In just two short days, Luttrell-Yee MMA’s Jordan Espinosa (7-4) will enter the cage at the Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino against Nick Urso (8-2) in a fight that should instill buzz back into a fight scene in desperate need of revitalization. If you are reading this, chances are you are a fan of either Espinosa or Urso, or a supporter of the gyms these fighters represent. If that is the case, you probably see plenty of the event’s exposure via social media by following the fighter, potentially their teammates and coaches, and other mutual friends. If that is indeed the case, you may not even realize the problem troubling New Mexico’s MMA scene.
As an observer of the fight scene for over ten years, I have witnessed a regional circuit go from a healthy state to its current state that is more lifeless than anything. If you want proof, go ahead and ask yourself this question. After Espinosa and Urso handle their business late-Saturday night, what local event is coming up next in terms of MMA events? I will wait a few moments for you to sit on that one. No answer? Don’t be surprised because I couldn’t even tell you and neither could the other two members of the site.
The problem is complicated in its nature but to pinpoint maybe one of the more simple issue hurting the fight scene, all one would need to do is realize the area is lacking promoters to host local events. The only promoters still active in the fight game in terms of hosting more than one event per year, and are continually scheduling events are the King of the Cage and the Jackson’s MMA Series promotions. Most fight fans know the history between the two promotions (and extension host gyms) and it leaves a lot of grey area for the athletes. Promotions like Evolution Combat Sports and Triple-A-MMA showed some life at different points in time but fizzled out. That leaves a barren area full of talented athletes with minimal opportunity to establish their careers.
While the two aforementioned promotions are still running shows yearly, they have done so primarily based on loyal followings and an established brand name. What I am getting at is New Mexico is missing the promoting aspect of the fight game. We are missing it from promoters and fighters. Okay, give me a break with the billboards and radio commercials, where is the engagement with the target audience? Where is the promotion of excitement? “Rising star Nick Urso versus local talent Jordan Espinosa” doesn’t instill excitement. Sounds like a car salesmen’s pitch, if you’ve heard one you have heard them all.
I have caught some heat in the past for saying promoters forget their main job is to promote and a fighter’s focus should be making weight, showing up to a fight prepared, but most importantly their responsibility inside the cage is to entertain the paying customer. Some disagree and that is fine, but unfortunately the success of promotions big and small prove that the entertainment aspect of MMA often trumps wins and losses.
In a fight community full of humble athletes, interviews are dull and stale. Media asks the same questions and the fighter has the same answers. If I see one interview, well I have now seen all of them. To be frank, the fight scene is mundane.
That is, until Jordan Espinosa decided to add some spice to the lead-up of his match-up with Urso. After Urso bested Espinosa’s teammate Josh Montoya last year, Espinosa launched a social media campaign to build the interest of a match-up with the Jackson-Wink fighter and after being awarded the opportunity, he continued his efforts of hyping the fight. After I made an initial assumption of the situation, I was corrected in thinking this was a new persona for Espinosa. In fact, I was way off as I found out it was simply Espinosa implementing his own strategy geared towards his career success.
“The personality isn’t new. Maybe the social media approach is, but those who hang around me, very quickly find out that I don’t have a filter and although I do tend to speak my mind, I also strive to not act (or react) out of emotion and take the rational approach. Not just in fighting, but in everything I do. The initial call out was a product of both an emotional & rational mindset. I was frustrated that Nick beat Josh and that he looked like shit doing it. I was also frustrated because I couldn’t go in there and beat him myself. However, through the frustration, the rational side of me hoped that if I started to poke and pry at the situation, that maybe I’d get the fight that I wanted. Turns out, it worked out.”
His public callouts were new to the fight scene. There really isn’t much banter amongst locals and in fact, it wasn’t all that common to have local vs. local until a few years ago. As is the case when anyone does something new, Espinosa has seen some backlash come from his social media posts. On two occasions, Espinosa’s posts have earned the attention of Urso’s teammate and UFC standout John Dodson and well-respected Coach, Brandon Gibson, both of which have responded to posts of Espinosa’s; once it was his original post the second time a post shared by someone else. The reactions were defensive and in Dodson’s case aggressive. Maybe Espinosa isn’t in Urso’s head but it seems to appear he has rattled some cages around him.
In my opinion, that indicates the banter is working. That is a literal indicator of driven interest created by Espinosa’s words. Some have countered that the trash talk is unnecessary and I disagree 100% – in fact, without some spice and flavor in the fight scene, how are we expecting to keep the fight fans at our local shows?
I know first-hand that when you share opinions one crowd doesn’t agree with or when throw out some criticism because hey not everything is “go fighter, go!”, you get flamed for it and that goes on top of the hate you receive for attempts at creating content that is unique, innovative and refreshing.
But negative feedback doesn’t bother Espinosa who seems to handle the backlash in stride.
“The newer social media posts are just entertainment. Typically, I don’t post or say things for the entertainment of others. What I mean is that, if I think something is funny or entertaining, I’m gonna say it whether or not the audience deems it so. The anticipation of the reactions (good & bad) add to entertainment value for me. Obviously, I realize that before I say something there is potential for people to agree, disagree, or not say anything at all. I’m also prepared to do the same. The support has always been great. The negative banter through social media doesn’t affect me at all in terms of how I go about my day. I hardly take anything seriously, why am I gonna let some uneducated dumbass affect my mood? At the end of the day, it’s just all entertainment and I just sit back and laugh.”
For anyone who knows me or is familiar with my work here at SWFight knows that I am a firm believer that part of the fight game is fan interaction. Without fans, there is no sport. No MMA. No local events. No fight gyms and the list goes on. Simply stated, without fans there is no such thing as sports in general. The reason for that is because the revenue stream for all fight operations starts in the pockets of fans. Without fans, a promoter wouldn’t be interested in promoting without the lucrative opportunity of making money from ticket sales. Ticket sales represents the exposure level of the show and that ties directly into sponsors. Without exposure or fan interest, a sponsor has little reason to put cash into a machine that would yield little reward in return. Without sponsors and fans, a fighter has little reason to compete. Without exposure or interest in the event, media will probably exert less effort to provide coverage. For example, my personal rule is if a promoter doesn’t take the show serious, I will not waste my time trying to make it look serious to our fan base.
“Heckling Fans” are part of the game and in a literal sense, they are the most important part of the operation. Fans that share opinion, observations, snide comments, etc are not “keyboard warriors” or any other derogatory term – they are actually the driving force behind fighter’s having the ability to compete in combat sports. Fighters hide behind the façade that since they fight, nobody has the right to be critical or have an opinion, or god-forbid they don’t root for you.
In this instance, Espinosa the fighter and the fan is doing a little jabbing, heckling if you will, and he understands the technical complexity of where heckling and ribbing have their places in the sport.
“Without getting too philosophical, before we are fighters, we are humans, first. Fighters typically have a lot of pride and are passionate beings. I’m no different. Just because I choose to take the rational approach towards negativity, doesn’t mean I wont defend myself, my teammates, or things/people that I’m passionate about. Getting angry and having emotion is natural. I believe fighting is the best example of emotional personified. Martial Arts the rational side… technique, training, hours upon hours of drilling. Those things intertwined with fighting mentality is what makes a successful mixed martial artist. Fighter and mixed martial artist is a beautiful juxtaposition to look at. In the end, heckling with fans, etc is just a product of the human side, i.e. the fighter, not the artist. But both are necessary.”
He gets it. He understands that when you are dealing with fans of a sport, the fans are passionate. That passion is what causes people to travel to watch their favorite teams, throw parties for games/fights, it is what drives people to purchase jerseys, and oh yeah, leads them to attending events. Such events as the Jackson’s MMA Series XVII this weekend in the outskirts of Santa Fe.
On Saturday night, some will be cheering for Nick Urso and other for Jordan Espinosa. And that is the beauty of sports; everyone will be there for the same show but often with far different intentions when it comes to their decision of cheering and booing.
Some say that Espinosa’s antics aren’t necessary and he should let his fighting do the talking. Great, every fight should be between two athletes who show little personality and just go in there, out comes one winner and one loser. the end. Wow. That sounds…. stale.
For that reason, I applaud Espinosa’s efforts to promote the fight. Even better that he can enjoy himself outside the cage as well as inside during hand-to-hand combat.
“The stakes are high and I obviously acknowledge that, but honestly, I’ve had bigger named opponents before. I’ve beaten guys that can beat Nick. I know if I just go in there and have fun then no one can beat me. Knowing that, allows me to feel no pressure. Ever since I’ve allowed myself to just relax, have fun, and remember that the fight is the easy part, I’ve looked good in the cage. No different in this scenario.”
An argument can be made the fight couldn’t have higher stakes. There are many who believe Urso is one impressive showing from the UFC. After his win over previously undefeated “Barata” de Freitas, many believed Espinosa put himself on track to get the call after another set of solid wins under his belt. I would point out as an additional opinion, I thin k the stakes may be highest for Espinosa who could use the marquee victory to compliment his entertaining personality to really catch the attention of the UFC brass.
If you haven’t heard enough of Espinosa yet (or even if you have) here is one final gem from the Flyweight fighter:
“I am going to finish Urso faster than Ray Borg. That means I have nine minutes and one second.”
You won’t want to miss this one!