What really qualifies someone for the job of UFC matchmaker? Legend has it Joe Silva got the job simply because he picked up the phone and made a call. In a 2016 career retrospective MMA Fighting’s Dave Meltzer wrote about the legacy of the UFC’s first real matchmaker.
“After one of the early UFCs, [Joe Silva] saw an ad in Black Belt magazine from Semaphore Entertainment Group, the parent company of the UFC, looking for fighters. He called the number, not expecting anything. For whatever reason, Campbell McLaren, who was running the UFC, took the call. They talked for hours. They continued to talk. McLaren was fascinated by his knowledge and perspective and wanted him to start attending shows. Silva, who had never been on an airplane in his life, continually turned him down.”
Obviously, eventually McLaren’s ovations worked. Silva spent more than twenty years booking UFC fights, running for more than half that time as a one-man show, until the promotion brought Sean Shelby over from the WEC. During that time, Silva helped codify the modern MMA rule set and established a fundamental methodology to UFC fight booking that cemented the promotion’s reputation for always making the best possible fights for fans.
Things have loosened up a bit in the 8 years since Silva left. The UFC’s iron grip on MMA talent hasn’t appeared nearly so strong under the guidance of Shelby and Mick Maynard. But, maybe that just means its time for some new blood to shake things up.
UFC hires contest winner as new matchmaker
Earlier this year, the UFC opened up a “Matchmaker Sweepstakes” mini-game for fans. Those who participate in building their “dream fight card” get entered in a contest to win tickets to UFC 295, hang out with UFC matchmakers and Dana White, and to book their own fight for the UFC. The contest appears to still be open, but it also seems like we’ve already got a grand prize winner.
In a post to the promotion’s official Instagram account, Dana White introduced fans to contest entrant Joe Reeves. Not only did Reeves win the trips out to Las Vegas & New York and get a chance to meet the boss, but after watching the man work, UFC brass were so impressed by his knowledge of the promotion, that they decided to give him a job.
“I’m here with Joe,” Dana White announced in the video, pointing to Reeves. “Joe won the matchmaker for a day competition. He’s been here all morning, he’s toured the UFC, met tons of fighters today; we’re about to make some matches here in the matchmaker meeting and I’m taking him to the Contender Series tonight too… People really do win here at the UFC.”
After the Contender Series, White dropped the big news.
“You wanna know how f*cking good Joe is?” White told the assembled media (transcript via MMA Fighting). “I just hired Joe. Joe works for us now. Yeah. This f*cking kid is awesome.
“I literally just back there, I did all the contracts and I came back in and I said, ‘I got one more. You want to work for the UFC?’ He freaked out. He is a f*cking UFC lunatic. He went toe-to-toe with the boys today, he knew every—bring up a guy on the roster he don’t know. He knows everybody on the roster and he actually did make a fight today.
“So, apparently—Lenee came into my office today raving about the kid, ‘Oh, this kid’s awesome, we love him,’ and this and that. He met a bunch of fighters in the P.I. today and one of ‘em was Cody Garbrandt. They were talking and I guess Garbrandt said, ‘Listen, if you’re the matchmaker for a day, I want a fight in December.’ So he came in and started pitching us on fights for Cody Garbrandt in December and he made a fight.”
Joe Silva’s legacy
Of course, if Joe Reeves is really going to follow in Joe Silva’s footsteps—as another extremely enthusiastic fan that blows executives away with his knowledge and passion—then fighters had better beware. As much as Silva may have been known for his dedication and enthusiasm, he was also known for his brutal negotiation tactics.
“People have no idea what he put people through,” former UFC title contender Gray Maynard said shortly after Silva’s retirement.
“Joe Silva told me since I lost on the Ultimate Fighter that I would never be good enough for the UFC,” former welterweight fighter Gerald Harris remembered. “So once I got in, he hated me, then couldn’t wait for me to lose. So he gave me four badass newcomers and once I lost, he cut me after three previous KO victories.”
As aforementioned, the current UFC culture seems much more relaxed than it did at the height of Silva’s reign. It’s a far cry from the promotion that used to cut almost every single fighter that lost twice in a row. Maybe we’ll just get a few more meme fights, like Evan ‘The Phenom’ Elder vs. ‘El Fenomeno’ Joel Alvarez. Those were always a good time.
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