I've mentioned before that SB Nation's MMA blogs are ridiculously popular. Bloody Elbow is the site that started it all for us and Nate Wilcox is the blogfather of that highly trafficked community of MMA fans. I figured since BE has tons of readers and fans and Nate has been with SB Nation for so long, it would be a good time to get to know the father of SBN MMA and the league manager of combat sports at SB Nation.
So without further ado, let's get to know Nate Wilcox.
Tyler Bleszinski: Tell me how you got into blogging.
Nate Wilcox: I'd been blogging for several years at my day job in politics where I worked for Jerome Armstrong, one of the founders of SBNation, and I'd been bugging him about the network needing an MMA blog. So he walked into the office one day and said, "ok you've got a blog" and that was BloodyElbow.
Bleszinski: What do you like about being with SB Nation?
Wilcox: I like being part of killer team. It's pretty amazing that when we started BE, our competition were mostly independent bloggers and now our closest competitors are Yahoo, AOL, or have deals with ESPN. As part of SBNation we can not just hang with the big dogs, but carve out our own large and growing niche.
The technology is first-class and that matters, but more important is the vision of community journalism and the commitment to the bloggers. The executive and business teams are putting in an innovative structure and constantly working to make blogging and content creation pay the creators. Also, for some reason the MMA blogs seem to require more help from the legal department than most and I'm darn glad we've got such a good one!
Bleszinski: What was it about MMA that attracted you?
Wilcox: I'd always been a fan of combat sports. As a kid in the 1970's Muhammad Ali fights were huge events and I was in awe of that man. I ate up the Howard Cosell mythologizing that went on around Ali and still believe he was a hero who expressed himself in the ring. Bruce Lee was another early hero and I admired his philosophy of Jeet Kun Do -- doing what works -- and became intrigued with the idea of secret oriental arts. And I'm not going to deny that I was a huge fan of late 70's early 80's pro-wrestling and loved rooting for the bad guys and following the feuds.
So when the early UFCs happened and I started hearing about Gracie vs Shamrock and then saw UFC III on video and I was immediately obsessed 24/7 with it. The phenomenon of Royce Gracie, this tiny not especially athletic Brazilian guy using a very technical breed of jiu jitsu to beat a string of much larger fighters -- many of whom we'd just seen thoroughly brutalize their opponents. It seemed like the living epitome of the ideal of martial arts.
Then I saw UFC VI live on PPV and was completely hooked. The violence was even more intense than in earlier UFC's with markedly larger and more athletic fighters but the event was still dominated by skilled submission fighters.
Since then I've been obsessed with the rapid evolution of the sport as practictioners of various disciplines figured out how to best apply their skills -- from greco-roman wrestlers to Thai kickboxers. I also love the international aspect of the sport with distinctive and effective styles emerging from Brazil, Japan, Russia, and Western Europe.
It's also been amazing to watch it evolve from unregulated spectacle featuring many unprepared non-athletes to the modern sport of Mixed Martial Arts. The business success of the UFC under its current ownership and management is also a great story and their ongoing battles with a constellation of would be challengers since buying out Japan's PRIDE organization in 2007 is always entertaining.
Bleszinski: What kind of approach do you take to your own writing on Bloody Elbow?
Wilcox: I try to have a mix of breathless speculation on the business side of the sport, timely and accurate coverage of the events themselves, informative features on the technical aspects of the sport and pieces about the under documented history of the sport.
I have fun with the aspects I don't take to seriously but try to seriously speak up for the fighters who are literally risking their lives at every event.
I give a lot of heat to the various carnies and con-artists of MMA and try to do my best to fade the heat when I piss people off.
Bleszinski: How would you describe the community at BE and how it might be different from all the other MMA sites out there?
Wilcox: Well BloodyElbow is one of the most aggressively moderated communities on the 'net. We're there to have fun but also serious and informative discussions and we have no time for the kinds of drooling morons you find on most of the discussion boards and blogs online. I'm not just talking about other MMA or sports sites either. The comments on the New York Times, the Huffington Post and my local paper here in Austin TX are abysmal and depressing windows in the mindset of America's dumbest loudmouths. I like to think BE's discussions are some of the best on the net, on any topic. Every writer on our staff with the exception of myself and Luke Thomas our Editor-in-Chief came out of the comments on BE.
Bleszinski: MMA has clearly exploded, becoming the most popular of all sites in our network. Did you anticipate that happening?
Wilcox: Nope. The first month I ran BloodyElbow I had set up about twelve dummy accounts to have conversations with myself and was not sure whether or not to be concerned that I only had 500 visitors in my first month. When Luke came on board it was clear that we were quickly building an audience, but I never anticipated the kind of success we've enjoyed.
Bleszinski: How do you think MMA can continue to make sure and grow?
Wilcox: It's going to be important for MMA to walk the line between sport and spectacle. The spectacle aspects are what draw people to it initially but the sporting aspects are what make people come back to watch MMA events again and again.
The UFC has an enormous responsibility as the world's leading MMA promotion to continue their amazing work as ambassadors and caretakers of the sport. I am very critical of many of their business practices and fighter relationships, but they have done a great job of building the sport at a fast but sustainable clip. Their continued business success is probably the most important thing to keep the sport going.
A close second is for the American market to have a healthy alternative promotion to keep the UFC honest and provide opportunities for fighters. It's not clear if Strikeforce can succeed as that #2.
Lastly I think it's important for Japanese MMA to make a comeback. A few years ago the biggest MMA events in the world happened in Japan -- massive sold out stadium shows, top ranked live network television programming etc etc -- but for various reasons (some having to do with the criminal connections of the biggest Japanese promoters) it's now much less popular in Japan.
Bleszinski: Who is your favorite fighter and why? How about favorite fight of all time?
Wilcox: It's hard for me to pick a favorite fighter since I admire so many. I think each of the UFC champions -- Brock Lesnar, Lyoto Machida, Anderson Silva, Georges St Pierre and B.J. Penn -- are absolutely incredible athletes and bring a great deal to the sport. I also love watching Fedor Emelianenko, the world's undisputed #1 heavyweight and the most important fighter not in the UFC, fight any chance I get.
All time it's a toss up between Royce Gracie who brought Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to the states, Frank Shamrock, the first fighter to truly be combine striking, wrestling and submissions in a complete package, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira whose heart is the largest in any sport I know.
Bleszinski: You're also the combat sports league manager. What makes a new site attractive to you in terms of bringing it into the SB Nation fold?
Wilcox: I look for a unique vision or quality coverage of a niche that we don't have covered as well as I like.
Bleszinski: Is it tough to balance both positions?
Wilcox: Ah, I enjoy working with the team at BloodyElbow and the larger team of SBN combat sports bloggers and see it all as of a piece, just a big team, some of whom need more of my attention than others.
Bleszinski: Tell me something about yourself that might surprise people.
Wilcox: I love kittens and puppies and like to enjoy a cozy evening at home with the family reading history and listening to all kinds of music.
Bleszinski: Thanks so much for your time. We appreciate all you do for SB Nation.