Two of the most mysterious people in the background of the UFC are matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby. Since both are generally instructed to never talk to the media, they’ve never really had a chance to explain their jobs to the masses. People know who they are because UFC president Dana White says their names all the time, but how do they do what they do? And what is involved in their job besides just matching two guys or two ladies up to fight?
MMA Junkie’s Ben Fowlkes was given the rare opportunity to speak to both men at length, and the interview was pretty fascinating. Between matchmaking, hiring, firing, and dealing with the seemingly impossible things Dana White asks of them at times, their job is a lot more complicated that most would have previously thought. Here’s a few excerpts from the interview:
Shelby on why Cody McKenzie vs. Chad Mendes got booked for UFC 148, despite most seeing it as totally lopsided (it turns out that Bart Palaszewski pulled out of a fight with Mendes before it was announced):
“What people don’t understand is, it’s not like I could just remove Chad from the card and say, ‘Sorry, I can get you a fight four months from now,'” Shelby said. “We understand. You spent money on a camp. You’ve got bills to pay. We will do our best to find you a fight. I bend over backward to keep guys in fights, to keep the machine moving. You have to.”
“I can’t pull people out of other matches to fix this one,” Shelby said. “Then you’re just kicking the can down the road. But imagine trying to get someone to fight Chad Mendes on two weeks’ or even a month’s notice.”
“He (McKenzie) called me, and I remember this very well, and he said, ‘I want to commit to 145 (pounds),'” Shelby recalled. “I told him I didn’t have any room, but I do have this one opening. I told him, ‘I don’t think you should take this fight, but…'”
“I had nobody.”
“I mean, nobody,” he said. “It’s not like I can sign some random guy. I’ve already got all the top 10 in the world [at 145 pounds]. I had no other choices.”
Silva on having to fire fighters:
“That’s the worst,” Silva said. “It’s the absolute worst. I’ve almost quit this job multiple times because of that. People have broken down and cried.”
“I read an interview recently with a fighter talking about the depression that comes on after being cut,” Silva said. “It’s impossible to read that and not feel responsible, but the job dictates it. It’s not like we decided, this would be fun. It’s that this is the only way it can work. Nobody new can come in until somebody old goes. If you’re tired of seeing rematches, then you’ve got to clear space and bring in new people.”
On situations where they have to deal with the actions of their boss, like saying that every TUF fighter from a season is going to get a contract:
“Dana’s Captain Kirk, and we’re Scotty,” Silva said. “Dana’s always asking for crazy, impossible stuff, and we’re going, ‘Captain, we can’t go any faster!’ He’s the one saying, ‘Dammit Scotty, make it happen!'”
There’s also a ton of background info on both men, including a detailed section where Silva defends his brutal honesty, a trait that many in the business ultimately respect unless it’s coming in their direction. Plus they talk about having to deal with injuries, and managers/fighters turning down fights. I highly recommend giving the full article a read, as I can’t do it justice here. It’s one of the more interesting behind-the-scenes articles about the UFC you’re going to read this year.
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