Over the last three months, I’ve made a focused effort to interview the best, most credible journalists in MMA, through my radio show, MMA Sentinel, with my fantastic co-host, Iain Kidd. While the pool of MMA journalists is a large one, the ones that really matter, the ones that actually have credibility, encompass a relatively short list.
When I featured Kid Nate, the reigning emperor of Bloody Elbow, there were requests for a dual segment, featuring him and Jonathan Snowden, whom we had recently interviewed, as well. Both gentlemen acquiesced, and the following is about 90% of the entire segment, transcribed for your reading pleasure.
The last bits and pieces will need to be obtained from the audio, as my little fingers got tired around the 4000 word mark. Solid props go out to Iain, as he did 50% of the work here. Between us, we have bloody fingers to match our bloody elbows. In any event, here’s the written word, as the two prophets of MMA delivered it to us. For ease of reading, I have referred to us (myself and Iain) as ‘DD’, short for the Dynamic Duo.
DD: How did the lines of communication break down?
Kid Nate: I wouldn’t say the lines of communication ever broke down. There was a brief period in which we weren’t communicating very frequently, but I think we were always communicating pretty openly with one another.
Jonathan is great and he’s one of the most talented people I have ever worked with. I think he’s the historian of record for MMA. He’s definitely written more high quality books than anybody else, by a factor of at least three.
Our time together was extraordinarily productive, both for me personally, and for my employers, and I hope, for Jonathan, as well. Circumstances beyond our control kind of mandated these moves. Jonathan chose to go to Bleacher Report and take some other offers. Vox Media, my parent company, bought MMA Fighting, which kind of created a ‘too many chiefs, not enough Indians’ situation and here we are, and everybody is doing great.
Snowden: I don’t think we ever had a problem communicating, if anything our problem was communicating too much [laughs].
Kid Nate: Yes! [laughs]
Snowden: Nate and I had a lot of back and forth, a lot of disagreements, and a lot of times would have been better off if we had stopped talking. Neither of us has that personality, though, so I think we would take any minuscule disagreement and fight it until the bitter end. That’s just the kind of people we are. Sometimes that works out great, sometimes not so well.
DD: How did you go from barely speaking to a full-fledged content sharing partnership?
Snowden: There was a time when we didn’t like each other that much. There were lots of issues behind the scenes, especially as I departed Bloody Elbow.
Kid Nate: Not when you departed Bloody Elbow, when you departed MMA Nation.
Snowden: That’s true. When I left SBNation, there was some disagreement about how I parted ways, and some other people on staff mentioned that they had fired me and stuff like that. That kind of leaves some lingering bad blood.
The truth is, to me, Bloody Elbow, in addition to having great original content, like Stephanie’s, it’s the aggregator of record in MMA, in my mind. If there’s an important story, it’s going to be on Bloody Elbow. Of course I want to see my stuff there, because I want to think that I’m doing things that matter, and are important. If that’s true, it’s going to be on Bloody Elbow. They need content and we need to have it delivered to their great audience, so I think it’s a natural partnership in a lot of ways.
Kid Nate: We’re never going to not cover something because of some personal beef with the writer or publication or publisher. Even when the Associated Press had that ridiculous policy of threatening to sue people who linked out to them, we still covered their material. We just tried to follow their rather insane requirements of not linking to them.
There was never a point where Snowden’s material was blackballed, and there has rarely been a point when his material wasn’t worth covering.
I do want to say that Jonathan and I, at least from my perspective, generally got along great. I just got tired of refereeing Jonathan’s conflicts with other people on staff and other people on other sites. I never personally had particularly big issues with Jonathan.
Snowden: Yeah, I think that’s true, for sure. I miss talking to Nate, and that’s the truth. He and I would google chat for hours, pretty much every day. When we were both at Bloody Elbow, that was great. We shared a lot of ideas and had a lot of really productive conversations.
I didn’t mix well with Luke Thomas and Thomas Myers, who were the other guys at SBNation’s MMA Nation, which was their first attempt at taking MMA to their broader, more mainstream audience. They decided in the middle of that project to buy MMA Fighting, which kind of left us as the step children. If we had conflict, I will contest that probably 90% of it was me being cranky.
DD: Lots of people see you as this blatant troll. Nate told me specifically that he doesn’t feel that way about you, that you just have a different perspective on things, and a lot of times when things come back full circle, you end up being right. Can you explain your position when you write outrageous things?
Snowden: I definitely do less of that now than I did before, but I think that was kind of an important piece of Bloody Elbow, to have provocative opinion pieces, and I definitely was a part of that. Nate knows first-hand how some of these articles are generated, and it wasn’t us sitting there thinking, ‘How can we best build the audience’, although it happened to work out that what I wrote, and what Nate did as well, because he was my mentor in this area, goaded the audience. It worked out that our actual opinions, at least in my case, infuriated some of the readers, and you know, that was just a nice bonus. I don’t think I ever wrote anything specifically with that in mind. It would just be what I thought about whatever the issue of the day was, sometimes people agreed with that, sometimes they didn’t.
I was never going to tailor my opinion one way or the other. I’m not going to reflect what the popular consensus is in my opinion. It’s always going to be what I think. I appreciate Nate saying that I’m not a troll, because I do think that’s true, but a lot of people don’t believe that.
Kid Nate: One of the coolest things about working with Jonathan, and he hates being called Jon by the way, I’ve been explicitly forbidden from doing it, so watch yourself, Steph [Snowden laughs].
One of the great things about working with Jonathan was, of all the writers I’ve followed in MMA, since the beginning of the sport, there’s really only two writers, maybe three, who I felt had a gift for watching an event, and knowing immediately what was the biggest issue to come out of that event and what the story was. The other guy was Sam Caplan, who I’ve also had an interesting relationship with. He was originally with Five Ounces of Pain, and was one of the guys who started the MMA blogging revolution, and now he’s the matchmaker of Bellator.
I come out of an event and I’m distracted by minutiae here, I’m making ironic comments there, I’m lost in the woods and I don’t have that big picture clarity. I feel like Caplan and Jonathan had very different views on things, but they both had the ability to sum up a UFC event, a Strikeforce event or a Pride event, or what have you in terms that meant something to people and could be a definitive commentary on the event very quickly.
Jonathan also had a gift for cranking out the prose like I’ve never seen, and quality prose. The books speak for themselves. I have no idea how he has a full time day job, acts as one of the best reporters of MMA in the business and writes books at the same time. I have no idea how he does that. I suspect he doesn’t play as much internet chess as I do [laughs].
The other thing about Jonathan is he would have what I would call a cock-eyed perspective. Sometimes his viewpoint was very much in line with what other people were thinking, and sometimes he would look at a fight and just come up with a viewpoint that had me like, ‘Where the Hell did he come up with this? What world is he living on? What glasses is he wearing that he saw this?’
To me, the definitive example is the Brock Lesnar vs Shane Carwin fight. In retrospect, it can be safely said that neither of those guys was an all-time great. They both had huge, glaring flaws in their game, and they both revealed those flaws in that fight, even though that fight itself was a spectacular bout. Many commentators, myself included, were swept up in the excitement of that, and the size of it. It wasn’t just that it was two big guys. It was a very popular fight that had a lot of attention.
Jonathan was perceived as coming in and pissing on the party, but he wasn’t raining on the parade, he was just telling the truth in that case.
I think one of the things about the period when Jonathan and I were both at Bloody Elbow that was both fortunate and unfortunate, was that we tended to agree or, at least have a similarly contrary opinions about the UFC’s business practices. In the past at BE, I had either been counter-balanced by Luke Thomas’ more sober take or Michael Rome’s more Pro-UFC take.
Rome and I had a great time debating Grease-gate when GSP and BJ Penn fought, and GSP was caught by the commission flagrantly vaselining himself, or his corner was vaselining him. We had these very diametrically opposed takes on that, whereas Jonathan and I would tend to agree with things and there wasn’t, at that point, an equally strong personality to balance us out.
That kind of gave Bloody Elbow a huge amount of momentum, because we pushed each other in the same direction, and pushed the site in the same direction, but it also detracted from the balance of the site a little bit and gave people a mistaken impression of the goals of the site and what we were up to.
It’s a business and our job is to get eyeballs, but our job is to get quality eyeballs, and that’s why we’re still a very valuable property to SBN, even with the addition of MMA Fighting, because we’ve got this community and our site is sticky like glue. We’ve got to hold onto our integrity, as well as drawing eyeballs.
Jonathan: One of the things that’s so interesting about the accusation that you’re ‘trolling for page-views and hits’, and stuff like that is that Nate may have had that information, but I didn’t have any information about which specific articles were doing well with the readers and which weren’t. I don’t think any of us did. It was rarely the case where someone would say, ‘This topic draws really well, but this one doesn’t’, or things like that.
That was not really our mindset, none of us. It might have worked out that way, and I think in the first few months I was there, not just specifically because of me of course, but the lumpy traffic for the whole site increased by a factor of three, which is huge growth. Despite that, we never really had those kind of discussions about, ‘Hey, what’s going to draw?’ Maybe Nate thought about it, but for the rest of us, I don’t feel like that was part of what we did.
DD: What was the deal with MMA Nation?
Kid Nate: MMA Nation was like Jonathan described it; SBNation’s first attempt at a marquee site. Basically, it was an attempt to tie directly to SBNation.com, along with Baseball Nation, which was launched around the same time. It was never actually its own, independent domain. There was MMANation.com, but it routed to mma.sbnation.com. The deal was, SBNation.com was founded after Bloody Elbow, after MMA Mania, after most of the SBN network, but became a huge success, and we wanted to have MMA coverage there because of the traffic.
We had MMA experts in the company, and we wanted to bring them up to do that. We had been discussing the project for literally a year before we launched it. In a small start-up like SBN, now Vox Media, it takes a little while to get things off the ground, because we had limited resources. We basically had one development team that could only do one thing at a time. Now we have a development team that can do multiple things at a time, but that wasn’t the case at the time.
So, it took a little while to get it off the ground. We were trying a lot of new stuff. Google didn’t necessarily like it that much. Google and advertisers have continually forced the company to change our direction in small ways. We have to accede to the realities of the marketplace. Google is what tells people what’s out there. If Google doesn’t like how you do things, people don’t know what you’re doing. It’s like being invisible. That’s a pointless fight.
If advertisers don’t understand what you’re doing or if they’re not comfortable with your product, you’re not going to be able to keep making it, because they won’t invest in it. We had to learn a lot of lessons, and very quickly into the project, MMA Fighting came up for sale. AOL was going through a lot of difficulties, and looking to offload properties for cash, and we were one of a number of companies that took them up on that offer.
MMA Fighting came on the market at a price we couldn’t resist. It was such a no-brainer to take that site. This was one of the marquee sites in the industry. MMA Fighting is travelling to events every weekend, which is not something that Bloody Elbow or MMA Mania could ever do, and not something MMA Nation was ever given the budget to do.
When they came on board there were a lot of egos and a lot of talent. I think Jonathan was never comfortable with the decision making behind that. I didn’t feel like he had an understanding of what we were doing, and took it more personally than he should have, perhaps.
Frankly, he just found a better home out there. He’s got talent, there’s a marketplace, somebody made him an offer he couldn’t refuse and he took that offer. That’s when things went from moderately difficult to highly unpleasant. [Jonathan and Nate laugh] Would you say that’s a fair assessment, Jonathan?
Snowden: Yeah, I think it was hard for me, definitely. There was a lot going on in my personal life. I don’t know who cares, or if that matters at all, but I have two young kids, and both of them, during the time I was at SBN, were diagnosed with autism. When I slipped up and got angry, it would tend to be at the people who were at a hands length, Nate and Luke Thomas and those guys. When I did lose my temper, it was with those guys. I definitely take the blame for a lot of it.
Some of it, I saw differently. I felt that we had done a lot of work, myself in particular, to kind of build this MMA Nation brand, and it felt like a rejection, in a sense. They went in this other direction, and they weren’t going to include me in it. It almost felt like going back to Bloody Elbow, which was one of the ideas that was passed along, was a step backwards. That wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, so I did take it personally, because it did affect me as an individual.
DD: Was there ever a Kid Nate & Snowden vs The World moment?
Kid Nate: Well, there was never a crusade against anybody, or a Jonathan and Nate against the world situation in how we discussed things. Our discussions were so educational, for me at least, because there was such consistent … not disagreement, but different perspectives.
I always learned from talking to Jonathan. His understanding of the game is a lot deeper than mine, he’s much more in tune with the modern pro-wrestling industry than I am, he’s met a lot more of the inside players in MMA than I have and he’s interviewed more of them, so he always has a lot of perspective that I don’t.
However, there were instances, one I can think of in particular, where there was the unlikely alliance of Luke Thomas, Jonathan Snowden and Nate Wilcox against … Um, you know, we ran into a situation where we had a source that gave Jonathan some information, and when the UFC didn’t like that information, the source said, ‘Hey, I never said that.’ Well, Jonathan had the goods that showed us that yeah, he did say that. That turned into an ongoing shitstorm that lasted for years, where we had a continuing back and forth with the fighter and his management, because of that situation.
Maybe other editors would not have burned the source, or would have taken the hit. Jonathan actually wanted to take the hit, because he didn’t want to burn the relationship. My feeling was our credibility as editors had been attacked. Jonathan wasn’t as worried about that. He felt his work stood on its own, etc.
I was like, ‘No way am I letting this guy tell my writer one set of things. and then deny he said it.’ That would indicate a failure on my part and on Luke Thomas’ part as editors of the site, to make sure that our reporters are recording things accurately.
That’s ultimately all we’ve got; credibility and our reputation. So, we went to the mattresses on that one, and I like to think that we’re a bigger factor in the industry today than said fight manager, who may or may not have any clients of note left, now that MC Hammer has raided his stable.
Snowden: I definitely appreciated Nate and Luke Thomas stepping up. We did disagree with how to handle that, and I was willing to take the shots. I think they were right to not do it that way, but that’s kind of just been the way the MMA media handles it. When there’s a disagreement with anyone in the industry, be it a fighter or a manager or, God forbid, the UFC, they’re going to take it on the chin all the time. It doesn’t matter whether they’re right or wrong, if Dana White disagrees with them, or calls them names in the press, they’re always going to take it.
It was Nate and Luke’s idea not to be the tomato can in this fight, and ultimately, I think it was the right decision, and I definitely appreciated it that time. They definitely stood behind me at a time when the person we were writing about was saying what I was writing was not true. That’s a hard case to make if you’re not going to come out with the actual information, because obviously, they’re the principle and you’re just an internet blogger. But they stood up for me, and that was a good time.
Snowden: I’m disappointed you guys haven’t asked any hot questions. We haven’t got to argue at all. You didn’t talk about SBNation being a sweatshop, or whether I was the MMACurmudgeon or anything interesting. What’s going on?
Kid Nate: Well, lets do it. Were you the MMA Curmudgeon?
Snowden: No. Maybe. I don’t know. Were you?
Kid Nate: [Laughs] ‘Maybe, I don’t know’, yeah, you were the MMA Curmudgeon. I might be an MMA Curmudgeon, but I never had a twitter account that seemed pathologically obsessed with Luke Thomas. I love Luke, and I think he’s very important in this sport, and I think he’s going to go on to do big things. Only one entity in the whole game is as focused on Luke Thomas as you are Jonathan, and that’s MMA Curmudgeon.
Snowden: The thing is, I don’t think I’ve ever really been that focused on Luke Thomas. I wasn’t a big reader of his before I joined the site. I do catch him sometimes now, but he’s not someone that’s frequently on my mind. I will say this, I know who the MMA Curmudgeon is, who they are, and I definitely understand why there’s a perception that it could be me. It’s definitely someone I communicate with and I may have listed some material for them for jokes that have come back to haunt me since.
How about this, Nate? Can you confirm that I was not fired by SBNation as reported by Luke Thomas in the immediate aftermath?
Kid Nate: I will dispute both of those. You were definitely not fired. You resigned, and I do not recall Luke Thomas ever saying that you were fired. If he did, that was a mistake on his part, and I’m sure he would be the first to agree with me on that. You resigned. You sent us a letter.
We weren’t necessarily happy with how much of your agreed upon term of employment you finished, or the work you turned in on that last month. I don’t think you could dispute that either, that it was neither pleasant nor productive. I think I mishandled some of that on my end, for sure, but no, you were definitely not fired.
*A couple of topics were ‘too hot for transcription’ but are in the audio. You don’t want to miss Nate and Snowden going head to head on the payscale of SBN vs Bleacher Report, the state of the blogging industry and the alleged sweatshop conditions at SBNation. In addition to that, there’s a tiny little thing happening this weekend called UFC 162. We made sure to get both Kid Nate and Jonathan Snowden’s thoughts on Chris Weidman and his chances of being the man to dethtrone the king.
I know what you’re thinking. Who really is the master (de)bater, Snowden or Nate? Truth be told, in all this excitement, I kind of lost track myself. But given that this is Kid Nate vs Jon Snowden, two of the most powerful MMA Journalists in the world, and from this range, will blow your head clean off… You gotta ask yourself one question. Do I want to risk not listening to this interview? Well do ya, punk?
Link to audio interview here
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