Luke Thomas.  Thomas has become a star in MMA circles for running what many consider the "thinking man's" MMA blog.  It's rich in detail, analysis and is one of the best blogs to read whether you're an MMA fan or not.

So without further ado, let's get to know Luke Thomas.

Blez:  You happen to run one of the biggest trafficked blogs on the Net.  Did you realize how much potential there was for a blog like Bloody Elbow?

Luke Thomas:  No way. Even though I’ve always been extremely committed to MMA, I never saw the growth happening. Certainly I hoped for it and am elated it has happened, but I cannot lay claim to prescience here. Now that we are where we are, I think the sky is the limit. MMA blogs can and will continue to give blogs and sporting websites that don’t cover MMA a run for their money. Alas, I was not one of the select few who can candidly say they always believed this was likely. Everyone thought it was possible, but few thought it was probable.

Blez:  How long have you followed MMA and what do you find so appealing about it?

Thomas:  Formally, since 2003 and before that just casually or even intermittently. I first caught wind of it in 1995, but didn’t really develop a voracious appetite for MMA consumption until I really dug my heels into training.

What I find so appealing about MMA is not just the sweet and sour of violence and strategy working in tandem, although that is certainly a lovely thing to witness.  The conflation of opposites often produces an appealing product and MMA is no different. For me, though, I love MMA because I think it deli. When a person is physically pushed to their limit you often get to see truly magnificent feats of athleticism and true demonstrations of deep character and bravery. But with MMA, you’ve upped the ante. Not only is the athlete being asked to use every ounce of their mental and physical durability and drive, but they’re being attacked and forced to fight back while they thoroughly exhaust themselves of every resource. When a fighter of technical and athlete talent is pushed to his or her limit (and hopefully does the same to a suited opponent), you are treated to a vision of human achievement other sports simply cannot touch. Struggle and fear tackled by athleticism, technical know-how and innate desires for self-preservation brings out a side in humanity that exists only in the deepest recesses of our being. MMA fighting has no peer when it comes to the demands the sport places on its participants both physically and psychologically. And I love watching that dynamic in action.

Blez:  What's the best part about blogging about MMA?

Thomas:  There’s no off season. Even in the summer doldrums of more mainstream sports, MMA is on full blast with action packed weekends over and over again. Consistency is never a bad thing.

Blez:  What's the biggest challenge when it comes to blogging about MMA?

Thomas:  MMA is a splintered sport. The universe of fighters, fight locations, countries, promoters, fans, camps, businesses, and the myriad other parties all part of this circus interact is often very complicated, tangential, contradictory and other confusing arrangements.  MMA is a moving target both as it grows and fundamentally alters itself. Trying to grab the blade of MMA while it falls is perilous, difficult and even fraught with disaster.

Blez:  When did your love of MMA first start and how has it evolved over the years?

Thomas:  I had a family friend when I was 14 tell us about Royce Gracie and what he was accomplishing. We rented the first four UFC events on VHS from Blockbuster and just stood there amazed and what we were witnessing. From there it just perpetuated itself. I started taking judo in college and had a little training in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. From there I eventually started training all the aspects of MMA when I moved to DC in 2004. I eventually just focused on grappling, but that’s how the process essentially began.

In terms of how it’s changed, I suppose my feelings about it mirror the progress and adjustments the sport has made over time. But quite honestly, the thrill I get before watching major fights now is the same thrill I’ve always experienced.

Blez:  So according the that Washington story about you, you were training to be an MMA fighter.  Was that really the case and if so, what kind of style was going to take you into the ring?

Thomas:  Not true. I was lifting weights with a personal trainer because I was trying to bulk up for a television appearance. Yes, that makes me vain, but there is nothing that irks me more than MMA journalists or analysts who are gigantic fat slobs. One need not train five days a week to be a competent analyst of MMA, but experiencing the rigors of physical punishment certainly informs your judgment. Moreover, appearances matter in MMA. For a sport with such a sensitive image issue, how those members of the MMA community appear and conduct themselves carries weight with the mainstream. You would not believe how much easier it is to convince a skeptic that MMA is something they could enjoy if you carry a professional appearance.

I’m recovering from shoulder surgery, but when that’s over I’m headed back to the jiu-jitsu mats. So if and when I ever do fight, I’d like to submit my opponent. But chances are sparring is as far as I’ll ever take it.

Blez:  Who is your favorite current fighter in MMA?

Thomas:  Everyone is supposed to say the best fighters are their favorite, but that doesn’t work for me. I completely recognize this fighter’s limitations (and they are numerous), but my favorite fighter is Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos. Look, he isn’t the best athlete, wrestler, striker or submission expert in his weight class, much less all of MMA. But if you want to knuckle up and throw hands, he is always happy to take requests. In MMA and jiu-jitsu there is a term known as gameness. It essentially means pursuit of the fight despite the physical consequences. Cyborg has gameness pouring out of his ears and I personally can’t help but love watching him compete even when he elects to fall on his sword.

Blez:  Is UFC the league you enjoy watching the most?

Thomas: It’s certainly the league that occupies the vast majority of my time. And, of course, they also offer, on balance anyway, the best, highest quality MMA product. I suppose I don’t have much of a choice given that the volume of superb product they produce to answer yes to the question. But I’d also remind others that there is a significant amount of first-rate MMA far beyond the confines of the UFC. Dip your toes into the waters and you’ll be surprised by how much you enjoy.

Blez:  What's it like to have the Bloody Elbow/USA Today MMA Rankings?

Thomas:  Unequivocally, that’s the finest reward of anything I’ve experienced since I started blogging. To be recognized by the second largest media on the planet written in the English language is an honor in and of itself. But we’ve actually contributed something to the sport as well. Our rankings demonstrate a step up and commitment to a higher, more sophisticated level of reporting in the mainstream press. Rather than one off articles about fighters that are essentially nothing more than human interest stories, our rankings remind folks MMA is a sport with athletes jockeying for position and hierarchy in hotly contested battles all over the world. That’s all together new for MMA in terms of mainstream media exposure and I am very honored Bloody Elbow helped bring that about.

Blez:  What's your hope for Bloody Elbow?

Thomas:  I have no formal vision. My only hope is that we can maintain the high standard of quality as we expand our format and grow our output. I’ve found that if I focus on delivering a consistently good product, the rest of the details often sort themselves out. The only major priority I have is quality. Again, with a sport like MMA that’s still grappling with sensitive image issues, I’ve found producing thought-provoking, measured writing can affect opinion more. The more mainstream sports fan and sporting world expect MMA to be followed by the dregs of society. Having writing and analysis beyond the third grade level can actually do wonders for MMA’s acceptance levels, to say nothing of how concerned we are with producing high quality work as a matter of professional responsibility. But yeah, I say openly I write concerned about how the mainstream perceives the MMA community. Someone’s got to write on a level they respect. Might as well be us.

Blez:  What kind of movies, books and TV shows do you like?

Thomas:  I certainly don’t decry the tastes of others, but I’m not much of a fiction guy. Be it literature, movies, standard books or television, the show has to be rooted in some measure of reality. I don’t mind a little artistic license, but I’m far more intrigued by actual history, events, people and situations.  The best storylines of real life are too fascinating for me to be distracted by fantasy.

Blez:  Tell me something that people might not expect to hear about you.

Thomas:  I’m a major wine enthusiast. My family is in the wine business, so clearly there’s an effect by osmosis going on. I’m at an amateurish level when it comes to actually knowing much about wines and the wine world, but I greatly enjoy trying, tasting and experiencing this universe.

Blez: By the way, I want to ask one other question.  With UFC 100 coming up, how much has the sport evolved since UFC 1 and what are the main differences?

Thomas:  Too complicated a question here to answer here comprehensively, but for folks new to MMA I’d just say the major difference is that we’ve gone from being a toughman contest to a fully stocked, active, healthy, budding, governed sport. In every conceivable dimension – from the talent of the fighters to the sophistication of the divisions to the production of broadcast shows to the ability of the media to properly deliver news and analysis – there has been an unreal growth in best practices. There is still a significant amount of evolution the sport must undergo as we move forward, but if you map the trajectory of MMA over the course its modern life the curve is essentially exponential.

Blez:  Thanks for your time, Luke.  Enjoy UFC 100.