126 – Ed Carr: How To Rise Above Bullying Through Martial Arts And Live An Empowered Life

Edward Carr shares how he’s built 2 thriving clubs through word of mouth, while helping his community combat cyberbullying and live an empowered life.


IN THIS EPISODE:

  • How to harness the power of word of mouth
  • Tips to boost martial arts community engagement 
  • How to encourage bullied children to share their experiences
  • Edward’s book against bullying, Lift Them Up: How to Rise Above Bullying and Live an Empowered Life
  • Effective ways to build a strong online presence
  • And more

*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.

TRANSCRIPTION

GEORGE: Hey, George Fourie here. Welcome to the Martial Arts Media™ business podcast. So today, I have a special guest with me: Edward Carr from New Hampshire in the United States. And so, Edward owns two locations, Tokyo Joe Studios and Team Link MMA, both at the same actual location, in the same facility, on two separate floors.

So, we chat a bit about that divide, and also how he's built a thriving business. 320-330 plus students, mostly on word of mouth. And, look, always when someone says word of mouth, I'm always curious, because it always means there's a strong program, a strong product, and much more to it, right?

And so we chat a lot about things that they've done in the community, their community promotions, also his book against anti-bullying, that positions him as an authority. And all this, how it helped them thrive through the pandemic, and almost not losing any students after being locked down for a full year. So, we're going to jump into that.

If you are new to the podcast, do check out on this page martialartsmedia.com/126, depending where you're listening or watching, and be sure to download our ebook, ‘The Ultimate Facebook™ Guide for Martial Arts Schools', that will help you create your next winning ad campaign. And of course, wherever you're listening or watching, make sure you hit that subscribe button, so that you get notified when we release our next episode.

Alright, let's get into it. So, Edward, over the last couple of months, or just in general, what's been the top marketing strategy and lead generator for you?

EDWARD: It would be a lot of word of mouth, a lot of word of mouth and online. You know, some online advertising definitely helped out, but the word of mouth has been incredible-  with all the students promoting, you know, the school and, you know, me being involved in the schools a lot, also has helped out quite a bit, you know.

Just like I said, just promoting and having fun, and, you know, going from there. And just letting the kids know, you know, letting everyone know, you know, what we're doing, what we're about, promoting safety, you know. Letting them know, like, even though the pandemic, you know, people are still nervous, you know, having all the safety stations everywhere, and all that.

Just making everyone feel comfortable, and then having them go out and telling all their friends, “This is a place to go to exercise and have fun”, and, you know, how do kids learn.

GEORGE: So, if you've got great word of mouth, it's always a sign that you've got a great product, right, and great training and good program. But other than that, how do you feel you kind of orchestrate a lot of word of mouth? And what do you think? What do you think escalates it?

EDWARD: Every time someone competes or does something. Well, we've had a few big name fighters, you know, fight for us. That always brings in a lot of students, people see it, they watch it on UFC Fight Pass, you know, they go from there. We've had a lot of kids… Muay Thai tournaments, grappling tournaments, and karate tournaments – they're starting to do them again and that's always been great.

You know, kids want a medal, a trophy, they're all happy, they tell their friends, you know, and that's the type of word of mouth stuff that's happening. I wrote a book, and it was on bullying, and I got that involved in the schools. So, you know, they're, you know, me being involved in the schools and helping out and talking to the children, you know, about bullying and this and that, it's also been huge.

So, it's a good word of mouth, you know, think, you know, for me, you know, to do all that. Like I said, there's been a little bit of online, you know, stuff, I've done some, you know, contests here and there, you know, for everything, get the students involved, you know, and just try to work it, make it a grind.

GEORGE: What's the book called?

EDWARD: Lift Them Up.

GEORGE: And it's available on Amazon?

EDWARD: Yeah, it's available on Amazon. Yeah, Amazon, the book is called Lift Them Up: How to Rise Above Bullying and Live an Empowered Life. You know, just as in deal with this typical boy who deals with cyber bullying, you know, it goes through the whole… You know, everyone thinks bullying, you just, you know, pick on someone.

But, you know, a lot of people don't realize there's a whole cyber bullying, internet bullying, texting bullying and all this. There's so much out there that people don't understand or realize. So, you know, I mean, it's done well. I've sold like 400, 500 books, I can't complain.

GEORGE: That's perfect. Well, I hope you sell 4000, 5000 more after we do this podcast, right?

EDWARD: Absolutely!

GEORGE: If you don't mind sharing a little bit of insight, because I mean, it's a whole different planet, just like you saying, you know, it used to be bullying, face to face. But, you know, if I look at kids today, I think they're dealing with this whole – a whole different form of bullying, that's, it's pretty intense. And I don't know, I sometimes wonder how kids have actually got to deal with that, right?

If there's, especially if there's a group of people that are bullying you, or doing cyber attacks and just being nasty kids, what's your advice to kids on how to deal with that?

EDWARD: Communication. A lot of kids tend to hide things, you know, and I have a lot of kids that feel very comfortable coming to talk to me, and not even their own parents, or teachers, because they're afraid or scared. And it's just communication, I'm trying to, you know, when I talk to them, I want them to feel comfortable.

I want them to realize it's okay to talk to the teachers, it's okay to talk to your, especially your parents. Let them know what's going on. Too many kids out there just bottle it up, and unfortunately, you know, bad things do happen. And you know, a lot of times they'll bottle that up and hold that negative energy inside, and they explode, and something negative can happen off of that, you know.

And that's all, the key, you know, is communication. Letting them know, you know, that people are out there that, you know, these people in these positions care for them and want the best for them – and want to help them out.

GEORGE: And so, is that something you do on the mats, like mat chats and things like that?

EDWARD: Yeah, we talk a lot about that, you know, on the mats. At the end of every class, I usually have, like, a little, you know, 2 – 3 minute mat chat with them. And we're always talking about bullying, you know, certain situations, you know, just how to train, you know, how to deal with it, you know, how to use your words first, you know.

Everyone thinks, a lot of kids think too, you know, how to deal with things they don't understand either, gotta make them aware. Like, they think, “Okay, I know karate and martial arts, I'm just gonna go beat the bully up.” That's not what it's all about, you know, trying to get them to realize you go talk to them, try and make them – be their friends or walk away.

If there is a self defense situation there, then of course, you know, deal with it in the proper way. But definitely learn how to use your words first, and your brain. I always tell them to use your brain first, speech smart.

GEORGE: That's awesome. Cool. So, talking about online, moving through the pandemic, and you mentioned earlier that you managed to maintain almost a full student base, how long were you locked down for? Just curious.

EDWARD: About a year. It was about a good year, you know, and, you know, you weren't allowed to have any, I could do one-on-one classes. I had a couple people, you know, that would, I would make sure at 12 o'clock, they could come in, it was just them, no one else could be around.

I'd have to give a half hour's worth of time in between, so I could clean and sanitize and then could have another private – but that was it. No group classes. I could do family classes, but I'd have to do them outside. So, thank goodness, a lot of this was during the summer. So, it worked out pretty good.

GEORGE: Yeah. 

Martial Arts

EDWARD: And so I'd do a lot of group classes, you know, with families outside in the parking lot, which, another way in which pretty good advertising too, because then people driving by, seeing us working out and exercising and doing something, so it was good advertising in that way. So, you know, it was rough. But it was a learning experience for me, because trying to develop a system that keeps everyone happy on Zoom.

You know, I've never taught, I mean, I've done a lot of seminars and this and that, but I've never taught on Zoom, you know, pretty much eight hours a day, standing in front of a camera, trying to teach forms. You know, trying to teach, you know, a kickboxing combination and make sure they got proper footwork. It was a learning experience for me too.

But it worked and kept everyone happy. And, you know, like I said, we just always have a contest, I always had something going on just to keep them, you know, feeling good about themselves.

GEORGE: What do you think you've taken from that?

EDWARD: It's made me definitely a better instructor off of that. You know, it definitely opened up my eyes a little bit. I definitely became better – just made me practice a little… You know, we kind of get into, I don't want to say a rut in a bad way, but we get in a rut and a daily routine of coming into the school, four o'clock class, five o'clock class, six o'clock class.

And what it made me do is step out of the box a little bit – I hadn't done that for a while, because I got a successful school. I'm happy, I'm always wanting to grow, do what it takes, but I was, you know, doing well. So, I was like, okay… But this made me step out of the box a little bit, made me realize, you know, “Okay, start training, you got to start training, you've got to start using your mind, come up with these ideas, you know.”

You know, make these kids happy. Let these kids know you care, let the parents know you care. You know, BJJ, MMA make them happy, make sure, you know, and be a coach. And so it made me step out of the box and become a better person for sure.

GEORGE: Were there any, like, specific obstacles that you faced with the kids having to show up online and getting involved and engaging?

EDWARD: Yeah, it was interesting because I'd have to mute a lot of stuff. Like, they could hear me, but I couldn't hear them, because, you know, we'd have 30, 40 people online. Sometimes you can't have everyone, you know, they're still at home. So, they still have their home life.

So, you have dogs in the background or brothers and sisters poking their brothers online. So, at times it was a horror show. It was like, “Whoah, what's going on?!” But, I mean, that was the biggest obstacle, the biggest thing was just like, you know, trying to overcome all that at first, but once, you know, after a week or so, it smoothed out pretty well.

And it wasn't really that bad. You know, just trying to engage them, to let them know that they could do martial arts on the computer and not just play video games was rough, because I would have some students that would blank the screen, but forget to mute it, and I could hear them playing video games in the background.

So, then the parents would ask me how they're doing. I'm like, I don't know, you need to ask him, he's been playing video games. So, you know, stuff like that would happen on and off. But overall, it was, you know, it was definitely tough keeping them engaged – because just staring at a computer screen, even my own daughter would do karate in her bedroom. And, you know, I'd have to tell her to stop jumping on the bed, like, “Listen, you're in class, stop jumping on the bed.” Trying to keep them engaged was definitely a learning experience.

GEORGE: So, what did you do to have that constant state change? You know, because I mean, you can't let them do one thing too long to get in – yeah, boredom kicks in.

EDWARD: I just constantly kept them moving as much as I could. You know, sometimes in a normal class, you know, you take your time, you go over form more, there's more of a pause, more of a… So, you couldn't do that online.

I almost taught it like a cardio kickboxing class, you know, where I just kept moving and moving and moving and moving and moving. Class is only 30 minutes long, but it was, like, just keep them moving. Don't give them that time to stop. You know, don't give them that time to think.

We would do a form to warm up and right from that form we'd go right into some kicking, some punching, and then we'd go into some, you know, self defense techniques, and I'd make it a game and just keep them moving. So, they didn't have that time to go look around to see who's playing outside or stuff like that.

GEORGE: Gotcha. And then jiu jitsu – and how did you handle the BJJ side, and the adults, and so forth?

EDWARD: That was the tough part. Like teaching Thai kickboxing or MMA wasn't so bad, because you could teach them some combinations. So, sprawls, double legs, you can teach transitions, and stuff, that was okay.

But the BJJ was tough, you know, like I had, when – Everyone would make their own dummy, grappling dummy, or they could buy one from me, you know, but, and, you know, whoever made the best dummy won a free gift, you know, stuff like that. So, we had, like, 15 people make their own grappling dummies. So, that's part of getting them involved and engaged, a few people bought some off for me.

And then basically, it was just teaching them transitions and moves and talking to them about, you know, the connecting points, you know, always have points of control and hip pressure and where your hips should be, where your shoulders should be, where your grip should be. And it was more of a, you know, just teaching the technical side of things, you know.

There were some drills out there – you could do, you know, switching back and forth, knee on belly, switch and go into mount, going into, you know, back to knee on belly, to arm bars, north south, all that you could do all that stuff too. But that was, actually trying to teach them actual moves was, you know, definitely interesting.

GEORGE: It's something that is – obviously working with school owners, we've got a group we call Partners, and we've got gi school owners from around the world, but different styles.

And so, it's always conversations that have come up, obviously, with the pandemic. And interesting as well, because everyone was always at a different stage of; we're going into lockdown, we're coming out, what do we do, but it was a good opportunity to cross pollinate ideas, but…

EDWARD: Yeah.

GEORGE: We had one of our members, Carl just talk about, they were just in a two month lockdown in New Zealand, and – 100% jiu jitsu school – and managed to keep all his students going, but the main focus was just movement.

EDWARD: Yeah, 100%.

GEORGE: Movement, and keeping the community going. So, you know, a big thing that we've spoken about was the community, the content and then the coaching. So, how do you do those things? How do you create the community going?

I mean, that's the big thing, and how do you keep the coaching going? And we came up with some creative ideas, right? So, he bought the John Danaher set, and then we just, he would just go through a video, or they would post, you know, a clip from an instruction from someone else, and then they would study it, and they would analyze it, so the whole… Use even someone else's content, but then create the conversation around it to keep the community…

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EDWARD: Yeah, we did the same thing. We actually, one day, myself, would do a jiu jitsu video with my student, he's, I've known him forever, and it was him and I. We'd do a jiu jitsu video, then the next day would use a video of something from someone else.

We used a lot of John Danaher, Gordon Ryan, stuff like that. And then the next day, I would do, like, a karate video for everyone, and then the next day, my student would do a kickboxing MMA video for them.

So, everyday we'll put out a video for the students, also to give them some content to study. And so, not only could you do classes, I would send these videos and post them to everyone, and they could go at home and practice those same combinations, three or four combi- you know, five different ways on how to do an overhand right, you know. How to do two pins in the proper way, you know, a form, you know, and so that worked out pretty well, too.

GEORGE: Sounds good. So, give us a bit of a background about your school and your location. And I know you've got a massive facility, and you've got two floors, and just give us a bit of an overview on the infrastructure and how things operate.

EDWARD: I've been here since 1999. I pretty much have always done martial arts since I was 14. And I just turned 50, so I've been doing it for a while. I just woke up one day and decided I didn't want to do my job anymore, and so then I'm gonna open up a school. Let's try it.

GEORGE: How long have you been… 

EDWARD: So, 1999. Yeah. And so I found this, I found a location. And at first it was only, we only had about 2000 square feet, but I liked this location because it always had an opportunity to grow.

So, I started off with traditional karate, I always studied grappling and wrestling on my own on the side, and had already had a couple fights on the side, but I didn't really promote that too much.

Yeah. And then as we grew, we grew fast. For six months, we grew pretty quick. So, I got to open up another 1400 square feet or so in the back, and we used that room for a while. And then what I did is, I always had the basement downstairs, and it's a giant, like, two big garage, you know, basement. 

And one day my landlord's, “Like, you know, if you want the space, I'll charge you this much for it. And, you know, just take it over and do what you want, you do the work. I'll give it to you cheap, and it's cheap.” And I was like, “Alright!” So, I did all the work, and then like I said, we got two open floors upstairs, bathrooms, office, all that stuff. 

Downstairs is a couple different ways you can go in, it's got showers, a couple of locker rooms downstairs, a bag room, it's got a ring, a cage, and probably about a 1800 square foot, like, weight room too. So, I did the weight room originally for the parents, a lot of parents don't have time to go to the gym. So, I allow the parents for free at first to, while the kids are in class, go downstairs and run on the treadmill, lift some weights to do something.

That way they won't have to worry about their kids, they know they're doing class. But that took off, and you know, that was taking off pretty good. So, now I hired a personal trainer, you know, so he comes in – he does personal classes, you know, for the parents and you know, it's a little bit extra income off of that.

And stuff like that, you know, they scheduled privates for the kids, a lot of them they'll come down here and work with them during the kids class and get in shape.

So, you know, we got a little bit of everything. You know, kids are martial – all the kids' classes are fresh. We got kids BJJ, kids Muay Thai, kids kempo karate, and then usually at night time, it's a, you know, depending on the day, gi, the adult Muay Thai, adult MMA, adult BJJ, gi or no gi on the day, and then cardio kickboxing too.

And then we do stuff on the weekend – Saturday is a full day of classes, Sunday is kind of my day, I invite either the black belts in and we do like a black belt workout or I'll just invite some fighters in and we'll just train, so it's like a training day on Sundays for us. So, you know, it's a full time job. Like I said, it's like 8000 square feet, full time job, I have about – maybe now 330 students.

And yeah, you know, it has its moments. But, you know, I've been blessed throughout this whole pandemic, so I can't complain.

GEORGE: That's cool. So, you've got two names, right? Tokyo Joe's? 

EDWARD: Yes.

GEORGE: Tokyo Joe's Studios and TeamLink MMA.

EDWARD: Yeah.

GEORGE: Curious on two names, but also Tokyo Joe's?

EDWARD: Well, my instructor, who was 14, was playing football, and he was in karate, and he's from East Boston, and he was doing some karate, was a football practice. And they just named him Tokyo Joe, you know, that was his nickname.

So, as he progressed and opened up his own school – he met me at – that was always his nickname. He called it Tokyo Joe's Studios. He named the downstairs his nickname.

And then I was at the Canadian Open as a karate tournament. And he had met me, he said, “Hey, you fought really well, why don't you come train with me?” And he goes, you know, “I'm like, alright.” And he was close by, so I started training with him, and, you know, competed under him, you know, in all these karate tournaments all over the place.

Also, I got a chance to train with like Johnny Tension, and Reggie Perry, who were part of the team, Paul Mitchell, who, you know, are World Champions too. So, it opened up some doors and ideas. And then one day, he's like, “You know, you should think about opening up a school, you're a great instructor, a great motivator, you're a good leader,” and I didn't really put much thought into it.

And then he kept bugging me and bugging me, and then one day, I'm out doing my job – construction – I was doing construction, driving some equipment. I'm like, “You know, yeah, it's time. I don't feel like doing this.” So, I went into the office and gave my notice and went back to him and said, “I guess we'll open up a school. Let's try it.”

So, that was the karate side of things.

GEORGE: Right. 

EDWARD: I'd always done MMA on the side, I was part of Miletich Fighting Systems with Pat Miletich. And when I trained there with them, it was, you know, they had three out of the five UFC champions, it was one of the best gyms around, we did a lot of fighting and training there. But as they all got older and branched off, opened up their own gyms, and everything kind of disbanded. 

I was just left with, like, no direction in my life; my BJJ program was only a purple belt at the time. And really know, you know, didn't know how to, you know, what to do. So, like I said, Michael Alvin, Gabriel Gonzaga, and Alexander Marino all came to me one day, because I trained with them, helped them out with fights and worked with them. 

And they're like, “Why don't you just join us, you know, it'd be a great marketing thing for your BJJ program.” It's a little confusing for some people, but once they get in here, they realize, I kind of keep it separate, and I like keeping them separate, because I like the younger kids… 

I think, you know, even though we do BJJ, we still teach a little bit of focus and concentration in that class, like a karate thing. I like them to learn about the focus and concentration side of things, you don't need to necessarily see all the hard work and training that goes into MMA.

Plus, parents, you know, sometimes they get the wrong opinion, they see the fights on TV, and they think that's what it's all about, and I don't want to give the parents that impression. So, that's why I have an upstairs and downstairs and stuff.

But it's actually become a great tool, because parents realize all the hard work and all the dedication that goes into that, that's their martial art, you know, that's their form, you know, while the kids are learning this stuff, they see the adults or the teenagers doing this, and they realize it's a lot of hard work if it's taught the right way. 

So now, you know, like, whenever we have someone fight, you know, a tough fight passes, I gotta open up the school, we'll have a school full of people watching it on the TV, you know what I mean? Becomes a school party sort of, brings them all together, you know. Like you said, you try to try to create a good, you know, good atmosphere, you know, for everyone – good environment – and it brings them all together, the watch, the fights, and stuff like that.

So, it's kind of cool.

GEORGE: Because that would be my next question – how do you balance the two cultures? Do you find that they are divided or they sort of come together?

EDWARD: It's actually come together- at first, it was pretty divided. You know, when it first – the sport was starting to grow, it was pretty divided. 

You know, people thought, you know, brutality, this, that and you know, and you can definitely understand that. But over the years, as time has gone on, people see it, you know, they've seen the fights, you know, parents have asked, you know, we've, like I said, they've, you know, they got, you know, a lot of kids would do karate competitions, you know.

So then, you know, now they have kids Muay Thai, very controlled, but kids Muay Thai and then, you know, they get kids BJJ. So, because of all these classes that we have, you know, kids getting involved in all these other smaller competitions, the parents are wanting to see what the adults and teens are doing and how that's evolved. So, it's actually brought it all kind of together.

You know, and everyone's, you know, everyone's… it's pretty cool to see everyone, like, you know, support. Everyone gets together, supports everyone and have fun, too. You have a lot of parents that will just come down on Wednesday nights, our sparring night, they'll just come down and just watch, you know, they get to – they bring their, you know, 10 year old kid and you know, “Is there sparring on Wednesday?” “Yeah.” “Can we come watch?” “Yeah, come on in!”

You know, you have a whole group that will just sit on the side to just watch, you know. This is awesome, you know, because they get a chance to see, you know, kicks, punches and stuff and blocks and wrestling, they're into – actual, you know. You get a lot of kids that don't compete, we don't force them to compete. If you want to compete, we can get them ready.

But it gets to see them, you know, put it in practical use, kind of, you know. So, they like watching it.

GEORGE: Perfect. So, just to change gears a little bit – back to the marketing aspect. You got a successful school, 300+ students. You mentioned word of mouth is good. What else contributes to the growth?

EDWARD: Community involvement. Like I said, but everything's changing now. The whole world's changing. I mean, you know what I mean.

When I first opened up, you know, you had to advertise in the yellow pages, you know, big giant ads in the yellow pages, you know, that was a thing. You had to – who had the biggest ad, you know, the big best looking ad in the Yellow Pages, then as time went on…

GEORGE: And your name's gonna start with ‘A', right? So, that you, like, at the front of the book.

EDWARD: Yeah, exactly! Yeah.

Then as time went on, you know, the Internet became more, it was, like, you know, websites were huge. You know, websites are still very important, and they're still a useful tool. But, you know, that was important then, you know, now social media, you know, the whole advertising world has changed so much over the 20+ years, you know.

So now, I'm just trying to stay on top of things. I do a lot of social media, I do a lot of posts, and I do a lot of contests, you know, within the schools. I do a lot of, like I said, I'm involved in the community, the schools, you know, certain fairs, certainly, you know, town fairs, this and that. Those are all advertising avenues for me, you know, when they have town fairs.

I do a community fair myself every – well, I haven't done the last couple years, because of the pandemic – but I rent all kinds of bouncy houses, obstacle courses, this and that, dunk tanks, and at the end of every summer, I do, like, a community thing, you know, everyone's welcome. We'll do a little open house, some demonstrations, and have a huge cookout for everyone.

And you know, it's just, advertising like that is big. I'm always looking though, like, you know, I know right now, you know, I got, I'm looking to step up on the digital side of things, pick up the digital side of things on marketing, some online, make my online presence a little bit better, is my goal for this year.

GEORGE: Perfect. So, I love the aspect of community. I mean, that's, I think that's just gold, right?

Because being involved in the community, it makes you stand out. It also builds your authority, you know, way behind just the martial arts you offer, but you mention, things are changing; what are you noticing that's changing the most, especially with just the world and online that's impacting your marketing the most?

EDWARD: Really, it's just the online presence, you know, having a great online presence is very important now.

You know, before, it wasn't, but now, you know, a lot of you see a lot of the biggest school, you see ads all the time, you see this all the time, and, you know, these schools aren't spending that amount of money, if it's not working. You know, there's certain things out there, you know, and I know these school owners very well. 

And I know that they're not putting these ads out there if it's not working. And I just noticed a huge online presence and how important it's becoming, you know what I mean? And, you know, before you had a whole script on the phone, you know, very rarely do I get phone calls now.

Now it's all emails, or sometimes even text messages. “Oh, my friend gave me your number, my son's in…” You know, it's emails, it's text messages. It's all online. “We've been to your Whatsapp, we've been to your Facebook page, you know, what about this…” So, just the online presence is becoming very important.

And just making sure, you know, your name's out there, and making sure you know, you promote your product, or whatever it may be – your services out there. There's what I think is the best, you know, is what's changing the most.

Before, you know, you're right. Fortunately, I have a great word of mouth. And that's great. I mean, like you said, you got great service, you got great products, you got it. But, you know, you can always do better. So, I definitely want to do the online presence thing.

GEORGE: I think school owners like yourself, where you benefit is you built this whole foundation without that. Fine tune the product, the delivery, the programs, the community aspect. When you elevate your online presence, it's really just fuel on the fire, because you've got all the foundations right here.

I mean, we like to really, especially now, in the work that we do with school owners, we really just try to think of the simplicity of it. And like you were saying, people don't really call anymore. So, when you look at that it's not, you know, the message is still the same. It's just the medium of communication is …

EDWARD: Exactly.

GEORGE: So, people, you know, you’ve got to ask permission before you call.

EDWARD: Yeah, yeah.

GEORGE: The world's just gotten like that. I always text someone and say, “Hey, is it okay to call you?” “Yeah, we just picked up the phone.” Right? But yeah, exactly. Messenger and, you know, Messenger, I mean, we find ads to Messenger is still the best thing ever, because of course, you've got the process to sign people up and work through the process.

There's so many things that we are seeing changing and, and like you said, I mean, I'm a web developer, from you know, way back and my first advice was always just get the spanky awesome website, and get it up on Google and you're good. Now I don't give that advice anymore.

You know, I would say, right, let's get your offer, right? And let's get your ad up, you know, let's get your message out there and find a simple way to follow up. And if you can get those things right, websites are good to have for the people that will go Google and check you out. But you can build a big organization just without that.

EDWARD: Exactly.

GEORGE: The only thing that always scares me is the control factor of putting all your eggs into a basket like Facebook. And you know, that's the one thing that drives your business, and if it's not there, well, I mean, I think it's still going to be there for a long time, right? But especially when you see things shuffle, and people change the different platforms, it's good to be tabs and be a bit omnipresent in that way that you can do without.

EDWARD: Exactly, I mean, it's definitely been interesting noticing the changes, that's for sure. Like you said, you know, everything.

I always tell everyone this, you know, I've helped a few people open up schools, and I just, you know, that's what I – get your online presence going, you know, well, what about this ad? No, you don't need that ad. It's not like the old days, you know, you don't need yellow pages, you don't need this, you don't need that.

Get your online presence up and going. You need a website, of course, you know, people still visit it and go on, you know, make sure you have this in your website. And like you said, the right content on the website that's going to attract the people that go to it. The right ads, the right deals and stuff like that. 

Online presence is, you know, definitely one point for sure.

GEORGE: So, what's next for you, Edward? Like where are you guys going? Are you opening up more locations?

EDWARD: I don't know. Honestly, what's next for me is I've been really, I've been doing this for a long time. Just really been toying with the idea of doing another smaller location.

I don't know if I, you know, but before I've done that, I've been really trying to develop a good strong, solid staff here. I'm one of the few instructors, like, I enjoy teaching. And like some instructors enjoy running this school, you know, and then they have instructors teach for them.

I like still being on the floor, you know, with the kids and teaching, and I still like teaching them on the mat. I still teach BJJ, and people think I'm crazy, but I still teach up to 40+ classes a week. And, and I love it, but I'm also 50 now, so now I'm developing the staff, and the know-how, you know, really developing, like, I got some really good fighters that still have a few years left in them, but know that, you know, the end's coming… but unbelievable instructors.

So, I'm getting them involved, you know, developing a really solid foundation in the BJJ group of instructors, working on getting them, I got some unbelievable teens, getting them involved in them karate side of things and showing them and teaching them, you know, so that way, when that second location opportunity does come, I know that I'll be able to leave for the day and leave this place in good hands.

You know, staff training, and you know, picking the right people to find out. I want to be part of the team and make sure we share the same vision, you know what I mean? 

And so that second location, within, you know, I got a goal – I set goals, but within a couple of years, I want to definitely have something up, the second one up and going, you know, like, you know, this school is all set. So, that's, that's really what I've been working on now.

GEORGE: Gotcha. And I guess lastly, what are you most excited about? For the next couple of years?

EDWARD: Just growing. You know, I love it. There's, like, you know, we had, you know, already since January. It's, you know, what's today? The seventh. We've had, you know, it's always the New Year rush, but we had 14 new people sign up. So, it's been great.

I love getting the new people going, you know, I just love teaching. I just love growing and, you know, and just helping people out. You know, I can't complain. I got a – I have a great job – and so I mean, what's next is just to keep growing, keep having fun, and keep sharing what I love to do.

And, you know, hopefully the second location will come in a few years and go from there.

GEORGE: Sounds good. Hey, Ed, thanks so much for jumping on. Been great to chat, and just the title of your book again?

EDWARD: Lift Them Up.

GEORGE: Lift Them Up.

EDWARD: Yeah, definitely on Amazon.com and Barnes and Nobles, it's also on Barnes and Nobles website too. So, if they want to check it out, please check it out. It's a great book on bullying. You know, all the different types of bullying that are out in the world today. So, definitely check it out.

GEORGE: Perfect. We'll link it up in the show notes. So, wherever you're watching or listening, it will be https://martialartsmedia.com/126, numbers one-two-six. That'll take you there. And just lastly, any shout-outs you want to give or any way that people can connect with you, if you're open to that?

EDWARD: Yeah, you can always, you know, we just talked about it, you could always hit me up, you know, of course, my email is at tokyojoeshooksit@comcast.net.

You can always hit me up on Facebook, under Ed Carr, or you can visit the school webpage, Tokyo Joe's Studios, Instagram, I'm on Instagram – @tokyojoesstudios – and on Twitter. So, those are the best ways, like I said, we're talking about social media and stuff. You know, that's what people use.

The best way to hit me up, send me a message. Ask me any questions. You know, you can call the school, 603-641-3444, if you want. Ask me any questions you want. I'm always here and always willing to help.

GEORGE: Fantastic. Ed, thanks so much. I'll chat to you soon.

EDWARD: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.

GEORGE: You're welcome.

 

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125 – Ross Cameron: The Evolution Of The Ultimate Martial Arts Gym

Ross Cameron from Fightcross MMA has built the ultimate, world-class martial arts gym and lifestyle center. We do a deep dive on the planning, contracts, insurances and marketing that have made this a success.


IN THIS EPISODE:

  • What sets this world-class martial arts gym in its own league?
  • Ross’s unconventional ways of building a thriving community
  • Details often overlooked when opening up a new location
  • Timing and changing the frame with martial arts campaigns
  • How branding helps the business of martial arts
  • And more

*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.

TRANSCRIPTION

I'm a big believer in doing this anyhow, it is to learn every job. I don't need to do it, but I need to understand how every job works. Then if someone's not doing their job, I can point it out and I can just tell them how I want it done or, but I've got to know every job.

GEORGE: Hey, George Fourie here! Welcome to the Martial Arts Media™ business podcast. Today's special guest is Ross Cameron from Fightcross MMA in Brisbane, Australia. Now, Ross and I go way back, we've been working together for quite some time, and I've been fortunate enough to witness his business explode from the sidelines.

Just recently, he's opened up his new location, and let me tell you what, it's not just any location. We were on one of our Partners Power Hour calls, our coaching calls, and Ross took us on a virtual tour through the location – we're going to include a virtual tour on this page as well. But he took us through the whole location, and just the multiple floors, the different aspects, the bar, the coffee shop, and of course, the world class gym.

So, we break down just the whole process of the two to three years that it took to put this together, the obstacles that he faced, with obviously things like COVID, things that weren't expected. And we do a deep dive into the technicalities of how to set up your contracts, how to structure your staffing, and a lot of the details that often go missed when opening up a new location. And then we do a bit of a deep dive on marketing and how he's gone about marketing this new location and the plan on filling it up to 500 to 1000 members over the next 12 months. Jump in, this is a good one.

Also, if you – head over to martialartsmedia.com/125 – where this podcast episode is hosted. So, no matter where you're listening or watching, you can check out the full transcript of the show. And you can also grab a download of our new ebook, Ultimate Facebook™ Ad Formula for Martial Arts Schools.

So, check that out, and make sure you subscribe to the show wherever you're listening, just to make sure that you get notified when our next show comes up. All right, let's jump in. Ross, what's been the top marketing strategy or campaign that you've run lately? What's been the highest performance?

ROSS: So, the best one we've had recently, because we've been moving into a new gym, has been our foundation membership drive, with Facebook and video and all the rest of it. And based around that, was a box that we gave away that had different items inside it. We had samples from some of our suppliers, we had a towel from the gym, we had a water bottle, we had a mouth guard, all the little bits and pieces to make them feel comfortable and give them some added value to signing on.

GEORGE: Great! So, what was the offer for the foundational membership?

ROSS: So, they got a discounted rate on the membership for 12 months. They got a – foundation sign-on fee was $99, and in that, they got this box that had a t-shirt, a mouth guard, a water bottle, a towel, samples, a card that actually had a link to some extra video content we'd done on how to tie a belt, welcome to the gym, how to do a mobility flow, all sorts of bits and pieces.

GEORGE: Perfect. So, I guess we can now give some full context, why the foundational membership, so, just a shorter intro. Ross Cameron from Fightcross in Brisbane, Australia. If you've been following the podcast, Ross has also been on the podcast before, we spoke about lockdown, which is their event… What do you call it? Modified jiu jitsu?

ROSS: It's submission grappling. Yeah. MMA in the cage without the strikes.

GEORGE: That's the tagline I've been looking for! So, you can – want to backtrack on that, which was episode 37.

So, Ross, you know, we chat every week, every so often when you're not busy evolving this new… What do we call it? It's like the evolution of the martial art school, is almost the way I look at it. You gave us a bit of a video tour and showed us what you've got going there, but why don't you give us a bit of a background, the vision and how this all came about?

ROSS: So, when I first started teaching martial arts here in Australia, I'd moved from having three clubs in New Zealand, with coaches and school halls and all the rest of it, to moving over to Australia.

And then I started teaching in my garage, and then quickly from that I went to a tin shed, and over a period of about 20 years, we've gone from the tin shed to what we have now, as I see it a very professional, high-end martial arts academy.

We've put in Fuji mats, we've put in a cage, we've got top-level cardio equipment, we've got top-level weights equipment, recovery center – so, ice pods, infrared sauna, massage therapists, physiotherapists, fitness rooms, the private PT studios, the lot. It's not just a martial arts school in the school hall, it's taking it to the next level of professionalism.

And in doing that, we've had to look at staff contracts, insurances, all the different things that you don't actually take into account when you're in a school hall. And sure, you have to have insurances and things in place, but do you need this type of insurance or this type of insurance?

Do you need to have 20 million public liability insurance or 10 million public liability insurance? Do you have to have product insurance? Do you have to have insurance to cover your income? Do you have to have insurance to cover fidelity? All sorts of bits and pieces. Do you cover your staff for all sorts of weird and wonderful things? So, it's taken a lot of time to go through and get to that point… But we're there now.

GEORGE: You there? Yeah, I remember we started having this conversation… Jeez, how long ago? It's been a few years, right?

ROSS: Yep. Yeah.

GEORGE: So, how many years in the making? I mean, not the planning – the physical actually putting it together?

ROSS: Ah, well, it's probably two to three years of actually putting it all together. It's not a quick process.

GEORGE: I'd love to dive into all the technicalities and details of, like, if you're a school owner, and you're looking at taking your business to the next level and elevating your brand, and upgrading your facilities, and being this premier school, and the process you've taken, like, the technicalities that often get overlooked. Just take us again through the facility because you left out one big part. What's in the gym, right?

ROSS: Right. So, we have a building that’s ours. Our gym is about 650 square meters. Below that is a high-end bar. Behind us is a five-star French restaurant, we have a coffee roaster, a brewer, a French patisserie kitchen, coffee shop, all in the facility.

GEORGE: Right. So, now that brings up a lot of questions. First up is – how many students arrive to class and never get up to the gym, because they are stuck in the bar?

ROSS: None, thank God.

GEORGE: Great!

ROSS: Although, they do go to the bar after.

GEORGE: Right. Their special punishment, if you're late, if you don't make it… begs the question, right? Why a bar? Why a coffee shop? What's the whole idea behind all the add-ons?

ROSS: It's trying to build a community, alright? And it's trying to have things that link into what will connect people to what we do. So, the bar is the social aspect. The coffee shop provides high-end coffee, cold brew, things that are really good for pre-workout and things like that.

And again, it's providing us a social atmosphere, where we can take the guys downstairs and have a coffee, have something to eat. People come in and spend the whole day around the gym, without actually having to go out anywhere.

GEORGE: Right. So, can you give us insight on a bit of the vision, and I think what we'll do, if it's okay with you, Ross; if you can do a bit of a video walkthrough after sometime and we'll add it onto this page where the podcast is hosted.

So, you could go to martialartsmedia.com/125 and catch the video there, because that will give you a… We were on one of our Partners coaching calls and Ross was there and he took us through the whole gym. Took up most of the coaching call, but everyone was really wowed, just by its… I mean, there's nothing I can compare to, which is just what makes it so fascinating.

So, what was the whole vision behind it? You mentioned community and it brings the whole community together, but what's the whole vision behind the new Fightcross?

ROSS: Well, martial arts as a way of life? So, the whole vision is actually that whole encompassing community. So, that's why we have a recovery center, as well as why we have the physios and the message therapists. That's why we have the PTs.

People can come in the door and do a workout, they can recover, they can eat good food, and it's all organic. It's not rubbish food, like the average pub food. It's all organic food. We've got the microbrewery on site that actually brews here with, again, organic, that whole encompassing vision is where we've gone.

GEORGE: Gotcha. What are you doing differently now, with the new – the whole new environment than you used to do just with running classes and so forth?

ROSS: Well, I'm trying to get out of doing all the work – hiring staff and doing those things. So, we have multiple styles in the gym. So, we have boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, wrestling, Brazilian jiu jitsu, Japanese jiu jitsu, judo, taekwondo, karate we have, and then MMA, and everyone's got to fit in, we have like 72 classes a week, including pilates and yoga and so.

We've got a lot more of a community pull, because we have all these other add-on sessions.

GEORGE: Is there something you do differently to build the community when you've got all these various styles, and you attract a different caliber or type of person that resonates to these different styles?
 

ROSS: Yeah, you have to be more on the ball with the community building, as in… I spend a lot of my time now actually, just talking to people, that connection between them and me, it has to be really good because if I'm not taking all the classes, they lose contact with who you are and what you do, and all that sort of stuff.

So, you've got to spend the time around the facility, meeting with people, talking with people, building the community by organizing, like we're doing David Goggins' 4x4x48 as part of a team, we'll have a barbecue the whole weekend, we'll do all those things. And just constantly doing that sort of stuff, rather than just here I'm at the class, here's the grading barbecue and away we go.

GEORGE: Gotcha. And that's where a bar just works well as well, right? Because it brings the community together.

ROSS: Yep, yep, yep. So, even some of our little social club meetings, a Friday night sparring session, Friday nights, lots of the guys just go downstairs have a beer and a burger and then toddle off on home.

GEORGE: Love it. Alright, so, let's get into the nuts and bolts, right? I mean, what goes into this? So, first up, you have this, you have this vision, and now you have to get work, and turn the vision into reality, right? So, what sort of, what are some of the first few steps and how do you go about all this?

ROSS: Besides all the planning, dreaming and sketching, and all that sort of stuff, you get a building or you lease a building or whatever. The first thing you should do; we were finding the zoning, and making sure you have council zoning to be able to run a sport and rec facility. Step one. If you don't have sport and rec, you can be closed down by the council at any moment. Any moment.

GEORGE: Before you continue, I think, and you pointed at it, right? After the planning? So, I think we shouldn't just brush over that part, right? You've got this vision, what goes into the planning? And you've got a bit of experience in this type of thing as well.

ROSS: Yep, I'm an engineer by trade. So, planning is the key to everything. So, planning out how your building's going to look, the layout of your building, your color schemes, which mats you're going to have, what cage you're going to have, what staff you're going to require, what classes you're going to have, how you're going to get the stuff into the building, when you have to get the stuff into the building…

When you have to have your insurances in place, when your staff has to come on board, what contracts you need for your staff, whether or not you've got enough insurance to cover your product in your pro shop, and the equipment on the floor – whether or not you've got enough to handle the – if it all goes bad. Having a game plan B, C, and D. Yeah, there's lots to go into it – many moving parts.

GEORGE: Right, now there – plan B, C, and D played a big role, right? Because…

ROSS: Oh, yeah!

GEORGE: We were expecting the big old COVID to come around.

ROSS: Yep. So, we had an eight-month delay in actually getting into the building, due to building issues, due to COVID. So, in that time, we've had to, to go to game plan B, C, and D. We were doing things like running out of one of my franchises, we were running out of the coffee shop next door taking classes.

So, we had a local community, we were doing stuff in the park, we were doing bootcamp type stuff. All these bits come into play, so that we could keep community involvement here in the natural area where the gym is.

GEORGE: Alright, let's continue the journey, we’ve done the planning, we're getting all the infrastructure set up. Where do we go from here?

ROSS: So, I still think the first thing you should make sure is your building has got, one; before you sign the lease, or before you buy the building, check the zoning! Make sure that you have the correct zoning, because if the council comes along and shuts you down? You're shut down. Happened to one of my franchises, that the zoning got changed once, and they had to go and get an environmental impact study done on the traffic coming to the gym, to prove that they could stay. And it cost him about $25,000 just to do that.

So, I would make sure that that's a big tip to start with. Once you've got that, then you can start the nitty gritty into, like, what classes do you want to run, because that'll tell you what equipment you require. What sort of a gym you want to be – if you want to have weights, and you want to have, we want to be a CrossFit, box, and a martial arts gym – or if you want to be a health and fitness center, and a martial arts studio.

And then you can start planning out your equipment. Once you've got your equipment, then you can start planning out what sorts of insurances you need, what classes you're going to need, the staffing you're going to require for those.

And then you start going into if you need new staffing – are they casual? Are they permanent? How are they… are you going to pay PAYG? Are you going to have to pay supers? Are you going to have to do all those things? Are you going to… and your contracts that you require for those? Each one takes time, takes energy and takes effort. Even if you have good lawyers, and I've got good lawyers, you still have to make sure that you check all your T's and dot all your I's. So…

GEORGE: What issues did you run into that were completely unexpected, and that you particularly hadn't planned for? Or planned for?

ROSS: COVID?

GEORGE: Right. We didn't see that one coming, right?

ROSS: Yeah. And the effect COVID had on delays meant that the staff that I had organized, a lot of them were not here, not available when we actually got to moving into the gym. So, I've had that reshuffle of staffing and organizing things that has taken me longer, because of the fact that the delay was there.

Council approvals took longer than expected, building compliance took longer than expected. All those things that you think, “Oh, yeah, we'll just get it ticked off and it's… Oh no, these Braille signs are not in the right place. This fire exit needs another sign. That door swings the wrong way.” All those little bits and pieces just take time and take energy.

GEORGE: How do you go about your employment contracts and accounting and so forth? And I mean, if we can talk about budgeting as well, how did you go about all that?

ROSS: Accountants are great. If you have a good accountant, they'll make your business. We did a whole financial modeling. So, we sat down and we went through and we worked out, you know, our cash flow, our spending, funding the equipment, not funding the equipment, funding staff, how long that's going to take to ramp up the numbers to get to where we want to be…

So, we did a 2 to 5-year cash flow, then we could sit down and go, “Right. What other issues do we have here? As an accountant, what do you see?” And they always go, “You know, the next level is your staffing is going to cost you.” You got to make sure that you get your contracts right, you got to make sure that you are planning to hire slow, fire fast.

Make sure that you're looking after your people, but make sure that they're not costing you money. And contracts for your staff – again, it's that – are they casual? Are they permanent? Getting the technicalities of your employment contracts correct. I'm lucky, I've got – not only do I have good lawyers, I actually have an employment contract lawyer as a member in the gym, so I was able to go, “Tell me what I need to look at. Now go to my lawyers and say, ‘now write this'.”

And it's interesting to see all the little intricacies that you've got to have in there. And then you've got to worry about your contractors. So, if you have a guy who takes two BJJ classes a week, and if he's a contractor, you need to have a contract with him. It's not just, “Hey, mate, I know you're a BJJ black belt, can you take a couple of classes for me?” “Ah, yeah, it's 50 bucks a class.” “No worries.” It's not that easy these days, because if you do it wrong, it bites you on the ass.

GEORGE: And what could go wrong with that, because I think a lot of people do that, right? They just, you've got the top guy at the school and you're like, “Alright, we'll give you a couple of bucks to run the classes.” What's the downside?

ROSS: Well, number one, he could open a gym down the road, even though that's technically a breach of what's called fiduciary duties. So, they're not allowed to do that, but they do.

GEORGE: … because that's never happened before, has it?

ROSS: Never happened at all! That, if you have your contracts in place, that's going to cover your bum for that sort of thing. You can't stop them from opening a martial arts school, but you can stop them opening a martial arts school within a certain area to compete with you. So, there's the, sort of the fine line of understanding what they're allowed to do and what they're not allowed to do. And you only know that through experience or lawyers.

GEORGE: Very important, yeah.

ROSS: And as the contractors, you know, do they have their insurance? Do they have their first aid certificate, do they have…? And by signing the contract, you get them to agree that they have all these things in place. And then when there's verbal involved, it never lasts. If it's written, you can go back to that writing. Contracts, contracts, contracts!

GEORGE: Right.

ROSS: Like an engineer does it.

GEORGE: Now, how did you decide between… because you've got this massive organization that runs, I mean, morning, you said from 6am to?

ROSS: 5:30am to 9pm.

GEORGE: 5:30 to 9. Alright, and there's lots happening, so, you've got permanent staff, you've got casual staff, contractors. How did you decide on who you need? And did you work on a ratio, or like the ratio of students? How do you determine what staff you really need?

ROSS: What I worked on is actually the skill bases that I require to cover the multiple disciplines. So, my boxing coach that I have as a contractor, he's a boxing coach, he's a CrossFit coach. He used to fence for Australia at an Olympic level. He's done Muay Thai and karate. So, he covers multiple bases. The same with my BJJ coach. The BJJ coach, I haven't, he's, not only is he a BJJ black belt, he's also a karate black belt.

My PTs that I have, they tend to have boxing or kickboxing backgrounds, as well as being PTs. So, we've got even down to some of the reception sort of staff. I have one receptionist, a remedial massage therapist, so he can cover multiple angles for me. Sit down, work out the skill bases, then try and find the people that will fit those skill bases.

GEORGE: And then what about culture?

ROSS: That's a huge thing. Culture is a huge thing – and culture comes from the top. So, you have to drive the culture and what you want and how you want people to act and behave and talk – even down to talking. So, all the boys have their locker talk and things like that – if I catch them having locker talk anywhere in the gym, I shut that down straight away. You know, I want a large percentage of my clients to be female.

So, I'm not letting the locker talk go on in the gym and things like that. So, I set the rules, and I'm told I'm pretty hard on people. But I think it will be hard to see the culture that you want from the beginning. Tell people how you expect to be treated, and then expect them to come up to that standard.

GEORGE: And what's your strategy with that? Are you just, I mean, you just, I know you're pretty straightforward with a smile on your face, right? But is that just your approach? You just go out and tell people, “That's not cool,” pull them aside?

ROSS: That's it. I like the military principle. I don't tell people off in front of other people. I'll pull them aside and have a word with them. But I pick when I do it as well, and try not to do it so it's too obvious, or if they're making a fool of themselves, when they shouldn't be and something's dangerous? I'll say something then.

GEORGE: Alright, are you going to open a big center like this again? Another one?

ROSS: Oh, yes.

GEORGE: Oh, yes. Right, cool. Great. What would you do differently this time, if anything?

ROSS: Avoid COVID. Probably more planning, more control over certain parts that I just let other people do. One of the big things that I've learned out of this, and I'm a big believer in doing this anyhow, is to learn every job. I don't need to do it, but I need to understand how every job works.

Then if someone's not doing their job, I can point it out and I can just tell them how I want it done or, but I've got to know every job. Handy being an engineer, because that means I look at all those things and get most of it. So, yeah, but that would be more planning and more understanding of every bit that goes into it, before I get the person to look after it.

GEORGE: That means marketing too, right?

ROSS: Absolutely. Yep. Marketing is one of the things that I've had other people do before. And I'm a believer in that I should show you your job, tell you your job, let you do it. And if you don't come up to the tee, I'm going to crack across the knuckles.

I've had a few guys that have done that for me, where they've come up and then just disappeared, or they've gone and hidden from me, because they know that the knuckle breaks are coming. You've got to be able to hand over the job to somebody at some point. Otherwise you spend 24 hours a day doing every job. You still need to understand every job, you just don't need to do every job.

GEORGE: Yeah, and so, I mean, that's something that I deal with a lot, just with marketing. And I think it's, obviously if you're a school owner and you've got all this on your plate, and now you've got to handle marketing…

I mean, it's just easier to hand it off to someone and say, “Can you do it?” That's great. The problem is, if you don't know the strategy, you've actually just handed over the drive and the growth of your business to a person or foreign entity. And if they don't perform, as they do, your business is crippled right there.

And this is, I guess, my big pet peeve with, sometimes with agencies, because they can start out, you know, or the go-to guy that is doing all these great things, decides to do your marketing for you, and he does well…

But then he realizes, “Alright, well, I'm going to make a business out of this. I'm a good marketer. Maybe I'm not a good business owner.” And most agency owners would know when you get about 10, 20 clients – you better have your systems in place. So, the person that was your go-to guy becomes your not so go-to guy. And again, you're looking for the new one.

ROSS: Yep. Yeah. And exactly it with agencies – it's exactly the same as if you have – and every martial arts school works the same sort of way. They all work on their community. So, Joe Bloggs knows how to do this stuff, “Can you give it a crack for me?” And then later down the track, it doesn't work.

So, you've got to know how to do the job and then have some KPIs in place that you can check and all the rest of it and have control over it all. You don't want to hand that control over to somebody, so you get an agency doing it, and they're doing everything for you. You've got no control over it at all. Suddenly, you've got no data, you've got no information that you require to keep your systems moving.

GEORGE: Yeah, and I think there's a special place in hell for agency owners that set up your accounts on their business – their own Google accounts, their own Facebook business managers, and they run your ads or keep your data and your accounts hostage. And so, you walk away with nothing. And that's a real thing. I couldn't believe that was a real thing, but that's actually a real thing.

ROSS: Yeah, I've seen it on multiple levels, and the same sort of thing. Not just Facebook marketing, but in other areas of marketing, where they just keep everything and keep it hostage until either you pay them what they want to get paid, or they just take it and go.

GEORGE: Crazy stuff, right? So, Ross, I mean, it's, I feel it's always the lame question, right? But it's such a topic that, you know, you've got such an extensive knowledge on all this, and I just want to make sure I get all the information from you. Is there something I should be asking you that I haven't asked yet?

ROSS: No, I think sort of the next thing for us will be our ongoing marketing campaigns and planning out our year. Month by month by month, week by week by week by week, when we have to have our marketing running by, when we're having our campaigns and how we're planning those little bits. Sounds funny, but the artwork and the copy, once you've got it right, it's easy.

The planning and execution of when you need to execute it at the right time, because you can always put out an ad, and whether that ad is actually beneficial for the timing is the issue. So, if you run it, run your Christmas special in August, it's not going to work. But if you run your Christmas Special, four weeks, six weeks out from Christmas, you've got a bit of lead time up and you've got the groundswell hit just before Christmas, it's perfect timing.

Same with your February fitness or your New Year's resolution stuff. If you're trying to do that, July, it doesn't work, you know, everyone's hunkering down for the winter and they're not thinking about getting out and moving and doing all those bits and pieces.

So, timing is the important part for your marketing, understanding your market, understanding when you have to hit the go button. And then having a process from that, that says, I need my artwork ready by this date. I need my wording by this date, I need to have my flyers printed on this day. I need them distributed by hand by here to be able to get the result I want on this date.

So, all that sounds, and it sounds very easy. But you've got to have the systems in place to make it happen, because if you don't have the systems in place, you just won't do it.

GEORGE: Yeah, totally. I want to ask you, just because you touched on design, how important do you feel is the design from top-level through to your social media? And how do you combine it?

ROSS: So, design's really important. So, I go down to, and this is a bit old, I don't have business cards anymore, but it used to go down to how the business card felt in your hand – the paper, the weight, the gloss, if it was embossed or not. So, your design and everything being the same image, the same look, the same feel is so important.

Because if you haven't got an even playing field when it comes to that, and you drop the ball on an ad that doesn't look anything like what you actually do? And I see it quite a bit in, well, the classic is you see ads out there that don't have their phone number, or their email address, or… there was a fight show here in Queensland that wrapped up a whole bus with just their name and all the rest of it, and didn't have a website, didn't have a phone number, didn't have when the event was, no details on the bus.

The bus drove around for about eight weeks before the fight show with no real marketing material on. So, it's that, little things. I'm quite lucky I have a graphic designer that I use in Japan. He's been a student of mine for many years, and he always looks at the little things and goes, “Oh, you've missed out your phone number here,” or, “You can't notice where your address is,” or… And everything you do, say, leaving off your website on a flyer.

GEORGE: Yeah, we were just chatting about this on the coaching call, Partners coaching call yesterday. But I think what, just to add to that, things that are so important, we were talking about timing, you know, your frame. We always say change the frame, you know, don't necessarily have to change your offer, just change the frame – that your frame is relevant.

You know, what is the talk? What are people talking about right now? Is it Mother’s Day, Easter, etc.? And then one of the mistakes we always see on any ad or any promotion is no call-to-action. It's like, here's the ad, but like, what the hell do I do to get this thing?

And then, just lastly, the wrong call-to-action on the wrong platform, because if you've got this super spanky flyer, that's really great when you hold it in your hand, and it's got a phone number. But when you see it on social media, you look at the phone number. If I'm on my phone, I can't click it. I can't type. I can't write it down. There's nothing I can do. So, it goes into the “I'll check it out later” basket, which means there goes your lead.

ROSS: Yep, exactly. On social media, you've got to have your links on your email address, on your email campaigns, have your links to things. Big mistake, I see it all the time, and not just martial arts businesses, you see it by some big businesses doing, making huge mistakes.

GEORGE: And so, just what Ross was mentioning on branding, I think what's important here – just to add on that aspect – if you're running campaigns back to back, and you have a brand identity and people can see, can you see this… I always look at Apple, you know. You don't have to know, you don't have to see an Apple logo to know it's Apple. It's just got this; the colors and the design speak for itself.

If people are seeing your ads all the time, you know, and they might not respond to this month's campaign, next month, the third month. But if you've got a design and a concept that people resonate with, and they see – when they're ready, whenever that is and they see your ad, there's a bit of a trust factor that's been built, just because they're familiar, the familiarity of your brand. So yeah, definitely important to keep that congruent from top down.

ROSS: Yeah, the classic with that is Coca Cola. You know, they don't have to change a lot, but they still have to market. So, yeah, you know what, you know what's a Coca Cola brand. You know, what's – the colors, the look, the flow. But, yeah.

GEORGE: So, Ross, what's next? 

ROSS: What's next? 

GEORGE: What's next for Ross and Fightcross? 

ROSS: So, for the next 12 months, it's consolidation. We're aiming to have somewhere between 500 and 1000 members of the facility here. And then I'm looking to purchase some more buildings and expand. So, that's the plan. 

GEORGE: Now, if you don't mind sharing, wrapping some numbers around this, what budget do you set aside? I mean, what budget did you set aside for your current location and when people see the video, they'll get a good aspect of what it's about, and how would you be budgeting for the next round? 

ROSS: So, I've spent, and fitout-wise, I've spent about $250,000 in fitout. So, it's not a cheap fitout. 

GEORGE: So, everyone will see why. Yep, yeah.

ROSS: Yeah. And it's what you're trying to achieve with your building and your fitout, like I say, even down to choosing the mats. I chose the Firmimats, and I chose the traditional Tammy Green matte finish, and all the rest of it, for the right look. So, I've spent extra dollars to make sure I got the right look and the right feel, because it's so important. 

GEORGE: Epic! Well, Ross, great catching up again, and would love to catch up again when, yeah, maybe not in the next location, but just in between and just chat about your experience with running the business and how things are going. Any last words? How can people find out more about you? We haven't even spoken about the events and things that you run. But where can people find out more about you?

ROSS: I'm all over social media so ‘Ross Cameron MMA' on Instagram, ‘Fightcross Ross Cameron' on Facebook, Aftershock, lockdown, hammer fight nights. They're there. They're all over social media. So, at one stage I did a lot of social media work. 

GEORGE: That's cool. Awesome. Great. Thanks so much. I'll speak to you soon. 

ROSS: No worries, yes!

 

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122 – From UFC Fight Pass To Dana White’s Contender Series ( With Ben Vickers )

Ben Vickers shares his UFC journey, from Eternal MMA’s 14 fight shows on UFC Fight Pass, to Scrappy MMA’s Jack Della Maddalena winning his fight on The Dana White’s Contender Series.

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IN THIS EPISODE:

  • How the UFC ‘Walks the Talk’ and raises the bar in the industry 
  • Molding fighters through collaborative coaching style
  • Australian champion Jack Della Maddalena’s martial arts success story
  • Creating a pathway into the UFC for Australian fighters 
  • How to navigate flights and borders during restrictions
  • The journey to Dana White’s Contender series
  • And more

*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.

 

TRANSCRIPTION

I actually think the key and the secret is they're so close as a team that they all want to lift each other up. I never have issues on the mats with ego. Everyone's just there to get better. And it's really proving the results now.

The guys are self-motivated. I don't need to beg them to come into the gym. They're there. They want to be there, and they want to be the best. And they're prepared to put the work in, and it's showing. There is no secret. It's hard work, it's good quality coaching, and it's teamwork.

GEORGE: Hey, George here. Welcome to the Martial Arts Media™ business podcast. So, I've got a repeat guest today. Ben Vickers from Eternal MMA and Scrappy MMA. How are you doing today, Ben?

BEN: Yeah, I'm good. I'm good. I'm enjoying the sunshine in the backyard, so happy day.

GEORGE: Well, last time we spoke, we were grabbing a coffee, but last time we spoke on the podcast, podcast 87, we spoke about Eternal MMA. You just got a deal with the UFC, UFC Fight Pass to have all your shows and everything featured. And I was at… Actually, I just bought a ticket yesterday to Eternal MMA.

Yeah. So Ben and the team run an epic show, Eternal MMA. Real top quality production, great fighters. Kind of see now how you've got to deal with the UFC, but wanted to bring you on to chat about the new development that's happened.

And I guess I could just leave it to you before I maybe go down the wrong path with it. So how have things evolved with the UFC from the last time we spoke?

BEN: It's like anything in business really, I'm learning. I'm a self-investing accidental businessman. I had a passion for martial arts. I competed, and then just by natural progression, I ended up owning an academy, coaching fighters, and then running an MMA event.

So I kind of happened upon this business world, but as I am noticing now, it takes time to establish these business relationships and stuff. So I guess for the last… Since 2019, when we did the October Melbourne event, Eternal 48 debuted on Fight Pass, we've done 14 shows with the UFC. We have regular communications with them. We have a monthly call with them where they fill us in on what they need from us, what they want from us, how we are doing.

And we're doing very well. We're one of the strongest events on the platform. We get great viewership all across the world, which is a testament to the matchmaking because we show in a very bad time zone for the U.S.

Our shows go live sort of 4:00 and 7:00 AM East and West Coast. Sorry, that was the wrong way around. So it's normally 4:00 on the West Coast and 7:00 AM in the East. So it's not a great viewership time for the U.S. market, but we seem to be attracting attention there, which must state that we are doing something right, and people enjoy the entertainment that Eternal's providing.

We've got a big viewership in Europe now. We're the second highest performing platform on show outside of the UFC in Europe, sort of a non-European show, should I say. So everything's going really well, and we're really happy with our partnership.

We've got another deal locked in for next year, and we're in the process of signing another TV deal with another massive sports company. One of the… Probably the foremost sports platform in the world. So things are looking good for Eternal.

GEORGE: Great. Well, congrats I'd say, first and foremost. Does it conflict with the… So you mentioned you got moving… Well, you signed the additional deal. How does that work with the UFC? Do the contracts conflict in any way, or-

BEN: They do.

GEORGE: Do they complement each other?

dana white's contender series

BEN: They definitely complement each other. The company that we are going to work with works closely with the UFC as well. That's how we've been able to do the deal, so the deal's not signed yet, so I won't say too much about it, but it's in the latter stages of getting signed.

But yeah, there is synergy there, and what's been really nice for our partnership with the UFC is they've actually gone outside of scope a couple of times and sort of waved the exclusivity clause on a couple of things for us, which is kind of unheard of in the market, especially with the UFC being such a juggernaut. They don't normally do that, so they genuinely believe in the term partnership.

In business, partnership, teamwork, gets thrown around all the time by people that want things, I feel, but the UFC sort of really seem to be living up to that, which is great to see. I think in business these days, a lot of people promise you a lot of things, and from my experience, people very rarely deliver, and that's at the core of my business values is delivering on what I say I'm going to deliver on, and I expect the same thing from people that I'm going to work with and partner with.

So it's really nice to see that such a big company has the same respect for us, and it's a two way street, which is probably the first time in my experience that that's ever happened.

GEORGE: Yeah, that's great to hear. They definitely walk the talk. I mean, if you look at all the reporters and all the media, the negative press they get from obviously people trying to chip at the biggest player and critiquing how they pay for their fighters, you see a lot of negativity come around and it's good to hear from someone that's actually in the trenches, working with them on how the partnership is complementing your business and the direction where you guys go.

BEN: Yeah, I don't think you can be as successful as they are without being good at what you do, and you're going to moan about fighter pay and stuff like this, but if you look at what the UFC has done for the sport, I'm probably not sat here if they haven't made the sport as big as what it is because there's that flow down effect, and they're putting in front of everybody's eyes which is filling my gym, which is inspiring people to want to take up martial arts, which is inspiring people to want to come and watch local MMA and see.

And now we've created this pathway. We've had a couple of fighters go from Eternal champion into the UFC, so now we're creating a pathway where people go, “Well, hang on. If I fight in Eternal and I become the champ, there's a chance I can go and fulfill my dreams, and the UFC might pick me up.” So it's nice to have created that pathway for Australia, for Australian martial artists, and hopefully we can start hammering a few more people into the UFC and really get Australian MMA…

Although it's pretty well on the map, I think we can… I think the standard of martial arts and MMA in particular is super high in this country right now, and there's a lot of talent out there, so hopefully we can get that to the big show.

GEORGE: Yeah, so let's talk about that and your most recent trip. I mean, one thing I noticed at Eternal MMA, which is what I didn't know, is you have a bench of really strong fighters. I mean, all the guys from Scrappy MMA that were part of the event were just really, really good to watch.

So you've definitely developed a great team of fighters yourself. So what do you account that for? Is it just experience or is it also painting this pathway, and your team being able to see more of what is actually possible in the sport?

BEN: For me, I believe that… See, I don't think I'm necessarily a great coach. I think I know what I know, and I know how to put that across. I have a collaborative coaching style. I have a lot of very experienced, very talented fighters. We work together.

So their input is taken on board by me. We'll often sit and talk about positions or things that happen in fights and brainstorm it with all the brains that are around, come to the best solution, practice that, make that part of the game, and then move on to the next position that we want to discuss.

So that's a big part of the collaborative coaching effort. It's not a dictatorship. The guys don't turn up and go, “Right, you're doing this, this and this and this.”

We sort of get our minds together. There's many years of experience on my mats now. I have a hugely experienced team of high level guys, so I tap into their knowledge base as much as possible.

BEN: But what I actually think is the key and the secret is they're so close as a team that they all want to lift each other up. I never have issues on the mats with ego. Everyone's just there to get better, and it's really proving the results now. The guys are self-motivated.

I don't need to beg them to come into the gym. They're there. They want to be there, and they want to be the best. And they're prepared to put the work in, and it's showing.

There's no secret. It's hard work. It's good quality coaching, and it's teamwork.

GEORGE: Yeah. Awesome.

BEN: So that's my key.

GEORGE: Love it. So I don't know how much you could talk about your recent trip to the States?

Jack Della

BEN: That's all… So we… Jack Della who… If any of you don't know who Jack Della Maddalena is, he's been Australian champion on Eternal since 2016. He's got a really interesting story.

He started his career 0-2, losing his first two fights. And then we had a conversation after that, and I basically said, you're too good to be 0-2. Let's set the goal that we're going to get 10 straight wins.

We're going to move to 10-2, and we're going to laugh about this period in a few years’ time. So Jack went 9-2. I don't know if you were there for that one where he knocked out Aldin Bates in spectacular fashion at the HBF Stadium in 72 seconds avenging his first pro MMA loss, and that was his last fight regionally.

And since then, Dana White's Contender Series and the UFC came in and gave Jack a match on week three of this season's Dana White Contender Series, so if you go on UFC Fight Pass, Dana White Contender Series, season five, week three, Jack's on there. He fought an incredibly talented fighter out of Sanford MMA, which is home to Gilbert Burns and Michael Chandler. Kamaru Usman used to train there.

A bunch of high level guys down there, and we went from little old Perth, and we cut the head off the juggernaut, and Jack sort of demolished this guy. It was a three round fight, and the guy hung in there, but he got his ass kicked for pretty much 90% of the fight.

Jack had Dana on his feet at the end of the fight and a round of applause. Basically Dana White Contender Series is a trial, so if you win your fight and he's impressed with you, he's going to sign you to the UFC. So Jack was awarded the contract that night, and we now have a matchup for early Jan in the UFC for Jack to make his UFC debut.

So it's been an epic, epic few weeks. I've done two weeks in the States which was great, and then I've subsequently completed a month. Well, almost completed. Today is my last day of my month quarantine back here in Perth Australia.

GEORGE: Great, so I mean, congrats to both of you and for really putting, I guess, Perth on the map officially as having a fighter in the UFC as well. So, how does that go from here for you? The fights, the travels, the whole agreement?

BEN: Yeah, so Jack signed a four fight deal with the UFC. Those deals are very one sided so that if Jack had one fight and the UFC decided they didn't want him anymore, they would cut him, but he is tied in for the four. So it's very biased towards the company; however, we know that. You know that when you get involved.

GEORGE: It's your foot in the door.

BEN: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, foot through the door, and if Jack goes out and does what he's capable of doing, then his contract will improve quickly, and for us, it's never been about cash. It's always been about being the best in the world, and I firmly believe that Jack Della Maddalena is going to win the welterweight championship in the UFC. So that is the goal now. That is the new goal is to hit the rankings first, get top 15, and then push towards the title.

With the travel and stuff, I mean, most of the fights are going to be stateside at least for the foreseeable future, so I guess it just depends on what happens in the world and where we're at come January as to how much of an ordeal it's going to be, or whether it's going to be…

It would be really nice to just fly out there, do what we need to do, and then come home and just slot back into normal life, but I understand that's probably not going to be the case. Jan, maybe later on in the year, but as long as we can get out there, we can have the fight, we'll worry about the rest of the stuff.

GEORGE: So, I have to ask for anyone in the world listening that's not familiar with how Australia works, but you know, in Perth we're pretty stuck in our state, but we can't actually leave. You can't come in and you can't leave. So big the question, how the hell did you get out?

BEN: Getting out was actually easy. We got the sporting exemption. The UFC is obviously a very powerful entity, so they have lawyers, and they can make these things happen. Seems very strange to me that sports and celebrities get the free will to travel where there's people that have domestic problems, and it doesn't sit very well with me, but I wasn't going to turn it down out of principle.

At the end of the day, we were granted the exemptions to leave, so we left. The problems were when we came back to Australia. Getting out was fairly easy. Once we touched back down on Australian shores, it was a bit more complicated.

GEORGE: In which way?

BEN: No one knows what's going on. No one knows what the rules are. And this is entirely not the people on the ground's fault.

It's obvious there's a lack of direction from the top level feeding down to the employees who are enforcing this stuff. So you get told 10 different things about the same question from five different people. Everyone's a bit confused as to what the rules are, what the rules aren't.

So we did the two weeks hotel quarantine, which was expected. We kind of knew that that was on the cards. They lock you in a twin bedroom with an on suite for two weeks with no opening windows, and it's a little bit inhumane to me, like why you can't have a window and no fresh air for two weeks.

And the room we were in, unfortunately, got no sunlight because it was on a curve. The building was curved, and the sun never hit our side of the curve. So no sunlight, fresh air for two weeks was interesting, but we kind of prepared ourselves for that.

And then getting back to Perth, that's another problem all in itself. New South Wales, especially, is viewed as Chernobyl in this country at the moment, but we managed to get our passes signed off to come back home to Perth, which was great.

It's kind of a weird conversation to be having with someone, to ask if you can come home, but we were eventually allowed home, and I'm just completing my two weeks home quarantine. So it'll be a six week trip for a 15 minute flight, which is a lot of effort.

GEORGE: Yeah, so that begs the question, right? Because if that's going to be the norm, how do you do that? Do you relocate? Does Jack relocate? How do you…

BEN: No, I think… I could be being overly optimistic, but I think that this is about to come to an end in some way shape or form. The vaccine numbers are creeping up towards where the government wants them to be. International travel is about to start again. They're talking about home isolation as opposed to hotel isolation. So I think it is going to improve, but I'm very committed to Jack and the sport and Jack.

If I didn't believe so strongly in Jack, it might be a different story, but I firmly believe that he's going to be a world champ, and I'm prepared to do whatever I have to do to help him make that happen. And he's the same way, so if we have to sit for a month in quarantine, after every fight for the foreseeable future, if it gets us to the goal, then that's what we'll do.

I'm lucky that I've got such a good team at the gym, and I've got a business partner in Eternal that they can… Everything I can't do remotely they can look after, so I don't stress about the businesses and stuff while I'm away. And I just get the freedom to focus a hundred percent on what we're doing.

GEORGE: That's epic. How do you feel about this whole situation now that you've traveled? Like the way we are handling the COVID situation versus internationally? And there's two sides to this, right?

Because for most Australians, we feel like… I think in Perth, people feel pretty cool about everything because we just got freedom until you try and leave, right?

BEN: Yeah.

GEORGE: And then Queensland pretty much the same, but for most of us, we don't want to be in New South Wales and Victoria right now.

BEN: I think vaccinated, New South Wales isn't a bad place to be. I think they've just let all the clean people out and the dirty unvaccinated people must stay indoors for another couple of months, which is crazy as well. Yeah, I'm… Look, it's probably not the best conversation for me to have. I have pretty strong views on it, and they might not fit everyone else's. I'm not an anti this or anti that, I'm a pro doing what you feel is right for you.

So if vaccine's your method and your coping mechanism, I support you a hundred percent. If it isn't, I also support you a hundred percent. Just do what you feel is right for you. I'm blown away having been to America, which was supposed to be like this hotbed of COVID, and people are just cracking on and living a normal life over there.

I feel like it's been badly handled, if I'm honest. We had the jump on everybody else. We had hindsight, we had time to look at what was happening in the rest of the world. We used our geographical position as a safety net without any real thoughts of strategy or long term strategy.

We were just gloating to the rest of the world how good we had it over here in Australia, and now we are the worst in the world. So to me, that's poor leadership.

I feel like forcing people to do things they don't want to do medically is a very slippery slope, but I have no choice in the matter really at the end of the day. Comply or live a second rate life. Your options have become very limited, so it's a bit unfortunate this happened, and two years ago, we'd be sitting there having this conversation, and if we started bringing into to the conversation, you must have a vaccine or you won't be allowed to do this that and the other, well, we'd have thought we were both gone completely mad two years ago.

So it's funny how quickly it's changed. And essentially in two years, 50% of the world is now vaccinated against this, which is… It's crazy, but that's where we're at. So we just got to make the most of it, and do the best we can, navigate our way through this mind field and try and get out of it the other side as safely and healthily as possible.

GEORGE: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. What's next on the cards for you guys, just with everything that's going on? Is there a different structure in the team and how you are doing it, especially with the focus, having a fighter at that level?

Does the team adjust with training schedules to support, or is it just business as usual?

BEN: It's business as usual? Like Jack's part of the team, and when it's his turn to fight, we'll focus on him for the six weeks prior to his fight, exclusively, probably. He's on a slightly different time schedule to the rest of the boys, but I've got boys fighting in two weeks.

While I was in the States, Jack Becker went away and won the Australian title on the Gold Coast. He went on his own, and that's the confidence he had in his own skills. He didn't need his coach.

He was happy to go over there and beat an undefeated dude. Knock him out in the first round and take his title. So I've got him fighting November, which will probably be the last fighter I have out this year.

And then all the focus will be on Jack's training camp. He's got a UFC fight in Jan. So, no, we crack on as normal. And I'm hoping that Jack Becker defends his title.

He might follow Jack Della's footsteps next year into the international scene. He's definitely ready to go. And I've got a bunch of boys just chomping at the bit to get out there. So we'll all train together.

The team mentality stays. Jack's not a big time guy. He's humble. He'll be in the gym as normal, like nothing's changed. No, we just crack on. As far as Eternal's concerned, again, it's just business as usual.

It's been challenging these last two years. I'd say now trying to get at these shows across the line, and it's cost a lot of money to travel people around for no reason, and there's been umpteen challenges, but Eternal has grown and gone from strength to strength as well during the pandemic, so all these challenges just help you get better at doing what you do.

We think on our feet now, so when something comes up, we've always got contingency plans in place. We know so-and-so might not get here, so who's going to fill in, and have we got the people on the back burner and sometimes we might give you a little retainer to stay ready for just in case, and we're sort of trying to future proof the business as best as possible and get as many good fights on as we can and, and keep doing what we're doing.

GEORGE: You're definitely doing that. On the contingency type plans, I was curious, what is the plan when you have the show scheduled for X date and government decides, hang on, we got a case and we're shutting the city down, which happens-

BEN: It happens, yeah.

GEORGE: What is the plan? Is it just shift to the next weekend? Or how do the venues compensate and work with you in that situation?

BEN: The venues don't really compensate. Everyone's sort of covering their own ass, if you like, at the moment. So what we'll do is we'll pencil dates in the distance.

So say that Perth was an example around February, our February show. Perth went into lockdown, and it came out of lockdown the day the show was supposed to take place, so I moved the show 16 hours, and I did it on Sunday. So it's just little things like that.

Once it gets canceled that late, boys are already cutting weight and stuff like that, so we want to try and keep it as close to the original date as possible so as not to mess around with the guy's health too much. So that's always my main concern is making these fights happen as close to the original date as possible.

But the last Gold Coast show was postponed numerous times. I think it went on the third date that we planned it for.

GEORGE: Wow.

BEN: It's just having the dates in the diary, speaking with venues, and venues understand the scenario, so they let you multiple pencils, and if people are canceling their events and you can slot in then we'll do that, and it's just being reactive really. I mean, it's a very tricky space at the moment. Imagine I've got a show on October the 30th, but if we have a lockdown on October the 29th, there's not much I can do about that.

Everything's in motion, everything's paid for everything. That's a tough one, but that's where insurance comes. And there are grants available from the government. They're hard to get, and they take a while, but if you qualify, which we haven't managed to receive one yet, then they'll compensate you for canceled events and stuff like that.

GEORGE: Got it.

BEN: You've just got to keep working. It's like anything. You want the result you want at the end, you just got to put your nose to the grindstone and make it happen.

That's all it is, is the extreme desire to make these events happen. It'd be easy to go, “Fuck it. I'm not doing anything for three months until this shit calms”, but you could be waiting three years.

GEORGE: Exactly.

Jack Della

BEN: You might as well just try and make… And we haven't… We fulfill our contracts every year with our broadcast contracts, the main COVID year, and then this year as well, we will fulfill our broadcast contracts, which is what… Like I said, at the start we promised we would deliver that, and it's important to us to…

I'm sure the UFC would understand if we didn't, given the circumstances, but it's never really been an option for me.

GEORGE: Yeah. I love that attitude. It's like survival of the fittest has taken on a new meaning. Like you just get it done. And I speak to a lot of school owners, and it's always frustrating when people have chosen…

I don't want to pick on anyone, but chose the backseat, chosen to… It's okay to not follow through and not succeed because X, Y, and Z.

BEN: Yeah.

GEORGE: Yeah, so it's not easy. It's complicated. It's definitely not easy. It's definitely not simple.

If you can navigate through this and manage to put all these different contingency plans in place with everything that you do, I think when everything's over and done and a bit more normal, whatever that is, you'll just operate at a whole another level.

BEN: Absolutely.

GEORGE: Yeah.

BEN: I always said to Cam, who's my Eternal business partner, I always said, “If we position ourselves right, and we play this right, we'll be in a very strong position at the end of this pandemic, and it's just literally a can-do mentality. Like whatever it takes to get the job done, and then having the support of commissions and people and years building up these relationships, they come to fruition when you need something from people, and you've been consistent in your behaviors and your delivery over the years, people are much more willing to help you out.

GEORGE: Yeah.

BEN: It's been a big collaborative effort from everyone involved, and I appreciate that. It is easy to go out, you know, “Let's just leave it. That's too difficult. Put it in the too hard basket, and move on.” But that's not how I operate. I like working under difficult circumstances. I like pressure. That's where I want to be.

GEORGE: Do you feel it kind of fires you up in a way?

BEN: I just like being in the thick of it. I don't like… Like for me, quarantine is the worst thing that could ever happen to me because I like being amongst it. I like shit to be happening all the time. That's just how I like to do it.

GEORGE: Love it.

BEN: Yeah.

GEORGE: Hey Ben, it's great catching up. For anyone listening, it's kind of… And I did chat about it in the last podcast episode, but it's actually funny how we met because our daughters go to the same daycare.

BEN: Yeah. They're all grown up now.

GEORGE: Yeah, growing up. Growing up and… Oh sorry, you've got a son as well that's growing up that's now in the same daycare. And I was just wearing the UFC shirt the one day Ben came in and it was like, “Hey, UFC”. And I could just… I looked at Ben, and it was like, yeah, he trains and-

BEN: Yeah.

GEORGE: That was the conversation.

BEN: Yeah.

GEORGE: And so I bump into Ben every so often just at the daycare, we have a bit of a rant or bump to his wife or at the local coffee shop which is Alex Junior.

Alex Junior Coffee

BEN: Alex Junior Coffee has the finest coffee in Perth.

GEORGE: There we go. Yeah. What is the full story behind the Dadbury? So, and for anyone listening, that's obviously… We're using terms here that are pretty not… Yeah, if you're not in Perth, sounds strange, but Padbury is a suburb. Go for it.

BEN: Padbury is where we live. It was the idea of one of the local dads that we should have a community of people, and what Dadbury does is get the dads together for one, but they've actually now got government grants and government funding. And what they do is they help people out in the suburbs. 

So say you might be a single mom and your garden's got away from you. The boys will come around on a Saturday, they'll dig your garden out. They've got a Bobcat and they'll… Or your roof's falling you in, and you can't afford…

So they're helping the local community, raising money for kids that are sick, cleaning the school grounds up, all kinds of stuff. It's just like a community, and anyone can sort of message the page who lives in Padbury or even I'm assuming, sort of the runnings of… But if you were the next suburb over, but you've been from it… It's just a community of dads that have different skill sets that…

My only skill set is I can rock up sometimes and lift some stuff and move some stuff around, and be a bit of a morale, making people laugh by falling over and being clumsy. But it's just a great group of people.

And I kind of have a little routine. The coffee shop, they built a coffee shop here, and it's become like the hub of the community. So after I drop the kids off in the morning to go to school, before I head down on the freeway to work, I'll drop in. I'll get my coffee.

I spend 10 minutes talking to the lads, whoever's around. It's a really nice suburb to live in. Like everyone sort of knows everyone's out for everyone, and being from London, I never really had that.

Everyone's too busy. Everyone's doing their own thing. No, one's really interested in what their neigh-… I didn't know the name of my neighbors, and they lived above me and beside me directly.

So it's really nice to walk around the suburb with the kids, and the kids play with other people's kids. You can sit and have a coffee, and it's a nice thing.

Community is very important to me and my gym is a community that I have, and now I have another community where I live, so I'm in a pretty good position for support. In quarantine, the lads come and drop coffee off at the doorstep for me.

GEORGE: Wow.

BEN: It's been amazing. They made sure to, when they saw Nat while I was away, make sure they didn't need anything. It's just nice to know that someone's got your back while you're away.

Obviously with traveling, it's going to become a bit more frequent for me now. It's nice to know that we live in a nice place where people are looking out. And I think if there could be more of that in society, then I think we'd all be in a much better spot.

GEORGE: Yeah, definitely. And I, I've got to admit it's… And I'm kind of sad I discovered that part before I moved, and I'm 10, 15 minutes away, but whenever we drop our daughter off, that's the first spot I go for coffee, and it's just got a great vibe to it, and it is kind of rare.

It's the first little hub that I've found in Perth that is very, very close and very… It's just got a different vibe to it. And that is rare in most places.

BEN: First time in my life I found it… Obviously, I was a soldier, so I was very transient, so I never really had a home base, and I never really had friends, loads of friends or a group or a community where I lived. It was more like at work.

And then when I went home on leave, I'd meet up with the other soldiers and you wouldn't really fraternize with your local community. So it's really nice for me, and it's probably the first time ever that I've had this sort of community vibe as an adult, and I think it's a great way to live because if you're…

Sometimes you feel shit, and there's a bloke down there you can just talk to. He doesn't really know that much about you, so it's quite an open sort of… Don't really… Yeah, so it's nice just to be able to get things off your chest, chat, and just have a laugh and some banter and push through the day.

But everyone knows that there's someone there if they need a shoulder to cry or they have some issues, then there's plenty of lads there to have a chat.

So I think it's important for men. Men don't talk enough, and I've had some mental health struggles in the last 18 months, and the support of those communities I have around me has been instrumental in getting through that, coming out the other side in a good spot. So find a community, whatever it is. Join a club.

I think men are terrible for just bottling everything up and drinking their way out of problems, and before you know it, bang, there's an explosion there.

GEORGE: Yeah, very, very true. I can vouch for that, and I think coming from a culture, South Africa culture which can be perceived as very stubborn and very hard in mindset just because of the circumstances of where you're from. But it's a lot of pride that goes into opening up and you always got to show up, be cool, be a hundred percent. Can't…

BEN: I mean, I think it's been great that Tyson Fury has come forward so heavily. For me, he's the greatest boxer of my generation. Definitely the greatest heavyweight of my generation, and what a human being.

I've never really met anyone that doesn't like him. He's been to the bottom. He's the baddest man on the planet, and he wanted to top himself, and here he is a week removed from one of the most amazing boxing fights you'll ever see, and he's flying, but he's a good advocate for… He's the baddest man on the planet, but he's able to stand there and go, “Yeah, I have mental issues, and I need to deal with it.”

So to have more advocates like that is fantastic, and it doesn't make you weak. There's this stupid stigma that us men have that we are weak if we have a problem. I was the worst for it.

I wouldn't tell anyone anything, but there's a reality check coming at some point in your life and you won't… It might… It chooses the right to time to come for you to work through it. So it happened to me at 40. It might happen at 50. It might happen at 60, but at some point, if you don't start getting rid of some of these demons or some of these problems or some of these issues, they're going to compound, and there's going to be an explosion, and there might be some collateral damage, so sooner or later, get it off your chest.

Find someone that you can confide in, and I think it's really important to do that.

GEORGE: Yeah. Yeah. Totally. Hey Ben, next time I'll hit you up for some coffee, and next time we chat on the show, I think we'll start talking about bull champions. How about that?

BEN: Yeah, sounds good.

GEORGE: Or earlier.

BEN: Give me a few years. When was the last one? Couple years ago?

GEORGE: I was looking this morning, so it's episode number 87 for anyone who wants to listen. 2019.

BEN: Yeah, so a couple of years.

GEORGE: Yep.

BEN: Yeah, I reckon if we circle back in a couple of years, we'll be knocking on the door.

GEORGE: All right. We'll call this the Ben and George Show, episode two of 20.

BEN: Yeah, there we go.

GEORGE: It'll be slow. It'll be slow paced. We'll do it once a year, once every couple years, but yeah, we'll just document the journey.

BEN: I'll get Jack to jump on and the next one.

GEORGE: Yeah. Sounds good. Would love to chat to him as well.

BEN: Perfect.

GEORGE: All right, mate.

BEN: Thanks for the time.

GEORGE: Good to catch up, and all the best for the last few days of quarantine. Enjoy the sun, and you'll be back on it next week.

BEN: Cheers, mate.

GEORGE: Speak soon. Cheers.

 

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***NEW*** Now available on Spotify!

87 – Getting Your Fight Shows Featured On UFC Fight Pass

An Australian first, Ben Vickers from Eternal MMA now gets their fight shows featured on UFC Fight Pass. We discuss the details.

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IN THIS EPISODE, YOU WILL LEARN: 

  • 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

*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.

TRANSCRIPTION

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.

GEORGE: Totally.

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.

UFC Fight Pass

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.

BEN: Yeah.

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.

BEN: Yeah.

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.

BEN: Yeah.

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.       

Awesome. Thanks for listening. If you want to connect with other top and smart martial arts school owners, and have a chat about marketing, lead generation, what's working now, or just have a gentle rant about things that are happening in the industry, then I want to invite you to join our Facebook group.

It's a private Facebook group and in there, I share a lot of extra videos and downloads and worksheets – the things that are working for us when we help school owners grow and share a couple of video interviews and a bunch of cool extra resources.

So it's called the Martial Arts Media Business Community and an easy way to access it is, if you just go to the domain named martialartsmedia.group, so martialaartsmedia.group, g-r-o-u-p, there's no .Com or anything, martialartsmedia.group. That will take you straight there. Request to join and I will accept your invitation.

Thanks – I'll speak to you on the next episode – cheers!


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76 – Practical Tips On How To Grow Your Martial Arts School

Robbie Castellano from IMC Australia shares practical tips on how to grow your martial arts school.

IN THIS EPISODE, YOU WILL LEARN:

  • How creating a 5-year plan grew Robbie Castellano’s school from 135 to 500 students
  • How local and international martial arts tournaments improve their student retention
  • The ultimate test for turning over your school
  • The importance of having an effective leadership program
  • How finding a strategic school location completes half of your marketing
  • And more

*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.

 

TRANSCRIPTION

GEORGE: G'day, this is George Fourie and welcome to another Martial Arts Media business podcast. I have today with me Robbie Castellano who is actually a returning guest. We won't get into the details why. He'll probably be a returning guest again, but this is the first actual official podcast we're doing together. So, welcome to the show Robbie.

ROBBIE: Thanks George. Glad to be here.

GEORGE: Awesome. So, just a bit of introduction. So, Robbie's based in Sydney. They run IMC Australia. And also looking at the website now, I'm seeing number one rated martial arts center in Australia as rated by ISKA. So, yeah, we're going to have a bit of a chat and hear what Robbie's up to. So, welcome to the show Robbie.

ROBBIE: Thank you George.

GEORGE: Cool. So, just give us a couple of minutes intro, just your background, what you've got going on, etc.

ROBBIE: Yeah. So, basically started as a kid. Went to a local karate school which is in Western Sydney. Started at the age of four, five. Trained up until I was a teenager and then started working part time for my instructor, teaching. Always loved teaching. So, it was always good to teach the kids and then eventually teaching adults. And then got to my twenties and decided I wanted to go and see the world, so I went traveling around the world for about seven years and I still came back home every now and then to teach a little bit, travel again before eventually settling and managing the school for my instructor and then eventually buying it out 100%.

GEORGE: Excellent. So, in the travels, were you actually instructing as well?

ROBBIE: Na, not really. I was always training, like I was in Thailand and Belarus and England and Colombia. I eventually stayed in Colombia for a few years where I eventually met my wife, but it was always just training, it's hard to teach in a different language.

GEORGE: Got you. I've always wondered if that's an opportunity for young kids if they are learning martial arts and they can instruct if there's an opportunity for them to actually travel abroad and just plug into different schools and instruct for a while.

ROBBIE: Yeah. I'm sure there would be, but I didn't do it, no.

GEORGE: Okay. So, from teaching to owning the school, how did that journey evolve?

ROBBIE: Yeah. So, basically I was in Thailand to do a bit of training with my wife and my instructor had a … he gave me a call saying that he's had a few problems with his current manager and basically asked me if I want to take the reins and manage the school for him. So, I did. I got on the first plane back and started managing the school. We sat down and had a chat, worked out a five year plan. So, I would manage it for five years and then eventually buying it out which I now own. Yeah. So, when we took over, it was up to about 135 students when I managed it and we built it up to about 500 mark now. So, it's going well.

GEORGE: Got you. So, how do you feel that helped, as in having that five year plan and having a good structure and sort of knowing, alright, this is where you're going and I guess, maybe easier to make the purchase as well, sort of.

ROBBIE: That's it. I'm pretty fortunate that I had an instructor, Paul Zadro, as a good mentor. He already did all the hard work of going to the conferences overseas and learning the dos and don'ts. So, we basically sat down and it was like an apprenticeship. The five year plan was to learn the ropes, how to run the floor, run the business side and yeah, to help me eventually to buy it out. So, without that five year plan, I probably wouldn't have been able to do it. So, we've designed that now in our whole IMC organization for the rest of the generation to come through and do the same thing.

GEORGE: Okay, fantastic. So, how does that look then? So, you've got the sort of five year structure where you know how to groom and educate and train people to take over location. How does that look? Do you … are you looking for that within instructors who can take that role or are you looking at that as more sort of an expansion type …

ROBBIE: Yeah. Look, a bit of both. We've got our leadership program and those youngsters that want to come through to eventually open up their own school, we tell them, this is what you have to do. They've got to go through all the reins of being an instructor and then floor manager, program director and then a school manager and then and then the system is to buy out, if they want. We pay our managers fairly highly. So, if they’re happy to just keep their wage and that's fine. If they want to go bigger and more responsibility, we've got a plan to buy it out as well, for them to buy it out.

GEORGE: Got you. How many instructors have taken up that role, taken that path?

ROBBIE: Yeah. At the moment, myself has done it. We've got another instructor Mitchel who runs the IMC Wetherill park school. He's doing it at the moment. He's on the five year journey. We're about to open up another school in the West of Sydney, a young girl and she's going to start the five year journey as well.

GEORGE: On the five year mark, so, does that take 100% ownership or do you still sort of run under a type of franchise model or?

ROBBIE: Yeah. Look, the deal that I had was, I'll take over 100%. Okay? That was always the plan. My instructor always wanted that for me. I've been with him since I was a kid. So, he helped me out. I would want the same for my juniors that have been with me forever too. So, yeah, I was to buy it out 100%. It was still under the IMC organization, but our schools are separately owned.

GEORGE: Got you. Okay. So, when it comes to … so, you have … you mentioned how many locations again?

ROBBIE: We now have four.

GEORGE: Four locations, all Sydney based?

ROBBIE: All Sydney based, yep.

GEORGE: All Sydney based. Okay. So, when it comes to things like marketing and the bigger picture, how do you guys go about that? Is that a team effort or do you still operate individually?

ROBBIE: Yeah definitely. Look, we're big on our organization with team effort. Be individually owned but we all work together. So, every Monday we'll come in, do a team meeting and we all throw out all our different ideas, marketing strategies, statistics, everything, and I think it's … it works in our favor because we've got a lot more heads together, create different ideas and to grow our schools all together. We swap and change instructors sometimes too. I'll send one of my junior instructors over to a different school for a week so they can pick up some new stuff and vice versa.

GEORGE: Yeah, that's super powerful. So, you almost have this whole mastermind group within your own organization and everybody can come from different angles and different perspectives.

ROBBIE: That's right. 100%. Yep. 100%.

GEORGE: So, how do you then take those … let's say, if we had to walk through it, you guys have your Monday meeting, somebody comes up with an idea, then what sort of a process of rolling it out within the schools? Would you trial something first at one school or would you just roll it out and run with it and access the results after?

ROBBIE: Yep. Look, every Monday we'll come through statistics, that's usually the first thing on the agenda, where we've lost, where we've gained and then we'll do our marketing for the month, what we're doing and then we always close the meeting with an idea. If someone's got an idea, we'll get that person to try it in their school, see how it goes and if it's successful, then we'll try it in the other schools. If it fails, then the other schools don't do it obviously.

GEORGE: Got you. So, can you say a bit more just about sort of that structure of that Monday meeting? So, you mentioned you've got statistics, you talk marketing, etc, is there anything else that you cover within moving the organization forward?

ROBBIE: So, we always talk about what we're doing that month. So, whether it's a life skill project or something like that, gradings or if we're doing seminars, how to organize that. But pretty basic standard meeting. Nothing too drastic. But it works. Everyone turns up and everyone is on the same page. That's important. If one ball drops, then the rest will crumble in the end. So, it's important to keep it all together.

GEORGE: Got you. Okay. So, let's talk a bit more about … so, you're based in Liverpool right?

ROBBIE: Yes. Western Sydney. Yep.

GEORGE: Western Sydney, got you. I believe that now that we're talking about it, Paul Zadro, I did see him on the news taking on the political role. Is that right?

ROBBIE: Yeah. I think he's got to that stage in his life where he needs another challenge. He's a very successful man, so I think he wanted that next challenge. So, he worked for the local Liverpool seat. Unfortunately he didn't win, but I'm sure he had a good experience. He made a lot of contacts as well. It was actually good for us to watch it so it all works.

GEORGE: Got you. Actually, I did another podcast interview yesterday with Jim Morrison in Canada and he was mentioning their 15th birthday this year and the mayor’s coming along. I was like, hang on, you can't let that story just rest. How do you get the mayor to attend your birthday?

He said, no, okay, they actually train together, but it was interesting that he mentioned how much community evolvement that creates, because of having the … obviously having the mayor and the kids train there, but just getting really involved with projects that they do with kids with autism and sort of being on the forefront. Would that open different avenues for you within the martial arts school with having Paul in that position?

ROBBIE: Oh yeah, for sure. Look, it's just another way to get your name out there. You know what I mean? We had the New South Wales Sports Minister come to our school with this campaign and he came to see what we do in school, how do kids train. We did a couple of demonstrations for him and that goes all over social media as well. So, it's just another avenue of marketing and getting your brand out there again. So, yeah, it definitely helps.

GEORGE: Got you. Okay. So, let's talk about Liverpool. So, we were just chatting about it earlier just … IMC Australia number one rated martial arts center as rated by ISKA. So, what's a big focus for you? Is it just … I guess let's start from the beginning. What styles do you teach?

ROBBIE: Yeah. So, basically we're a multi-style school. We teach karate, kickboxing, MMA, jiu jitsu. Our main clientele is kid's karate. Probably makes up 70% of our school. MMA, jiu jitsu is just sort of an extra thing for people to come and kickboxing program is pretty big as well, but our basic main focus is kid's karate.

GEORGE: Got you. And then the competition component with that is?

ROBBIE: Yeah. ISKA a good organization that has multi-styles, so you can do from kickboxing to middle ninjas, five year old kids competing. So, we always start on the ISKA circuit. It's probably the biggest in Australia as well, covering all the different states and we've always had a strong tournament team going into these martial arts tournaments and most of the years, we always rate number one. That helps our students with retention as well. Sometimes kids get bored in their normal training, so they want an extra bit of push, so they join the tournament team and they'll compete.

GEORGE: Got you. Okay. So, is that tournaments and things happening locally? Do you give students the opportunity to travel abroad?

ROBBIE: Yeah, pretty much. There's always a tournament nearly every month. Some are in Sydney, some are in the country. There's tournaments in Queensland, Melbourne, even in Perth where you are. I think Graham MacDonald runs the ISKA in WA. Every couple of years we take a team over to the US Open, compete over there. Last year we actually went to Jamaica for ISKA World Championships there which was awesome. I love traveling and when martial arts and traveling come together, I'm very happy with my life. Any opportunity to go overseas and take a team, we're onto it.

GEORGE: So, how did that help the team? When they go to a place like Jamaica. I spent a lot of time in Jamaica when I was in my young travel days when I was working on cruise ships. Crazy place, but it was always good fun. Just beautiful beaches and friendly people. So, when a team goes and they travel to a place like that, how does … what's the effect on just the culture and the team when they get back?

ROBBIE: Yeah. Well, you know yourself. If you're traveling and you go overseas, it's a whole new experience, you know what I mean? They get to see people from different countries, different styles, different ways of life. So, any type of traveling is good for anybody. You always come back a different person and I think it brings a team together as well. You spend a couple of weeks with somebody overseas on those tours, and it brings back a closer relationship too. So, it always works well. There's never a negative experience on these trips.

GEORGE: Got you. So, where are you guys headed as a … and you personally, you're part of the IMC group, what's the path forward for you?

ROBBIE: Yeah. So, look, we've designed our leadership program to keep growing. All that school was of course anyone's goal is to also keep growing. My personal goal is to open up another school which we're in the frame of doing hopefully this year and then, yeah, just keep going. Do as much as possible and the sky's the limit.

GEORGE: You mentioned your wife trains as well. So, is it just you in the business? Is it family business or?

ROBBIE: Yeah. It's just me and my wife. She mainly does all the admin for the school which I'm pretty lucky because that's what she studied in university. So, it all planned out and worked together. She stays at home, I pretty much run the school. I've got my manager of the school, so I don't have to always be there. I try to have at least a couple of days off in the week to spend with my family, but it's all about the system. You've got to design those systems, then you've got to stick to them and make sure they work. As soon as one of those systems kicks out, it all falls apart. So, I think it's so important that you have those right and stick to it.

GEORGE: I'd love to ask you about that. So, you're mentioning, obviously you're preparing to go for a second school, so yes, your systems have to be in place and you mentioned, okay, you've got your wife involved, but you mentioned she doesn't really come to the dojos, just working at home.

ROBBIE: Behind the scenes, yep. She's not behind the scenes.

GEORGE: You've got family, you've got kids, right?

ROBBIE: Yeah, I've got two little kids, five and two. My son who's five, he trains and he's one of those karate kids that pretty much lives at the school and he loves it. So, I'm very grateful for.

GEORGE: So, how do you manage this and moving forward? So, you mentioned you're really clear about your systems and then your family time. So, how do you create that balance and especially knowing that you've got the new location coming as well?

ROBBIE: Yeah. Well, it all comes down to the right person, right? If you can open up another school, you wouldn't do it unless you had someone that you believe in that could do it. So, that's where our leadership program comes into place. So, we have a person now that's ready to step up, she's pretty much been managing my school for the last couple of years. I sort of stood back a bit to see how she runs it all by herself and she's proven that she can do it easily. So, we sat her down and asked her if she wants to move forward and open up another school and run that one and she agreed. So, she's in the process now of training somebody to replace her which is awesome. All about the systems.

GEORGE: So, let's say you're starting the systems, what are the core systems that you have to have in place before you feel that you're ready to open that extra location?

ROBBIE: I think, well, my instructor always told me as a test, if you go on holidays for a month and your school grows by that person that you've left in charge, then they're capable of running the school on their own. If it fails and you lose students while you're away, then maybe that person isn't. So, that's one little test we do. We make sure everyone's trained up.

Okay. So, we've got our leadership program like I said and we have different levels in that leadership program and if someone isn't up to standard in a certain area, we make sure that they need more training. We do our staff training once every couple of months, a big staff training or we make sure everyone's up to speed because there's always new casuals and new leadership members. We just make sure our standard's high and up to date.

GEORGE: And sort of the core system? Like the system of systems that the … the one thing that kind of steers everything and puts everything in place, what would you say that is?

ROBBIE: Yeah. Look, it's pretty straight forward like every other school. You know what I mean? There's so much information out there now. You can go on Facebook and see a whole lot of stuff even for free. It's funny because, like I go to the ISKA tournaments and I speak to so many school owners that are trying to do martial arts full time and I tell them all the different stuff, they like to go to an EFC conference for example.

I tell them they should go if they want to grow. And then they don't do it. You know what I mean? It's simple stuff that you can follow and they just don't do it and then they wonder why they don't grow. You know what I mean? So, yeah, just all the basic normal stuff that's out there. Follow the system that everyone has created. There's plenty of information out there.

GEORGE: Okay, cool. So, Robbie, you're well established, you guys have got … you tick all the boxes, you've got the systems, you've done your ten thousand hours and beyond in business. So, if you had to break it down, what advice would you give to someone going from zero to a hundred, a hundred to two hundred, two hundred to three hundred students, etc?

ROBBIE: Yeah. Look, first of all, if I was … first thing I'd do is find the right location. All our schools and even our future schools, we open up on a main road. So, that's half of our marketing already done for us. You can try to beat the rent and get something a little bit cheaper in the back alleys, but you're going to pay more in marketing. So, all our schools must be on a main road. So, that's one thing I'd be looking at. The next thing is, is I'll be trying to find the first person that walks into my dojo with leadership skills and I'd be starting to train that person to help and eventually put them on staff. That would be my first things.

GEORGE: So, location, super important, and then really identifying that leader from the get go. Anything else from that point?

ROBBIE: From there, if I started to grow my school, the next thing I would a hundred percent put in would be a leadership program, whether it's kids or teenagers, because that's going to be your core of your school of who can run your school for you while you can concentrate on other things to grow. So, I'll be a hundred per cent be all for leadership programs straight away.

GEORGE: That's gold right there. Good location, half your marketing's done, find your right leader and start focusing on the team building.

ROBBIE: Straight away. Yep.

GEORGE: Anything else you would add to that?

ROBBIE: From there, the school would grow because you would've trained your staff to how you want it, to follow the systems, I'll probably sign up with, if I didn't have an organization like I do, I'd probably sign up with … I mean, there's plenty of companies out there that help you, I'd kind of like to stick with the Aussie groups. I'd be signing up for that straight away as well because that's going to help you grow your school. These guys have got it all in place for you.

That's what I keep saying to these guys that I was talking about. It's already done for them. They've just got to sign up and follow it. They don't do that. That's why they don't grow. So, if you're serious about going to school, find a good mentor that's done it before and follow the system. It's not rocket science.

GEORGE: Do the work, right? Okay, awesome. So, one or two more questions. You mentioned your location in Liverpool, right? So, you're on a main road. It's also probably, on a wild guess, reckon that Liverpool has the most martial arts schools per square meter in the whole of Australia. So, what's your take on that, on the competition?

ROBBIE: It's true, there's so many martial arts schools right where I am in … I remember telling my instructor about it when he offered me the job. I said, oh, but there's so many schools around here, how are we going to compete? He pretty much said if you do the things that I tell you to do, you'll be the biggest and you won't worry about them. That's what we did and now we are the biggest. I've got a school that's 200 meters down the road from me and he's still successful. He's got I think about 400 students and I've got 500 students. It doesn't matter.

Would I be bigger? Probably. I probably wouldn't be able to fit everyone in if he wasn't there, but it doesn't affect this really any way. As long as you keep your school professional and provide a good service, people always come. Know what I mean? So, it hasn't bothered us, no.

GEORGE: Thanks for being … I'm going to ask one question and I've been contemplating whether I should ask this question, but I think it's worth talking about it, because it's a … I've got my take on this word and question and a lot of people do. I'm going to keep my appointment back, my appointment, my opinion for now and I'm going to ask this question on a few podcasts and see how it goes. So, here it is. McDojo. The word McDojo. What does that mean to you?

ROBBIE: What is a McDojo? What even is a McDojo? I've heard the concept before. People say if you're big and you're charging quite high fees that you're a McDojo, I reckon it's all crap to be honest. Okay? Because, I mean our standard hasn't dropped and I challenge anyone who hasn't got a big score or has a smaller score and think that their standard is higher, then bring that student in, and see if they can keep some of our students. I'll bet you they can't.

So, just because we're large and we charge a higher fee, doesn't mean our standards drop. If anything, I think our standards rise because if we don't provide a good service and keep a higher standard, then they'll leave and they can go down to the road to the $10 a week school, that's fine. So, I think it's a load of crap to be honest.

GEORGE: Love it. Awesome. Robbie, it's been great having you on. Where can people go to connect with you or find more about you?

ROBBIE: Yeah, you can see our website, www.prestonskarate.com.au or you can add me on Facebook at Robbie Castellano. You should find me on friends of all the high profile martial arts in the country. So, yeah, add me, I'll be happy to help you if you have any questions.

GEORGE: Fantastic. Thanks a lot Robbie.

ROBBIE: Thanks George, really appreciate it mate. You're a legend and it's awesome what you're doing, I love it.

Awesome. Thanks for listening. If you want to connect with other top, smart martial arts school owners, and have a chat about marketing, lead generation, what's working now, or just have a gentle rant about things that are happening in the industry, then I want to invite you to join our Facebook group.

It's a private Facebook group and in there I share a lot of extra videos and downloads and worksheets. Things that are working for us when we help school owners grow and share a couple of video interviews and a bunch of cool extra resources.

So it's called the Martial Arts Media Community and an easy way to access it is if you just go to the domain name martialartsmedia.group. So martialartsmedia.group. G-r-o-u-p. There's not dot or anything. Martialartsmedia.group. Then we'll take you straight there. Request to join and I will accept your invitation.

Thanks. I'll speak to you on the next episode. Cheers. 

 

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4. Work with me and my team privately.

If you would like to work with me and my team to scale your school to the next level, then message me with the word ‘private'… tell me a little about your business and what you would like to work on together and I'll get you all the details.

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52 – Martin ‘The Situ-Asian’ Nguyen – Chasing 3 World Titles In 3 Weight Divisions

Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen, ONE Championship's two-division title holder has big goals, and it's all in the name of family.

martin nguyen one championship

IN THIS EPISODE, YOU WILL LEARN:

  • What it takes to be a two-division title holder with ONE Championship
  • Master Fari Salievski’s massive contribution to Martin Nguyen’s MMA career
  • How Martin’s Rugby League career evolved into his Martial Arts Journey
  • Martin’s source of inspiration
  • How he is able to balance his family, work and martial arts life
  • And more

*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.

TRANSCRIPTION

This MMA career is about family for me, so you’ve already addressed that family situation, so I mean, it’s more than I could ever ask for at the end of the day.

GEORGE: Hi, this is George Fourie and welcome to another Martial Arts Media business podcast. In this episode though, we are going to venture off from the business side of things. And I’ve got a really special guest with me today, who’s created a bit of a stir in the MMA world and has just recently become a two-division title holder with ONE Championship. So I want to welcome to the show Martin Nguyen.

MARTIN: Hey man, thanks for having me on the show.

GEORGE: Awesome. Cool, so Martin, Martin’s name might first be familiar, I know I’ve spoken to Master Fari Salievski a few times on the podcast and the last time, it was after your first title fight.

MARTIN: Malaysia, against Marat Gafurov.

GEORGE: That was the one, the featherweight one. And we had a bit of a chat just about your training and the process from there. But then you went on to… moved up to lightweight as well and you took the title there as well. So first, I guess I want to say congratulations!

MARTIN: Thank you, thank you. It wasn’t a plan to move up to the lightweight division, Eduard Folayang, the former title holder is a friend of mine and the plan was never to move up, but it actually played well in my favor after some agreements, but yeah.

GEORGE: We’re going to get into all the details of that, but I guess we should just take a few steps back. I mean, before all these events started happening in your life, who is Martin really?

MARTIN: Oh, I’m just a regular guy. I work full time, I’m a father of three, married, husband… yeah, just a normal regular guy, that just loves mixed martial arts, loves training, loves the competitiveness and just love the disciplinary actions that come with it.

GEORGE: Ok, so now, I’ve just been reading a couple of things about you, just to get an idea of your background. So you got started in martial arts fairly late I guess?

MARTIN: Yeah, I started mixed martial arts when I was 21, so at that stage, that was when UFC was starting to boom, I was coming off an injury from the rugby league and I was a bit overweight you know, and lost a bit of confidence. So a friend of mine introduced me to Master Fari and KMA school gym and I started with Brazilian jiu-jitsu, just the grappling side of it. I loved it and was stuck from day one and we kept going from there.

GEORGE: So 21, and you’re now 28?

MARTIN: Yeah, I’m 28. I’ve been in the martial arts game for about 7 years now.

GEORGE: At what point did you… so, you came from rugby – did you quit rugby completely and then just moved over to martial arts?

MARTIN: No, no, when I was 16, I was playing rugby league, Harold Matthews cup and just caught a few injuries through Harold Matthews and just played rugby league up until I was about 18 years old. Come to the end of C grade, I called it quits, just too many injuries, recurring. So 19, 19 to 21… actually, when I was 19, I took time off everything, and 20 to 21, I started lifting weights and I got a bit big, more fatty-stocky, but yeah. And then from there, that's when my friend introduced me and we went from there.

GEORGE: Alright, cool. So you start this martial arts journey and at what point did you feel it’s time to sort of step it up?

MARTIN: Ok, so, what happened was, I started Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as I said, and during my first year and a half, I went on a few comps, some New South Wales Jiu-Jitsu comps. I ranked third, fourth and from there, I liked the competitiveness of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, so we kept going into comps, ISKA comps, and I won a few matches through ISKA. And then, at that time, there were a few MMA fighters that were busting out on the local scene.

And watching them train and seeing what they go through was kind of an inspiration for me to want to try and keep up with them, so Master Fari just set the path for me, gradually going into MMA, so we started off with kickboxing, and he got a few Thai guys in, we’ve done Thai kickboxing, I still kept up with my Jiu Jitsu and then I started training up for an ISKA amateur MMA comp and I took out the competition twice, two years in a row. And from there, when I was roughly about 23 to 24, we decided to step into the cage from there.

GEORGE: Exciting stuff! How did it all lead up to your first title with ONE Championship?

MARTIN: During the local scene, I racked up a few wins and I fought for the national Australian title, featherweight title. And I was facing a guy that was busting on the local scene as well. I beat him and the winner of that fight got a contract into ONE Championship, which… I wouldn’t say just started up, but they started up and were looking for new fighters, where KMA had become partners with ONE Championship. So the winner of that title fight got the contract and that was my opening on the world stage.

So I won my first fight with ONE Championship and for my second fight, I was meant to be fighting another up and comer, hot prospect, but that fight got cancelled 48 hours before the event was about to be held. And I got moved from the first fight of the night to the main event, fighting for an interim world title against ONE of the hot prospects around the world and I lost that fight in the first round. And that motivated me to train and just… everything just stepped up another notch of where I had to be and where I was. So from there, I won four in a row, which eventually led to my rematch with the title holder.

GEORGE: That's going to take some dedication on your behalf, you know? You mentioned you’re married, you’ve got three kids, you’re still working a day job – so how do you fit this all in, and obviously, you know, you’ve set some big goals for where it is that you are headed, which well get to in a bit in this conversation. But just walk us through – how do you manage your training commitment and everything, to be fighting at this level with everything else going on in your life?

MARTIN: Yeah, so it’s definitely hard. No one could say it’s easy, and the main person that helps me out the most is my wife. She steps up as the parent to take on both roles, both father and mother when I’m not here, to look after the kids. I wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning, I leave the house, I get my morning training in, I go straight to work.

Finish work, I go straight to KMA to do my second session of the day. And I come home and my wife’s there, looking after the kids. She plays a big role when it comes to this MMA career and she’s my nutritionist as well as my wife as well as, you know? She’s looking after a fourth child basically. So to be honest, I wouldn't be able to do much of what I’m doing now without her, so yeah, the support that she’s shown me, I’m forever grateful.

GEORGE: Yeah, the saying goes true that behind every successful man there’s a successful woman.

MARTIN: Oh, a 100%, a 100%, I believe in that.

GEORGE: So Martin, I want to just go a bit into your background. You were born and raised in Sydney, and it’s mentioned that you come from refugee parents, so you’re from Vietnam I believe? How's that been different for you, sort of growing up in Australia? Has it been different for you, because you’re a 100% first born Australian, kind of like my son is in a way? But growing up in a sort of different environment from parents, from a different point of view, and I guess a better appreciation for what you have in Australia – how's that affected you in growing up and moving forward?

MARTIN: Look, growing up, we weren't… yes, we did come from a refugee background, I was born in Australia, so were all my other siblings. Me, my brother, my older sister and younger sister. But growing up in Australia – look, we grew up the OZ way. We are OZ kids, my parents never brought any politics or anything that they went through in our lives, so we grew up living the OZ dream. I’m so thankful for this country because it’s one of the best countries in the world to live in. Everything that happened though school, throughout life in general, my parents they raised us all up as an OZ child, you know? So there was no racism or anything going on, no bullying. We were pretty lucky and fortunate at that stage there.

GEORGE: And have you ever returned back to Vietnam? I mean you’ve been back obviously, but in a way to sort of explore what life would have been for you in a way?

MARTIN: No, it hasn't played in the back of my mind at all, to be honest. Living in Australia and there, you can’t compare. Yes, I’ve been back to Vietnam, just after high school, and I’ve seen the way my father's family live over there and you know what? What we have over here, sometimes people take for granted. But you know what, the way my parents raised us, we never take anything for granted, I’m so thankful for everything that happens in our lives, you know?

GEORGE: That's such a good point and the reason I ask this question, because, I’ve immigrated from South Africa probably about eleven years ago. And growing up in a country that's… it’s still known as first world, third world politics probably, but seeing how tough life really is, I see people complain about thing that in perspective, it’s really nothing. It’s fabricated problems, where I’m used to going… if I go back home, I’m used to seeing, there are people with real hunger, there are people on the street that are actually really struggling. How do I feed my family tonight, type of problems? Which is, I think, something people take for granted, living in.

MARTIN: It is, it is. I mean, it’s not only our country but everywhere around the world it happens, I think it’s just our natural ability, just to complain.

GEORGE: Yeah. So, Martin, you won the featherweight Championship and then, as you’ve mentioned earlier, you saw the opportunity came up. Then you managed to become a two-division title holder. So, what kind of doors does that open for you, from here on?

MARTIN: Yeah, being a two-time division champion, there’s only a handful of us in the world that's actually ever become two divisional title holders. So where it is from here, well, we’ve already set our goals from before we even fought for the featherweight title. You know, we always said, Master Fari and I sat down and we had a chat, we always have our little chats when we go on our little trips here and there and training sessions. We said we’re going to win this belt. The plan was to go down the weight division because I knew how to make the weight and fight that title holder for his belt.

ONE Championship had other plans and that put me up against the lightweight title holder, which worked out in our favour of going up the vision and winning that title, but where it is going from now: the fight is booked. It’s booked for March, fighting for the third world title and basically becoming one of the first fighters ever in the world to hold three titles consistently in three different divisions.

GEORGE: That's a big goal, that's fantastic.

MARTIN:  It’s a massive goal, it’s a massive fight, but I feel like this is my time and when your body feels right and everything feels right and the stars align, it’s bound to happen.

GEORGE: Yes, you’re right about that. And I mean, you’ve proven that it’s possible, so I can’t see that there should be any doubt in your mind that it’s an unachievable goal. So let’s say you get to a third world title: where do you see yourself taking your MMA career?

MARTIN: If I do win this third world title, then I look to defending the title, so basically everyone wants what you have. And I’ve worked so hard for me to get to this position where I am in life at the moment, so I’ll be defending all three titles, consistently, and you know what? We’ll play it by ear, whatever ONE Championship wants to do, I’ll go with it and we’ll start building a career from there.

GEORGE: Any plans to venture away from ONE Championship, or do you feel you’ve found your home and you’re going to continue with where you are at?

MARTIN: Yeah, everyone's been asking me this question, when am I going to go into UFC, or you know, when are you going to venture out of ONE Championship and move on, you know? But you know what, I’m happy where I am at the moment, and I always go by the saying, if something's not broken, why change it? So the way ONE Championship are treating us, are treating me in particular as a professional, mixed martial artist, I’m happy the way it is and it’s setting up a platform not only for me but for my family as well.

So in terms of going to the UFC – you never know at the end of the day. I’ll be defending my titles consistently, until… I guess it’s, you know when it’s time to move on and yeah, at that time, at the moment it’s not looking like that. I’m happy where I am and I think I’ll be staying with ONE Championship for a while, so in terms of moving on, it’s not going to happen anytime soon.

GEORGE: So Martin, thanks. Thanks for being on the show and look, I normally don’t speak to MMA fighters on the show, nor anybody of your caliber, so I want to ask you the question: is there anything that I haven’t asked you that I should have asked you?

MARTIN: To be honest, you’ve asked the majority of the main questions that every journalist has asked me, in terms of what other people would want to ask me… I mean, you’ve asked everything, everything in this MMA career is about family for me, so you’ve already addressed that family situation. So I mean, it’s more than I could ever ask for at the end of the day. Sorry, I’ve got my daughter, she’s jumping on me!

GEORGE: That's awesome. Cool, lastly Martin: firstly, I wish you all the best, what you’ve achieved is fantastic and I saw that video clip of you holding both belts and just pure emotion. Obviously, expressing thanks to your family, your dad as well and everything. It’s just fantastic to see, you look like a really genuine guy. You deserve all the success that's coming your way. So for anybody that wants to follow you and support you on this journey, where can people find details about you?

MARTIN: So, I’ve got three main accounts. My first one is obviously Facebook, where everyone's got it. I’ve got my personal fighters page, where it’s Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen. Then I have my Instagram account, where it’s at, itsmartiinn. And I have my twitter account, which is MartinNguyenKMA.

GEORGE: Alright, fantastic.

MARTIN: Keep in contact with me, that's the main accounts that I’m usually on and I usually post a lot of stuff up, just to let the fans know what's happening in my career at that point in time.

GEORGE: Alright, fantastic. Martin, I wish you all the best and we’ll put links in the show notes to all your accounts so that anybody can follow you and all the best!

MARTIN: Done deal, thanks, George.

GEORGE: Thanks, Martin, speak soon – cheers.

 

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37 – Ross Cameron from Lockdown: How To Host Martial Arts Events & Tournaments

Ross Cameron shares how to run martial arts events and details about their exciting grappling tournament, Lockdown.

Martial Arts Events

IN THIS EPISODE, YOU WILL LEARN:

  • How to manage remote employees and martial arts school effectively
  • The importance of having established business systems and processes across your martial arts schools
  • The prerequisites to running a successful martial arts event
  • When and why you need an event insurance
  • What makes Lockdown a big attraction compared to other grappling tournaments
  • And more

*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.

If you're putting on an event, at the end of the day, you don’t want to be turning around and saying, sorry about it, but I can't afford to pay you. You don't want to be standing around the official, saying, sorry, we can't afford to pay you.

Hi, this is George Fourie and welcome to another Martial Arts Media business podcast, episode number 37. Today I speak to another gentleman, with multiple hats, which is Ross Cameron. And Ross, a former engineer, I’d say a serial martial arts entrepreneur, who is the owner of Aftershock, Fightcross gyms, multiple Fightcross gyms across Australia and an exciting new grappling tournament event called Lockdown. And we talk a bit about that, we also go into detail about hosting events, how you can host your own events, and everything that goes with it and doesn't sound like an easy process, but obviously doable. So lots to chat about, lots to discover in this episode.

So if you need help with your martial arts marketing, the digital side of things: Facebook, Google, email, converting, having a website that converts: we just created a Facebook group, which is a support group for a lot of the information that we are putting out, so I've been doing a series of online web classes, which you can find more about at martialartsmedia.com/workshop and we pretty much over-deliver in giving away the strategies and methods that we use for top martial arts schools around the country and America and so forth.

So the Facebook group is sort of a support group for that and we share bits of information and I'm starting to upload snippets of videos, things that really help you build your business. So if you want in, it’s a closed group, all that you've got to do is go to martialartsmedia.group, so martialartsmedia.group and request to join. And if you're nice, I’ll let you in – which, I'm sure you're nice. I've had to remove a few people that want to spam this service, that service, and funny stuff so yeah, I'm very on to keeping it clean and keeping it of value and not being one of those groups where people harass you and spam you and just use it for the purpose of marketing. I go with value first, marketing if you need it.

So that's what we're up to. I would like to see you in the group, that would be awesome, log in, say hi, introduce yourself. It would be great to see you and connect with you there. For this episode, the show notes will be on martialartsmedia.com/37, the number 37. And that's it for now – enjoy the episode, lots of great value to share. Please welcome to the show, Ross Cameron.

GEORGE: Good day everyone. Today I'm with Ross Cameron, all the way from Brisbane, how are you, Ross?

ROSS: Excellent. Thanks for having me on George!

GEORGE: Awesome, I look forward to chatting with you about a few things that… how I came across Ross initially was speaking to Stuart Grant from Westside MMA and he was telling me about the Lockdown events, which they were having at their location. So we're going to be talking about Lockdown and we're also going to be talking about events in general and Ross is a man with multiple hats, so this is going to be an exciting conversation. Welcome, Ross!

ROSS: Thanks. We've got lots of events that I'm involved with, I'm the promoter for Aftershock MMA, I'm the promoter for Lockdown, especially the grappling series. I run a fight night with boxing and kickboxing, and then I'm involved in Mixed Martial Arts Australasia, which is a sanctioning body as well so…

GEORGE: All right, cool, so lots of hats. Let’s take all the hats off and take a step back: how did you get into the martial arts game, how did this all evolve to where it is now?

ROSS: I started off doing judo when I was four, fought internationally back in the 80's when Karate Kid first came out, so I've been around the game for a long time. I've got traditional schools and a lot of traditional background and MMA is just where the sports hit it and where my passion's sort of been. I've been a ground fighter in the strike and fight and I just thought, it puts it all together, so…

GEORGE: You're originally from Auckland, did this start… I guess the business side of martial arts, did that side start in New Zealand, moving across Australia, or…?

ROSS: I started in Brisbane because I was over here as a student under Grandmaster Young Ku Yun for about five years. Then I went back to New Zealand and opened some martial arts schools over there, then I came back to Brisbane and then started off in my garage with training my daughter and suddenly I had too many people and had to take it out of the garage, so I started a school. And I grew and grew and grew, so now I've got four schools around Australia and I keep promoting the events to back up what we do in the gym.

GEORGE: Ok, cool. So that's Fightcross, correct?

ROSS: Yes, that's Fightcross, yep.

GEORGE: All right, cool. And you said around Australia, so you're not just in Brisbane?

ROSS: No, we have one in Perth, and three in Brisbane.

GEORGE: So a quick question on that: how do you manage a location that's not in close reach, that's pretty much right across, as far from the country as you can be?

ROSS: A lot of it is, you've got to trust the people that you put in the place, you've got to spend time training them and making sure they have all their systems in place and do it properly and then you have to have your checks and balances in place, so you've got to be able to drill down into their systems and see what they're doing. It’s hard work, everyone thinks it’s easy though, to open another center, but it never is.

GEORGE: Ok. So you guys are very tight on the following the exact same structure and same systems in all locations?

ROSS: Yeah, yeah. I’m an engineer by background; when an engineer, everything has to be systematized.

GEORGE: So there’s Fightcross and then it started the events, I guess, afterward. How did that all get started for you initially?

ROSS: All right: I was looking for events for my fighters that were the first step up to a fight to jump in and I couldn't find anything that sort of fitted what I wanted my guys doing. They could either do BJJ, or they could do kickboxing, or they were going to pro-MMA fights, there was no amateur MMA really around the scene at the time. So I started Aftershock as an amateur MMA, what's now considered C class rules, so: padded, no hit strikes on the ground, and limited striking standing up, so no knees to the face, but knees to the body, no elbows.

So it gets them a good start, they can get a feel for what's the sport like before they actually jump in and get an A class and get elbowed in the face – just stepping stones. And that's another reason we started our Lockdown events: we needed another stepping stone to develop the grappling and wrestling side of the sport. We don't have collegiate wrestling in Australia, so we're sort of behind the 8 ball, trying to catch up with the Americans, the Turkish guys, Russians and suddenly, we're struggling a bit.

GEORGE: So just for everyone listening, could you give a breakdown of what is a Lockdown event exactly?

ROSS: A Lockdown is a double elimination submission grappling comp, judged on dominance and submission. You're not scoring points; you're there to submit and finish the person. It's run on a five-minute round and if there's no winner in that five-minute round, they'll do a three-minute round and we're looking for a submission. And the way it works is basically, if you lose, you get put down in the loser's bracket and then you work your way back up into the draw, so you get at least two rolls, compared to the BJJ comps where you're getting one roll or round robin where you are having to roll everybody and carry the injuries.

GEORGE: So there's no striking?

ROSS: It’s done in a cage, so you get to practice your cage wrestling, you get to work cage work, your cage take downs, pressure, cage control – very, very MMA orientated, so we're allowed double leg takedowns to the slams – as long as you're not slamming on the back of the head naturally.

GEORGE: All right. So who has this really been beneficial for as a… I guess, let’s start as a student: would it be for someone who's transitioning to MMA, or would it be for like a BJJ student?

ROSS: We get a huge mix of guys that come in. We get guys that are pure BJJ guys, we get guys that are wrestlers, we get guys that are MMA, Japanese jiu-jitsu guys jump in there as well. Because the rules are not just ground or not just stand-up, we get a huge mix. We get a judo, we get Olympic judo guys in there as well, so it’s a great mix for the students to get in there and actually test their skills. We run different divisions, so we have MMA weight divisions, but we also have beginners, intermediate and advanced.

GEORGE: This has attracted a different crowd of people, so if you host an event, how would it be different to a straight up BJJ tournament, or judo, or so forth?

ROSS: Again, it’s the mix. If you're a classical BJJ guy – and I go to BJJ comps and watch it all the time, and the guys are pulling guard and all the rest of it. And suddenly, they're up against a guy who's a judo guy, who's going to throw them. They start to pull guard and mixing up their throw and they're losing position, so the mix is very interesting. Then you get, say, a BJJ guy up against a wrestler. The wrestler's going to have a dominant body position on top, BJJ guy is going to want to play the bottom game and suddenly you're getting another dynamic in it. It’s really interesting to watch how they play the game and the styles against each other.

GEORGE: Let’s say, Eddie Bravo type tournaments: is this a comparison with that? What would you say the differences are?

ROSS: Not really, that tends to be a very classical BJJ type with 20-minute rounds, they can stall, they can take their time to play the hard card game, they can just inch things out. You've got five minutes and you've got to go, so the pressure is on from the start.

GEORGE: Ok. And then you were saying, submission or dominance: how would you actually score the dominance, based on…

ROSS: Ok, so it's scored very much like MMA. So in MMA, a dominant body position is side control, so dominant body position – the guard is not dominant. Ok? In BJJ, they score guard as being a good position – it’s not dominant in an MMA fight, so we score that the other way around.

GEORGE: Right.

ROSS: It’s just those little things, we're looking at it, scoring it as if striking was involved, but without the striking.

GEORGE: I guess the flipside of that is, what is the downside of it? For a student that wants to go into tournaments and so forth, what would you say is the downside?

ROSS: Downside? The downside is just having another rule set to play with. And I've got a very successful young fella who goes into BJJ comps and Lockdown BJJ comps, because he will do a kneebar and he’ll go, whoops, sorry, that's not allowed in that division – ah, OK. So that's the thing. It’s just about those, keeping that school basis within the rule sets that they're actually working on.

GEORGE: Anything else about the Lockdown events?

ROSS: We’re expanding a lot down around Australia and we're running them sort of in each state and now the idea is that we'll have… over the year, we run points, but not only for fighters, but we also run points for the gyms. So we have the top ten ranked gyms in each state and then we have the top ten ranked fighters for each state for each weight division. And then, later on, this year, we’re having a Grand Prix, where we're actually going to have the best from each of the state rolling into each other for a price and were going to stream that live.

GEORGE: All right. And the price? Any…?

ROSS: Cash!

GEORGE: Cash! Alright, awesome, it sounds like an exciting tournament. Now, for… let’s say martial arts school owners, how would school owners get involved with something like this? How would it be beneficial for them?

ROSS: Ok, they can look on lockdownsubmissiongrapplingseries.com and the benefit to them is, one, it’s a team building exercise. Two, it helps them teach their guys how to corner their fighters. Three, they get involved in growing a sport and developing the skill basics of their crew in an area where we’re lacking. So there's good reason to be involved.

GEORGE: Let’s talk a bit more about events. Let’s say, what's your advice to a school owner that wants to get started in running an event? You laugh!

ROSS: It sounds silly, but everyone looks at events and goes, they're very easy, look what you just have to do. They don't see the hours of work that goes behind it. I have a full-time crew that run my events. We put on… maybe 14 Lockdowns this year. There are 4 aftershocks and there are three HAMMA fight nights that I have got planned this year.

So there are events on just about every weekend that we're involved in. The plan and the preparation to make an event run smoothly is huge! The funding behind it is so important. The understanding that you've got to have insurances. I get phone calls from other promoters constantly asking me how do we get insurance for this and that and I'm like going, you're actually on your 10th or 12 or 13th event and you haven't had insurance? You guys are crazy! And event insurance is not cheap: looking after you fighters, looking after your staff, making sure everything’s good – it’s not as easy as people think it is and there's a lot more to it than is perceived.

So it’s worthwhile for your local martial arts school to run events; it’s at what level they want to run their events. I would suggest that most of them look at something local that they can support, that will help grow their team and get their name out into the community as marketing, develop their social media as their team is involved in different events – that's the smart way to play it.

GEORGE: If you break it down into components, I've had a few guests on board, like a few things that have come up: using their event psychology actually for marketing, I know Darryl Thornton in Melbourne had a good strategy for actually, his open day is an hour event and it’s great for just getting people in an hour, being able to… I guess that confined time of having people in one area for one hour and then giving people a good, irresistible offer, in the end, to join in and he gets about 70+ sign ups on the day by having this whole strategy. So I guess school owners can learn a lot from that component, but going from your knowledge and what you do with events, and being an engineer of course: how do you break it down into components? What's the first thing that you've got to get down first and then move from that point?

ROSS: Ok, really the biggest thing is funding, OK? If you're putting on an event, at the end of the day, you don't want to be turning around to a fighter and saying, sorry, but I can't afford to pay you. You don't want to be standing around the officials saying, sorry, we can't afford to pay you, you know? You need to have your funding, your sponsors, your venue, your day confirmed and then your main card and start working backward. The biggest issues that I find in Australia with events for MMA events is keeping that card together.

Being a Kiwi, and I have a joke with a lot of Kiwi guys together and we keep it down is that Australians don't like to fight, where the Kiwis love to fight. It’s not too hard to get Kiwi boys that will stick on a card, it’s a lot harder to get some of the Australians to stick on a card. And one of the biggest issue we have in Australia is pull outs to go fight in another card. So they'll come up with an excuse like, I hurt my toes, I can't fight this week, but I'm fighting the next week, is this OK then?

GEORGE: The core part of the event then is who's the main card, because that's got to be the attraction, right?

ROSS: Yep, correct, yep. And a good venue – and it sounds silly, lots of people think going to a pub is the way to go. Most fighters don't want to fight in a pub show. Most fighters want to fight on an event and there's a big difference between a pub show and an event. So if you're running an event, you've got to have good sponsors, you've got to have entertainment, you've got to have good lighting, you've got to have good access, so there's a lot of little bits that go together. And then you've got to have a good team to make it work.

GEORGE: All right, cool, so a lot of components then. How do you go about the marketing? Where does the marketing start? Do you typically go through different clubs?

ROSS: Yeah, your marketing is broad based, so you've actually got to go through, you've got to do a lot of social media stuff, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. You've got to go through the clubs and get clubs involved behind you, newspaper and-  it sounds silly, it’s not actually the fact that you're in the newspaper that's going to get you the explosion that you want; it’s the fact that then you can release that to social media.

GEORGE: Yes.

ROSS: There's a lot to it that marketing wise, the average person doesn't get, so it’s knocking on the doors, it’s the hours, it’s going out late at night, putting flyers up through club areas and just drumming up interest.

GEORGE: It sounds like there's a lot of work in just the infrastructure. I actually read once that event organizing was the most stressful job in the world.

ROSS: I would believe it, a lot of greys here!

GEORGE: Ross, I feel were sort of touching the surface, I think there's still a lot that we can talk about here. Anything else in the event spectrum that we can cover, especially thinking about the martial arts school owner here? How can martial arts school owners really get involved, what's the best way to get something from events?

ROSS: As a school owner myself, I really pick the events I put my guys on. I pick the events I put my guys on for two reasons: one, I want to make sure that they're sanctioned and they're well run, controlled events, for the safety of my guys. Two, it means that my men are associated with good brands, OK? I won’t put my fighters on a few shows just because of the fact that their reputation precedes them – in a bad way. I don't want my guys being put in a bad spot, I don't want my guys to chase their money, I don't want all those things. Have you heard of Nitro?

 

GEORGE: Yeah.

ROSS: So my guys fight on Nitro, they fight on Aftershock, they'll fight on Fightworld Cup, they'll fight on Eternal – they'll fight in good, reputable brands just to make sure that that's the way it is – well controlled. And don't get me wrong, over the years I've learned this, so I've turned up there for a fight and gone, where's the doctor? Well, we don't have a doctor. Oh, OK, so… I guess I'm a one-minute man, am I? And I say, over the years you learn that there are certain things that have to fall into place to make a good event.

And those are the things: I want to make sure that my fighters are looked after by having medical, making sure that they're looked after by having financial backing, making sure that there's insurance in place, making sure that the event is not going to fall over, making sure that there's no criminal element involved, you know? It’s all those little things that have to be in line before I’ll put a guy on a show.

GEORGE: Now how would you – because you've had all this experience and you know the event scene. But how would you as a school owner, if you're entering into this arena, how would you go by assessing the risk elements of entering?

ROSS: I’d be talking to other coaches and other reputable gyms around the area. Like you talked about Stuart Grant: Stuart is a great guy and he knows what he's doing. Stuart and I talk, we can discuss what's going on in the industry, we can discuss what shows are happening, he gets it. If people want to talk to people, that's how you build awareness in the game. I've seen it where you've got a guy who walks up to an event, his coach doesn't actually know what he's doing, the fighter’s got no idea what he's doing, and you go, OK, so have you talked to anybody in the industry? Nah Nah, I've just come from Shukokai Karate, or I've come from a traditional school and I've thought of going into an MMA event, a fight.

Do you know how to wrap hands? No, I don’t know how to wrap hands. Do you know how to do this; do you know what you're supposed to be doing? So the best I can do is get on the phone and talk to them, talk to other people. Either that: when I first got involved in MMA, I started ringing other coaches, talking to them, discussing what was going on and now those guys ring me back and we’re still having conversations about where the sport is going, what's going on with people, is this gym any good, do they have the right mentality behind it – all those things.

GEORGE: Cool Ross. It’s been awesome chatting to you. If people want to – because you've got Lockdown and you've got access to a lot of type of events. If school owners want to get you involved, and I don't know at which level you're available to be involved with events, but what's the process they would take?

ROSS: Basically, they can just shoot me an email on my website, so aftershockmma.com, lockdownsubmissiongrapplingseries.com, fightcross.com – they can shoot me an email, I’ll pick it up somewhere. If I don't, someone will get them to me. And the other thing that I'm involved with that'll help all these guys is the fact that Mixed Martial Arts Australasia is a governing sanctioning body, set up by Chris Haseman and Peter Hickmott and myself – if they don't know who Chris Haseman is, just Google him.

Peter Hickmott referees in the UFC, and he's involved in training with the DSR, trains sports combat in Tasmania as well, so he's well known within the governing bodies throughout Australia. We run courses, we run courses on Cornerman courses, Cutman courses, we run officials courses, we run how to wrap hands courses, so we cover the lot and we’re here to help train these guys that want to get involved as well.

GEORGE: Good stuff. Ross – great chatting to you and I hope to be seeing you at a Lockdown event pretty soon.

ROSS: Of course, cheers George, thanks!

GEORGE: All right, cheers, thanks.

There you have it – thank you, Ross Cameron. Don't those Lockdown events sound awesome? I know they do for me – look, obviously, it depends on what martial arts you specialize in. I think it’s exciting, it’s got lots of potentials and I really hope that it all goes well for Ross and they'll be able to grow this into something substantial, which it definitely looks like they are.

So that's it from me, again, if you want to join us in the Facebook group, martialartsmedia.group, so come and connect with us there, come and say hi. We look forward to seeing you there, having a chat and see how we can possibly help your business. Awesome – have a great week, I’ll be back here next week with an awesome episode and chat with you then. Cheers!

 

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