Mainstreaming the Mixed Martial Arts: An Interview with Dennis “Old School” Siggins
posted at 7:27 am on May 18, 2012 by Dustin Siggins
Over the last 19 years the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has gone from a sport appealing only to the tiniest number of Americans to being regularly featured on MTV, Spike TV, and more recently Fox Sports. Originally every fighting style against every other fighting style in a few-rules environment in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), it has transformed into a sport with weight classes, time limits, a variety of rules on striking and holds, and strong local and regional scenes which act as a feeder system for the UFC and its main competitor Bellator.
New England is the home of one such bastion of talent for the UFC and Bellator. Former UFC champions such as Tim Sylvia and fan favorites such as retired Kenny Florian and “Ultimate Fighter” winner Joe Lauzon come from the region, and with New York continuing to not allow MMA events to take place within state borders New England is one of the places to be for the mixed martial arts fan who wants to see fighters on their way up.
One of the top people in New England MMA isn’t a fighter. Known to the New England MMA community simply as “Old School,” Dennis Siggins (full disclosure: my father) is Senior Editor of NorthEastMMA.net & Proprietor of OldSchoolFightwear.com. We sat down last evening to discuss his work for the fighters of the NorthEast and how the mixed martial arts is both becoming a mainstream sport and how it can continue to expand its fan base.
Dustin Siggins (DS): How did you get into mixed martial arts (MMA) in the first place?
Old School (OS): I’ve been involved in the martial arts for 20 years. I got involved in martial arts for health, athleticism, and for self-defense, and started in MMA for the same reasons, especially as a fan. I started watching the UFC when it started in 1993, and when the sport grew to the point where local events were being held, I began attending.
DS: How did you get into NorthEastMMA?
OS: It started as a hobby for me. I knew the owners of the website for years, and about two years ago started writing a little bit as an associate contributor, if you will.
DS: What is NortheastMMA.net?
OS: It is a website dedicated solely to the fighters on the regional scene (New England and New York) in MMA. We have roughly 12 or 13 promotion companies that put on events in our region. Our mission statement is to cover and promote the fights and the interests of the fighters. We do previews of events, reviews, rankings and more. Our rankings are used by Bellator and the UFC [DS: the two premier MMA promotion companies in the world] to determine who is up-and-coming and who moves to the next level.
DS: You have a different style than other sites. No on-the-spot updates during fights and in-depth analysis post-events. Why this style as opposed to the traditional MMA blogging style? How does this appeal?
OS: Right now, we have 4 or 5 competitive MMA sites in New England. None of the other sites do what we do, and combined they don’t have the viewership Northeastmma.net does.
I do most of the writing for NorthEastMMA.net, including our amateur and professional rankings and most of the fight reviews. But we have other good writers who put the time in to do quality interviews and fight analysis. Other sites don’t do that. For example, my friends at WesternMassMMA.com copy and paste a lot of promotional material to their site. They are great guys who provide a great service, but they are young guys and have kids and families to worry about. My kids are on their own, so I have the time to do what I do. I conduct a lot of interviews and engage in a lot of research, and have a lot of knowledge in the game.
Of the five websites in New England, we are the one that is dedicated 100% to the fighters in the region. The other sites talk about UFC or Bellator – unless a regional fighter makes the big scene, it never gets mentioned by us.
DS: Let’s pivot to OldSchoolFightwear.com. Your T-shirts, sweatshirts, etc. don’t have cursing on them. Your message is more substantive than “Get &%$#ing Punched.” [Note: This is an actual shirt that gets sold at New England MMA events] Is this appealing to the MMA crowd, given that’s it’s so different from the norm?
OS: I think so. When we go and do events, we sell a lot of shirts. Fighters really love our shirts. They just have catchy sayings on them. Fighters are excited to get our shirts because they are different, and they are clean. You can wear them around your kids and around your parents.
DS: Your site and shirts are different from the stereotypical norm. Are you trying to appeal beyond the traditional MMA fan?
OS: Yes, in every way. I do some marketing within the industry. I am always looking to expand the market. We want fans to include families; we want to see kids, and moms and dads – give families who might otherwise go to the ball game a reason to come to the fights.
DS: Obviously, MMA is more violent than most sports, and unlike football or hockey injuries are obvious and sometimes grotesqe. How do you get around this in appealing to families? Most parents won’t want their kids seeing an arm break in person or observe a kick to the head.
OS: A lot of people don’t want their children to know that an animal is killed in order for you to have dinner. They want their kids to have a yummy burger off the grill. They are probably not going to want to come see MMA. What we’re trying to do is bring families in and show them that maybe five percent of MMA injuries occur in the cage; most injuries to fighters happen in training camp, as is typical in any sport. There are grappling tournaments and other things for kids. These young kids really know how to fight and defend themselves.
DS: What can the MMA community do to improve its outreach to non-traditional fans?
OS: The fan base is growing every day. MMA is on television every night of the week, either with live or repeat events. I think what the MMA community is in the process of doing right now is improving its image in two ways: first, demonstrating that MMA is not as violent and dangerous as some people think it is. Second, only 1% of people who train MMA get in the cage and fight. Most people do it like they do wrestling, boxing, karate, etc. – train like a cagefighter but never actually get in the cage. They are simply learning how to defend themselves. There are many levels of the sport – kickboxing tournaments, grappling tournaments, and other ways for young athletes to test themselves in the sport and see if they actually want to fight.
I think if you took some of the people most critical of our sport to a children’s grappling tournament, they’d be shocked at the athleticism and non-violence of the sport.
DS: Why are you called Old School?