Chris Thomas is a Baltimore resident and highly respected figure in the mixed martial arts community. He has been involved in MMA since its infancy and is one of the few individuals given "all access" to MMA fighters and promoters. Currently, he co-hosts "Fight Club" on Sirius Satellite Radio. I was able to talk to Chris at length and get his insight into the current state of MMA, where he sees the sport going and what the future holds for MMA in Baltimore.
MMA STOMPING GROUNDS: How did you first become involved in Mixed Martial Arts?
THOMAS: In 1993 I was sitting with my karate instructor and class of students and we watched the first UFC. As I watched Royce Gracie beat everyone I thought to myself, "That's what I want to do." I became obsessed with the sport and I become known as "Chris the MMA guy."
I had a nutrition business, which I sold and started an MMA Web site. It was one of the first media outlets covering MMA. I met guys like Dana White, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz and Pat Miletich.
I went to my first event in Rome, Georgia in 2000. It was in the middle of nowhere with about three thousand fans. On the card were Jens Pulver, Matt Hughes, Jeremy Horn and Rodrigo Nogueira. All these guys who became superstars of MMA. And these guys are amazing people. They could do anything. MMA is the triathlon of sports. If you ever go and see an event live, you will see something more impressive than any NBA Finals or Super Bowl.
MMA STOMPING GROUNDS: How did the show on Sirius come about?
THOMAS: I did a radio show in New Jersey for an IFL show. I met a guy there who worked for Sirius. He introduced me to some people and I initially ended up going on the show as a guest. Within a couple shows, I became the co-host. We're on every Tuesday and Friday from 1 to 3 p.m. We're doing well and look for us to be on more days as soon as the merger with XM goes through, whenever that happens.
MMA STOMPING GROUNDS: What is your take on the Affliction event and its significance in the MMA world?
THOMAS: Here is how I look at MMA – I think MMA is similar to NASCAR in that each individual promotion is their own car with their own budget, drivers, etc. The UFC is one car. Affliction is one car, EliteXC is one car, etc. Right now the UFC is lapping everyone because they're constantly on. Dana White wanted to be on free TV and he came through with his promise. The guys at Affliction had their clothing company and they started sponsoring a lot of top-notch fighters. I interviewed Randy Couture recently and he felt that the UFC basically banned Affliction because they wanted to affect him (editor's note: Affliction runs Randy's Xtreme Couture clothing line). Affliction is on a different level when it comes to the heavyweight division. They have some great heavyweights and, of course, Fedor Emelianenko. Fedor is a different type of fighter. He is liquid in motion. His transitions are flawless and he is an economy of motion. Watching him is exactly what MMA is supposed to look like.
I hope Affliction sticks around. They need more exposure. Donald Trump Jr. has been on my show and those guys are working hard to help the promotion and they seem to be about more than just the money. I hope Affliction makes it. It's good for the sport. It's good for the UFC and EliteXC. This sport has proven that if you promote and put the fights people want to see, people will come.
EliteXC was recently on CBS again and the UFC put on a re-run of UFC 84: Ill Will. Ill Will drew three million fans. Two million [fans] watched CBS, which proved established MMA can kick the ass of the networks. I think that was a watershed moment for the UFC showing their brand. EliteXC still got two million fans and the decrease was likely from not having Kimbo Slice or Gina Carano on the card.
The UFC is just one version of what the sport looks like. The people that are new to the sport only see one version. There are other versions and people need to see other products. Let's face it, everyone talked about what they could do -- Dana White was the one guy who actually went to the Fertitta brothers and made it happen. Imagine going to your quarterly meetings and you lost $17 million. They lost $44 million until they turned it around. Not many people would continue to commit to that. But the car was already built -- Zuffa and Dana came along and put gas in that car and made it supercharged. Now Donald Trump has gotten involved and he's not a newcomer, he loves MMA and he has for a while.
MMA STOMPING GROUNDS: You mentioned Randy Couture earlier. What is your opinion of his current legal situation with the UFC? Do you think he was justified in making some of the comments he's made regarding his lack of pay and respect?
THOMAS: You have to realize that Randy wasn't expected to win. They put him in as a sacrificial lamb and he surprised everyone and won. Nobody expected it. Randy deserves everything he gets. So does everyone -- including Tito Ortiz and other guys. They deserve to make at least what Dana White makes. They made the sport what it is. That's why I think Fedor is worth the money he made and ten times more. He is the guy these professional athletes look up to. At the Affliction show, if you look close, you will see boxing champion Zab Judah at the fight looking in awe at Fedor in the fight.
MMA STOMPING GROUNDS: What type of future do you see for MMA in Baltimore?
THOMAS: Baltimore is three years behind the sport right now. They're behind the curve and I don't know that Baltimore will ever be a big market. Can they be? I don't know. They haven't proven that promoters would want to be here. I'm cautiously optimistic. I work in New York, but I live in Baltimore and I would love to see the sport flourish here. I see us continuing to promote MMA in general and I believe I can be part of bringing the MMA community here together. I'm shooting a pilot TV show that's filmed in Maryland. It's an MMA variety show with John Rallo (editor's note: Rallo owns the mixed martial arts academy "Ground Control" in Baltimore) and myself.
MMA STOMPING GROUNDS: What do you see on the horizon for MMA in general?
THOMAS: I've already seen an evolution of the sport and I think that will continue. Imagine someone like Cung Le, who grew up in the traditional martial arts world and his first exposure. He was seeing karate guys get beat up. Now he is flourishing. We're seeing the sport develop and grow constantly. The sport is not about violence. Honor is two athletes training their entire lives to compete against each other at the highest level. Most of these guys don't hate each other and it's a close community.
The state of New York right now is looking at the approval process to get MMA legalized in New York. I think we'll see MMA at Madison Square Garden in 2009. That being said, the major companies really haven't even jumped into the sport yet. I want to help continue to promote the sport at the highest level and be a face and name for the sport.