An Australian first, Ben Vickers from Eternal MMA now gets their fight shows featured on UFC Fight Pass. We discuss the details.
- How Ben Vickers’ Eternal MMA started their collaboration with the UFC
- What it means to be the first Australian fight promoter to get featured on UFC Fight pass
- The martial arts metaphor for life
- The number of interactions needed before an individual takes action to buy a product or service
- And more
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To be a leader. You have to demonstrate you're prepared to go. You're not just prepared to scream and shout. You're prepared to put yourself in those uncomfortable positions also.
GEORGE: At what point did you start looking at opening a school and how did you end up in Perth?
BEN: I started coaching about 2007. I really enjoyed coaching. I kind of realized that I was never going to be a world champion and… But I do firmly believe I could train a world champion. So that was sort of my focus sort of switched from being a fighter to training fighters, and I made the hard decision to quit competing myself in MMA anyway. Sorry I've got a fly harassing me at the moment.
GEORGE: It’s Perth.
BEN: I could Mr. Miyagi it with some chopsticks, but… So I made the call that I was going to cease my fighting career. I couldn't do both. If I wanted to focus on coaching, I had to fully focus on coaching. So I started to coach full time. I was actually in the fire service at the time and decided to leave the fire service to pursue MMA as a full-time career. So that happened in 2010 so I was coaching full-time and working as a firefight full-time.
It's the beauty of the shift system there that I could make that work. And then I put the firefighting away to pursue a career in what I love doing, which was teaching martial arts, MMA in particular. So see I was just coaching and then the opportunity to come to Perth came up at the right time in my life. I was just ready to make the move and there were a few circumstances at home that made it a good, good time for me to jet off to the other side of the world. So I did that.
We opened an MMA Clinic here and I was just working as the head coach. And then some things changed and I ended up running the gym. And then eight years later, the gym’s rebranded and I'm sort of sitting there as my own boss with my own school and yeah, pretty happy with that.
GEORGE: Sounds good. I do want to ask you a question to back track. You said it was a hard choice to move from being the fighter to being the coach. What was sort of the hardest part about it? Was it… I mean you mentioned that juggling the two things at once, being the coach and the fighter. Was that the hardest part or was it sort of more of giving up on a dream that that's the path that you want to take?
BEN: No, when I made the call, I realized that the dream is, is to be a world champion as a fighter, I think. And it's a hard sport. MMA is brutal. And I realized that wasn't necessarily a possibility, so that wasn't the hard part. The hard part is I love competing. I love training. I love not having a responsibility when I go to the gym, you know, it's nice just to be able to go and get your hands dirty and get out. So then I had to make that call that now I was going to become the… As a coach, you become more than just teaching people technique. You become a life coach sort of thing for your students they become family. It's such a strange sport in that you beat the living daylights out of each other so the ego can go straight away because you know the pecking order. You know who can win and who can’t.
So you don't need to worry about that stuff anymore. And your sort of leave all your, all your, yeah, your ego just, it doesn't need to exist anymore. The role is well defined within the gym. Everyone knows how everything stands. And in coaching, you take respect in a different way. You know, I'm 40 years old, my students are half my age. I have to understand that I can't necessarily compete with them anymore, but I have to then guide them in the right direction.
So it's a hard choice when I'm a very competitive person. So I missed… I had to make the decision to step away from competition and prepare others for competition. And to fill that hole I do stupid things like ultra-marathons and just to test myself mentally because fighting for me is all about the mental. Overcoming mental barriers and finding comfort in discomfort.
So, yeah, I did a two years or three years ago I did an eight weeks training and did 65 kilometer run and that put me in that place, which was what I just wanted to test myself to see if I still had the mental that when the going got tough, the tough get going or would the, would I, would I crack on and make it to the end or would I quit? You know? That's why I wanted to find out. And I constantly look for different ways to test myself in that regard. So I found a home for my competitiveness elsewhere. I took up rugby so I could turn up on a weekend and be a part of the team but not have to lead it and just get my hands dirty and get stuck in. And so I found ways in that way to manage that competitive spirit and focus all my energy during the week on my guys and making them the best they can be.
GEORGE: Got it. It's such a metaphor for life, right? And that's where martial arts just is a, it's a real test of life because, you know, putting yourself in those uncomfortable positions while there's no… I don't think there's, you know, a much harder place to do it then get in the cage or to be in martial arts or have that contact where it can kind of feels like a life or death.
BEN: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. And you know, we're only ever a split second away from absolute disaster, you know, I mean things we do, you know, punching each other, twisting each other into uncomfortable positions and stuff like that. So it takes a great amount of trust and faith in your training partners, which is what bonds are so close together, I think is, you know…
When someone has you in a choke, in a real-life situation, if they don't let go, you run out of oxygen and you die. If someone has you in an armbar, your arm's going to snap if they don't stop when you ask them to stop. That mutual respect and that mutual feeling of trust build really strong bonds with your students. And I'm very much, I lead from the front, so I do everything the guys do pretty much. I'm sure stepping into the cage, I still spar, I still do the fitness sessions with them. I still do everything that I can prove that I'm not just screaming and shouting. I'm actually putting my money where my mouth is sometimes.
I think that's important too, is to be a leader. You have to demonstrate you're prepared to go. You're not just prepared to scream and shout. You're prepared to put yourself in those uncomfortable positions also.
GEORGE: Yeah, totally. Let's just shift gears towards the business. I tell you, you're running a successful school. Just for context, so what styles, so you've got MMA, what else do you guys do?
BEN: We do all the disciplines individually, so we have presenting jiu-jitsu, our freestyle wrestling, boxing, Muay Thai, striking, which is more like kickboxing style, and then the MMA stuff as well. Plus strength and conditioning on top of that. So we run, we run the full, all the disciplines that you'd need to compete in MMA. And then my job is to put them all together. That's where MMA fighters are made, is not in the individual arts themselves, but in transitioning those arts together.
GEORGE: Awesome. So… and I'm curious, what is your process for doing that?
BEN: You have to make the best out of each art for mixed martial arts. Like for instance, in jiu-jitsu, you might be a guard player. You might lay on your back with the other person on top of you, while there are no strikes coming down, guard is a pretty safe position. When someone can punch or elbow you in the face, it becomes a completely different story.
So it's working out, taking the good from all the different arts and then putting them together in a program that works best for mixed martial arts in itself. But the key is transitioning them. So how do you get from boxing to get someone on the ground? How do you work those transitions? So it's fusing the transitions in. So my mentor is a guy called Mark Fury. He was Matt Hughes coach, Robbie Lawler's coach. He's cornered a 137 UFC fights or something like that.
And he uses the hand as the metaphor for coaching MMA. So if your hand, if these are the arts, that's easy to work. This is BJJ, this is wrestling, this is boxing, this is Muay Thai or striking, whatever. It's these parts, the parts that join the hands together. That's what we need to get people good at. So you might have good BJJ and good wrestling, but how do we create the transition to that. You might have good striking and good jiu-jitsu, but if you can't wrestle, you're not going to dictate where the fight goes. So it's working on the joining factors. So for me, that's the key.
GEORGE: Yeah, perfect. The loop that makes it flow. Probably not the best analogy but-
BEN: Yeah, exactly. It's like what makes everything flow together as one as opposed to being four different martial arts that you're good at. They all need to work in synergy with each other.
GEORGE: So that's now the gym and then so you've got the fighters and now you've got fighters competing and you've created Eternal MMA. So quick just how did we actually transition into that and then we can talk a bit more about what's going on with the fight promotions.
BEN: Yeah. I actually can't take the credit for creating Eternal MMA. I have a business partner in the Gold Coast, Cam O'Neill. He formed Eternal in 2012 and I actually used to just put fighters on it. So he flew some of my guys over to the Gold Coast. He's from the UK as well. So we sort of knew a few people, same people come up with the same sort of time in the same sea. So we got on really well straight away and he started using my fighters on all of his shows.
In 2015, we decided to bring a show to Perth and that's where I sort of came on board as a co-promoter and a co-owner of the business. And that's when we started expanding from the Gold Coast into Perth. I helped sort of develop the promotion on this side of the country and then a couple of years ago we decided we'd move into other States. So we did Adelaide. My thing was on three shows in Adelaide and we just did our debut in Melbourne last weekend before the UFC 243 card in conjunction with the UFC. So we worked together closely with them on that.
So yeah, that's how it sort of came about. I was a reluctant promoter. I didn't really want to do it. I had enough stuff going on, but Cam's very convincing and here we are.
GEORGE: Now, that's quite the… the UFC, how did the UFC come about?
BEN: We sort of asked them questions and we knew they were looking for a partner in Australia and I guess we stated our case. There were a few other promotions looking for the same deal. But I think what makes Eternal… We went into quite some depth in our, in our pitch more than just being on UFC Fight Pass and providing them a broadcast.
We want to help develop the regions. So you know, we want to work in conjunction with them to develop fighters to give them. So to become a pathway to the UFC so we can blood all the fighters, get them their experience, test them out, and then when the UFC is ready to pick the ones that they want, then they can come to the promotion and they'll have a good idea of who they're looking at. Also, if they have fighters they are looking at, we can find them fights for them and stuff like that. So…
GEORGE: I guess just an important step back is how did you actually make the connection? How did it before you actually got to give your pitch?
BEN: You just hear it, you hear things in the industry and we heard they were looking for partners, a partner in Australia, and it's quite easy to get a hold of someone's email address these days and there you go. You just, we just fired off emails and they started talking, started a more in-depth conversation. I know a few of these people from dealing with them with other things as well. So yeah, it's just a case of being diligent, sort of being in the right place at the right time, having a good product and delivering on what you say you're going to deliver on.
I think that's the key to business in general. It's having a good product and doing what you say you're going to do. Which I find is the biggest problem in business these days. I don't think many people follow through on their promises, but I live by that. If I say I'm going to do something, I will do it and do it well. Right.
GEORGE: Yeah. Tell me, I've got a question on that. So you get to do your pitch and what I can hear is you, well obviously you want to deliver on the promise, but it sounds like you really framed it in a way of, you know, it's not just what are we going to get out of the, you know, being promoted for UFC Fight Pass, but really what are they going to get out of it? You know? How could you help develop them? Can you elaborate a bit more on the pitch and how you went about all that?
BEN: Yeah, so we put a pitch together. Obviously, we provide a lot of content. UFC Fight Pass for those that don't know what it is, is the UFC's streaming platform. So it's a digital streaming web-based channel that has 500,000 subscribers in 200 countries across the world. And obviously to service those guys, they need content. So not only can we offer quality content 10 times a year, we can also offer our knowledge of the region.
They need the talent to come through to grow in each region so we can offer them fighters with the skills and qualities that they require to suit their brand. Being the brand leader, they need the best talent and I believe we have the best talent, most of the best talent in the country fighting for us.
That's what we can offer to them as well as sort of being able to give them inside information on the scene in the country as a whole. It's a very mutual relationship. Obviously, we give them all our content and in return we get exposure. That's the nuts and bolts of it. But behind the scenes there's a lot more to it than that.
GEORGE: That's great. So what does that mean for the fighters? Like how does the exposure work? Is it just that it's being promoted on the platform or is it more to it? Not that that's not enough, but-
BEN: Yeah, there's definitely more to it. So for example, we debuted on fight pass in Melbourne just before UFC 243, so we did the Friday night and then 243 one on a Sunday morning. But, obviously, a lot of the UFC top brass were in attendance. So the matchmaker from the UFC was in the crowd that day. So there's no better audition than for you to go out and apply your trade-in front of the guy that you want to impress live.
BEN: So things like that, we aim to work with the UFC on dates. If they have a show in Australia, we aim to sort of create… We created a mini fight last week. So our show, we had weigh-ins Thursday, the show Friday. They had on Saturday and the show on Sunday. So Thursday through Sunday there's MMA every day and in Melbourne. Whereas in UFC Fight Week in Vegas, you know, obviously they have these big expos and stuff like that.
So it was like a really big weekend for Australian MMA and we can do stuff like that every time they come to the region. That's one benefit. Being able to display your skills in front of the people that you're trying to impress rather than sending them an email with a highlight reel, doesn't have quite the same effect. They're also readily available on that platform. So if we send a matchmaker a fighter's name, all he has to do is go on Fight Pass and look at that fighter direct through their own TV channel.
But then also inside information. So if they have any questions or anything like that or they want some guidance on as to who, how this guy is stacking up or whatever, then we can provide that too. But also we're providing regular, if an event does three shows a year and you fight on that event, you might not get on all three shows. So you might only get two fights a year. We're providing an opportunity to fight on 10 different shows a year. Most fighters want to fight three or four times a year, so we can definitely do that for pretty much all our fighters on the frequency that we put shows for it.
GEORGE: Perfect. Awesome opportunity for any fighter, obviously, as you say, you know, direct, but then just being featured on the show. Even if you know you don't have the promoters there, what better thing to put on your portfolio? Just check my fights with them. UFC Fight Pass. Yeah.
BEN: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And it provides a bit of a pathway. It's like I can fight on this show. I know that it's on the UFC, so there's more chance of us then being selected. If we're the best in the country. What we're aiming to do is if you're the best in the country and you owned an Eternal championship, then you should be sort of next in the pecking order to be moved on into the UFC. That's what we're looking at.
Obviously its early days and we're yet to sort of prove that method to anyone, but hopefully next year we signed a multi-fight deal for 2020. They'll take 10 shows from us, whereas this year was a bit unorthodox. They wouldn't normally sign a promotion last quarter, but we managed to get it over the line and they're taking two of our three remaining events this year because of scheduling. They couldn't take the last one, but in 2020 all our events will be live on UFC Fight Pass. So that would give the fighters in the platform on every show to really push and make a run for the big show.
GEORGE: Now, you had mentioned to me earlier, Ben, that you guys have done this all from self-funded 100% you're still running with no sponsors. Is that correct?
BEN: That is correct. Yeah. I sort of spoke to you briefly before, but I've transitioned from being a fighter to being a coach to being a gym owner that none of it was pre-orchestrated or planned. I've never claimed before the last few years to be a businessman. You know, like I just was a guy that had a passion for the sport and wanting to grow it and it's just organically sort of turned out the way it's turned out. So now we're at the point in and it's that corporate sort of driving sponsorship and stuff like that.
It's an area where I don't have the expertise and I've always been a guy that I stay in my lane. If I know about it, I'll do it and if I don't know about it, I'll try and get someone else to do it for me and obviously, you know, pay some… I'd much rather pay someone to do something properly than make a botched job of it myself. Trying to save a few dollars. We have some minor sponsors, you know, a couple of us, you know, they buy tables at the show and stuff like that. But yeah, nothing on a major level that, you know, perhaps some of our competitors might have.
GEORGE: Totally so if we were having that conversation, like let's say I have a product that could be mutually beneficial to what you guys are doing and obviously knowing that, yeah, the exposure is the next level for what you're getting, you know, to be UFC Fight Pass and so forth. Who do you think would be an ideal sponsor and how could they benefit potentially from?
BEN: I think you'd be surprised as to who could be a sponsor for a mixed martial arts event with big viewership. Because you think about the demographic that is one, into the sport and two, attending and watching the sport. It's mostly a male, sort of 17 to 45 disposable income demographic. So you know, it's a good demographic for most companies. You know, clothing, nutrition, tattoos, betting, all that kind of stuff all fit into the sort of the demographic that we service.
So they're the kind of people that we're looking to link up. We did some stuff with Winter Warrior, which is a show that puts on like 20-week programs in gyms around the world. So we're working with them next year, so we're going to be partnering up with them. So that's really exciting for 2020. Any company that wants to have a chance to put themselves in front of that demographic would be a good fit for us.
And also we have assets, you know, we have these champion people, you know, we have great athletes who are very humble and you know, we can come to companies and train their staff. You know, we can do talks, we can… so we can set up very bespoke packages. You know, there's plenty we have to offer with the assets that we have within the company, not just inside of viewership and advertising. Sort of team building, personal development.
You know, you could learn a lot from a young MMA fighter who's disciplined and sacrificed a lot to get to where they've gotten to. And also from people within the company, like myself and Cam, we were kind of self-made business people that have reached quite high with limited funds and experience, you know. So there's plenty of areas to explore.
It's just a case of like anything, it's just, it's a skill that we need to learn and get better at. I probably need to take some coaching or something like that. I mean obviously if you want to get better at something, you find someone who's good at it and you learn from them. So that's probably what we need to do. It's just, we're very time-poor. I run two businesses and I'm just about to open a third. I have a young family that I don't see very much obviously.
So yeah, the time to go and do a course or learn from someone is not really there at the moment. But if sacrifices need to be made then they'll have to be made at some stage. So yeah, I guess it's all part of the learning experience.
GEORGE: For sure. So, and what about if like if I'm a martial arts school owner and I've got fighters and so forth, how would that benefit getting on board with you guys with Eternal MMA?
BEN: Well we can advertise your school at our events and your customers are sitting in our audience, you know, and are watching our show on TV so that you're putting your case. So we have had people in the past put adverts on the big screen in the venue of their gym and now we can put flyers or… What it is if you have a brand, I thought, I don't know the exact numbers, but it needs to be seen X amount of times before it sets in someone's head. And then when they're looking for that service, your name will be the one that they…
So it's like subliminal advertising, really. Putting yourself in front of someone enough times for them to, when they do eventually require your service, you'll be the name they type into Google. You know, so that is really where we can assist gyms and also we can obviously help getting their fighters fights if that's… Because I have a huge fight team to service them, having the promotion is great because I can get them more fights. Whereas if you don't have necessarily the connections or know the people to talk to, then you might struggle to match your guys up regularly, which might lead them to getting disgruntled and going somewhere else where they might get better opportunities.
GEORGE: Yeah, totally. On the marketing side, like in our group, our Partners group where we work with school owners on the marketing side, basically classify it as a touchpoint. I mean there's various tests, six to eight interactions. It could be typical before somebody reaches out.
GEORGE: I mean there are some other tests that stretch up to 43 days and you know, all the fancy stuff. But I mean for any school owner you can think of six to eight interactions with your brand before somebody says hi, let's have this conversation. But that is a perfect thing for a good touchpoint. Sometimes the touchpoint, especially if it's, you know, massive exposure like you know you're doing something on UFC Fight Pass. It could be promoting the actual promotion sometimes has value.
What I mean by that is, you know, nowadays when people have an article in the newspaper, it's kind of pointless. This big newspaper, cause nobody hears about it, but somehow it's got some credibility. So you're marketing referencing that you were featured in this thing is sometimes more valuable. Just like I see when school owners we've worked with that get featured on Sunrise or you know, morning shows.
GEORGE: … nobody sees the morning show, but they see the YouTube clip of them featured.
BEN: It gives you that sort of recognition that you're a legit brand. Right, because-
GEORGE: Critical work, yeah.
BEN: Yeah. Credibility. Exactly. So say Nike sponsored you for something, you automatically get that, that’s the biggest company in the world, one of the biggest sportswear companies in the world, you're sponsored by them. All of a sudden people go, “Oh yeah, these guys are legit.” That sort of thing.
GEORGE: 100%. Thanks for your time. I'll bump into you on the daycare trip.
GEORGE: … again soon. But if anybody wants, let's say, number one, you know like you want to get on board with us. I mean obviously there are big things in store for Ben with the Eternal MMA and the UFC Fight Pass, the exposure. So I mean if, if you're a potential sponsor or a school owner, you've got fighters that you want on board, how can people get a hold of you and have a chat to see if it's mutually beneficial?
BEN: Best bet is probably just an email. So my email would be Ben, B-E-N, at eternal MMA dot com. Yeah, hit me up on an email. Even if it's just like I love to support and advise as well. So if anyone's got any questions, you want it to start a fight promotion or gym-related stuff. I'm more than happy to sort of… I believe that sharing is what makes… Helps everyone achieve and I am very much in lifting people up. So yeah, I'm happy to offer any assistance that I can and yeah if anyone's interested in jumping on board or talking about some options and then, yeah, I'm definitely all ears.
GEORGE: Yeah. Perfect. And if you've listened to the show and you've enjoyed it and you've got some value, especially out of the fight promotions and things like that, just yeah, just shoot Ben an email and just love the podcasts and give some feedback.
BEN: Yeah, definitely a hundred per cent.
GEORGE: Awesome, Ben. Well, thanks for being on the show and I'll probably see you in a couple of days down the road.
BEN: Yeah. Maybe tonight when we pick the kids up.
GEORGE: Yeah, true.
BEN: All right mate, you take it easy. Thanks for your time.
GEORGE: Cool. Thanks Ben. Cheers.
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