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Shiely sits down with new ED Print E-mail
Written by Kyle Shiely   
Sunday, 28 November 2010 13:08

Kyle Shiely, a Minnesota MMA judge and a blogger for startribune.com, recently sat down with the newly appointed executive director of the Minnesota Combative Sports Commission, RD Brown.

Shiely's interview with Brown will be broken into a two-part series. Here is Part One:

SHIELY: What are your priorities going to be now that you are leading the commission?

BROWN: I think the main thing is to do something to make sure we are more self-supporting, that is the biggest issue. How are we going to do that, we don’t know. We need to meet with the legislature and deal with some issues. We can’t make it on just plain license revenue and event revenue and we don’t want to raise those fees. And even if we raise them, it wouldn’t bring in enough revenue to keep everything going, so we need to figure out another way of doing that. It could be a number of things, we’ve talked about it. The franchise fee on pay-per-view, any number of issues, or we could be a part of another department or division, which means we would have a steady stream and we would be bringing in money to offset it. So there is a number of issues that we could do, but now the issue is that since leadership in both houses have changed over, you have to wait until all of the dust clears and find out who is on committees and so forth, so all of the work we were doing earlier may not have to change, but we’ll have to go talk to new leadership and so forth, and start the ball all over again, which I was planning to do anyway, but now I have find out who all of the players are, try and let them know about what we do, why we do it and so forth, so they can understand why we need funding and how we can best get that funding. It’ll probably be me bringing some ideas to the legislature, the legislature coming up with some ideas and hopefully we can work on something that will be alright. That is the big priority to make sure we are self-supporting in the next couple of years, because I think the funding is going to end.

SHIELY: Can you explain to people who don’t follow the budget or come to the meetings, where does this money go? That is always the question people ask.

BROWN: One of the biggest reasons is because we have to pay for inspectors, we have to pay for all of the things that go on. And that, that’s costly. You figure we get about $46,000, maybe $50,000 from license fees. Maybe another $50,000 from the event fees. But we only have two staff (members), and before that we only had one-and-a-half staff. And so the staff have to be paid. That goes into taking care of the licensing, making up our little license things, making sure people are at the events and so forth, making sure we check on the fighters' records and all those types of things. All of the administrative stuff that goes on, where you go to Nevada and they have a full crew of people, you go to other places where they have four or five people, we only have one and now two. We pay for office space, everything we do we have to pay for. We have to buy paper, we have to buy supplies. You know, just the little judge (score) cards, we have to buy the things to make those up. All of those things don’t come cheaply. It’s just like running any office, there are expenses. The problem is that we probably have a little bit of money to make things go, we got some money from UFC back in 2008, but that is slowly disappearing. But you figure we get $80,000, maybe $160,000 a year and that’s it, to do everything that we do. The commissioner (fee) is $55 for each meeting and that comes out of that. Every time a commissioner comes to an event, you know that is money that comes out of that. Every time people go to events, all of the inspectors we have to pay for all of their travel, plus we pay the inspectors. I think it is about $17 an hour. And that was the state, the state said that is what we had to pay them. When you start paying all of these people and doing all of these things, the money starts to disappear quite quickly. We’ll be looking and talking to the State to find out, I don’t think we can get any cheaper place to stay, but maybe there is some other things we can do to cut expenses. Maybe we would go in with some other groups to buy stuff and do some other things, and that would cut down on expenses. I don’t think, and we haven’t exceeded our budget each year, we’ve stayed within budget, the money that we’ve gotten. But that money is going to disappear, but we’ve been sort of drawing down on some of the other money from UFC. That money is going to go away in another couple of years.

SHIELY: What does the executive director do? What do you see as your job?

BROWN: Well my job is really to oversee the office, to make sure everything runs smoothly, handle everything that is going on. If (office administrator) Matt (Schowalter) is not there today, and somebody wants to check on a fighter, they want to check on this, they want to check on that. My job is to make sure the office runs smoothly and make sure everything gets done, whether he is there or not. And just make sure that is smooth, make sure the fighters are safe, make sure that we have all of the blood

work, all of the paper work. If anybody would ever want to come and open up our invoices or whatever, our records, we could show them all of the stuff that we’ve done. Little things, like approving of an event, we approve all of the events, we make sure that the doctors and everyone is licensed. In a nutshell, we oversee all of that. There is a lot of duties that have to be done. I’m checking on each fighter when they come up on a card, to make sure whoever they are fighting has a somewhat similar record. That we’re not bringing somebody in that has 20 fights, but he’s lost 18 of them, against someone who has 20 fights but has won 18. So we want to make sure that everybody gets a fair shake. So my job is to oversee everything that is going on. And that encompasses other things, being at all of the events. The things I was doing before, handling all of the paperwork, all of the administrative stuff, so everything that goes on. Handling the money, making sure we get what we are supposed to get from all of the people. Making sure that everybody pays for all of their licenses, make sure that all of the corners have their licenses before they go into the corner. All of those types of things. Its' a ton of little things that have to be done for each show.

SHIELY: Why do you think it is important we have a commission? What would you say to people who say we don’t need that, that promoters can police themselves and that fighters should be able to do whatever they want?

You want to make it safe. You want to make sure that every time somebody steps into the ring or the cage that you’ve done everything to make sure they are safe before they go on. Making sure the other fighter doesn’t have anything wrong with them, blood work or whatever and also to make sure they come out of there safe. You’re going to take some punishment, but we’re supposed to be there to make sure that we can stop it before it gets too serious, to make sure the doctor can go in and check on fighters and those things. The biggest thing is fighter safety. If you don’t have fighter safety, I’m not sure promoters can police themselves. I’d like to believe that. When you’re looking at a bottom line with anything, you can cut corners. I’m not saying the promoters do that, but you can start cutting corners, you can do things, and I’m not sure if promoters are looking out for the safety of the fighters. Fighters want to fight. They’ll fight under any circumstance, as long as they can get in there and fight. That is what they want to do. So sometimes you have to protect them from themselves. A fighter who gets a TKO, he wants to fight next week. He can’t fight next week, he should rest for eight days. You can go right now to the ER and they don’t find anything wrong, but within a couple of days your brain starts to swell and things can happen. So I think that is the main thing, to make sure that all of the fighters are safe, and that each time they step into the ring that each fighter has a chance at winning. That they’re not going to be mismatched, overly-matched, underly-matched, whatever the case may be. And also so that the fans can see a good fight. I think we want to grow the sport, but I’m not sure how much it can grow if promoters are left to their own devices, if fighters are left to their own devices. I mean, you’d have smokers all over again, and Toughman contests, and I don’t think that is where we want to go, we’ll be taking a giant step backwards.


SHIELY:  What do you see as the future of boxing in Minnesota?

BROWN: I think boxing in Minnesota has a good future. I think we have some good fighters here. I think if we start promoting right and doing some things and having more fights at the local scene and people become more involved with it, I think it has a chance of growing a little bit. Whether it will grow as big as MMA, I don’t know. Because as you move further up the ladder in boxing, they begin to price themselves out of the business for the average guy to come in and see it. I think in terms of fighting at a local level, you have some good fighters here and people really like to come out and see them, and I think that if they start promoting that more, and putting on good fights, not picking and choosing so somebody can move up quickly, but putting on good fights, I think people will come and see it. I think people still like boxing.

SHIELY: How can the commission help with that, though? What is the commission's role?

BROWN: I think the commission's role in that is to make sure that each fight that is put on is a good fight, that there are no mismatches, and so forth. That you’re looking at records and trying to match people properly. Our job is not to have one fighter move up the line. Our job is to make sure that every fight is an equal fight as much as possible, and that the fans will get a good fight out of it. To be quite honest a first-round knockout or TKO doesn’t do anything for the sport, it makes one person move up the line. I think we have to work so that if it is a four-round fight, the fans would like to see a four-round fight. Yeah, they like the occasional knockout and so forth, but if you get too many of those, (they think) I spent all this money to come and it doesn’t last very long. ... I think you have got to give fans an opportunity to enjoy the fight, and so that comes up with matching the fighters.

SHIELY: Same question for MMA: What do you see as the future of MMA in this state

BROWN: I think in the future MMA is going to go grow even more. Our plan is to try and bring in some more regional shows, some more national shows. Not just UFC, but there are others out there. We get other people involved with it, so we can see different kinds of fighters. UFC usually has to hire the bigger weights, so you’d like to get somewhere where some of the smaller weight divisions are coming in. And just other groups. And I’d like to see more competition. UFC is the big dog out there, but there are other people who can come into town and put on good shows. We have a huge fan base here, and people may not realize that, but once they they come in and see the fan base that can come to Target Center or Xcel or where ever we go, then I think there will be more reason to want to come here. I think as a commission people talk about all of the fees that we charge and all the things that we do, but I don’t think that bothers them, and I think when they come in they say we are very easy to work with and we are very accommodating for small shows, big shows, whatever. So I think it will be on us to continue to work with them to bring them in. So I think there is an opportunity for MMA to grow even more than it is, and to bring in more national shows, at least on a quarterly basis, to have something going every so often here, rather than just the local shows, which I like. I think in order for it to grow we’re going to have to bring some bigger shows into the state.

SHIELY: So for the small-level shows, you don’t the think the promoters find the cost, the $1,500 licensing fee and the officials, you don’t hear that they think that is excessive or too high?

BROWN: I’m sure that they’ll say it is excessive, I’m sure they’ll say it is too high, but I’m talking about in terms of if you went to Wisconsin. Wisconsin just came on board but it is much different over there than it is here, and I think we are more accommodating than Wisconsin is in terms of MMA. One doctor versus two, no ambulance. All of those things add up, plus they can take a percentage of the gate, up to a certain amount. So that means instead of $900, you could pay two, three, four thousand dollars. Here it is just $1,500. To be quite honest, I think the promoters get off, especially on an amateur show. They are a still charging (admission) and not paying anybody, except they are paying judges and so forth, but they’re not paying fighters, and they’re not paying us $1,500, they are paying us $200, $150, and so they make money. There is no promoter in the business that is not making money. They may not be making as much as they would want to, but they are not suffering either. If they were, they couldn’t be in business. And you know, they are selling beer, making a ton of money off the beer, making money off the food, and each seat is going for $20 to $25, and some of the other seats are going for $30 or $40. They are making enough money to survive. So I don’t feel bad about the money we are charging them, I think it is very reasonable for what we are giving them and what we are doing, I think it is very reasonable rate.

SHIELY: Where do you see the commission's role in the out-state area in boxing and MMA, or should they just focus on growing it in the Twin Cities?

BROWN: No, I think the commission should focus on working with the promoters in out-state. That is one of the reasons I’ll go to Bemidji or Grand Forks because I think we have to grow it in out-state as well. There is a big market out there, but there is just less people out there, so they have to draw from a larger area. You get an Alexandria or a Grand Forks, I think you can draw from that crowd and be very successful. You can’t do one every month, but you can do one every quarter or one every five, six, seven months. So I think the potential is there, they just may not be able to do as many shows as we do in the Twin Cities. And sometimes I think even in the Twin Cities we may be doing too many, but you are doing three shows in a weekend. You are doing one in Savage, one here, one someplace else. Sometimes I wonder if they are not saturating the area, where people are getting to see the same people over and over again, and then you’re bringing up some of the amateurs who may not be ready to go into pro, so they can go in and when people start saying it's not a good fight, they may begin to lessen off, and that is when you’ll see the drop. It’s harder to get them back. Our duty is to make sure, as I said before, to put on good shows, make sure we’re not over-saturating the area, that we have just enough to go on that we can support them and so forth and make sure they put on a good show. I think it will grow in the metro as well as in out-state.

SHIELY: Should amateur fighters have a set number of amateur fights?

BROWN: That really depends. I’m not sure that the commission is talking about that or doing that, I don’t know. I’m just not sure, where do you draw the line? At five fights, at seven fights, at 10 fights? And who is to say that the guy that's had one or two fights isn’t ready to go pro versus the guy who’s had five or six. I’m not sure we should step in and say after five fights you can go pro. Maybe we can put a limit on it, possibly to say you must have at least five fights before you can go pro, that’s debatable. But I’m no longer a commissioner, so that will be up to them to decide. I think that in boxing you can get an opportunity to hone your craft and become more skillful in what you do. MMA, I’m just not sure there is a standard that says four or five fights. I do believe that a person should be an amateur, my personal opinion is at least three, four, five fights before they consider turning pro, because when they turn pro they are going to pick up maybe a couple hundred dollars. That's a lot of money to go in there and get beat up, so I’m not sure that the reason they may want to turn pro, to make more money, I don’t think that is a good reason. I think maybe they want to go because they think they’ve honed their craft, they want to step up and do it that way, but then it becomes an individual reason as to why. I think if we start looking at it, maybe we would set a limit of at least five fights before you go pro. That way you could at least establish that they have five fights before turning pro. I think that will be up for the commission to continue talking about.

SHIELY: For years, there was no amateur fighting in this state. What do you see as the purpose of amateur MMA? Is it something that the state even needs and what do you see as its role?

BROWN: I don’t think any MMA person should sit in a gym and practice and practice and then go out there and turn pro. I think the amateur ranks serves a purpose. It gives them a little bit more experience before they turn. It also gives them an opportunity to get into some fights with people who are just like them, just starting out, and not taking a beating. And maybe decide where they want to go. Also, to learn what they need to do. The idea of being a pro is that everything is going to be on your record, and if you want to move up in stature and on the line, it is going to be based on your win-loss record, and this gives you an opportunity to hone your craft, just like they do in boxing. If you enjoy it and want to turn pro, you have a bit more experience rather than jumping out of the gym and going pro. I think managers and trainers should really take a good look at their fighter and look at their best interest to determine whether or not they should turn pro. They work with them every day so they should be sort of a mentor and guiding force for that person and tell them sometimes 'you’re not ready to go pro, why don’t you take a few more amateur fights before you go pro.' Because I don’t think they gain anything by going pro. It is just like going into the NFL from the college ranks. Everybody goes into the NFL, most of them don’t make it. So if you thought about going pro, you have to look at it and what is your reason for going pro? Do you really have a good chance of moving up the ladder and are you good enough to do the things you need to do? Unfortunately a lot of people won’t be that good, so they’ll go around the state, get a couple of calls here and there, but they’re not going to go anywhere as a professional, in terms of moving up, going to Las Vegas and being a champion. So I think everybody needs to take a look at that, but I think that being an amateur for a little bit of time will give you an opportunity to hone your craft and perfect your craft. And also keep you from getting beat up the first time out.

Part Two of Shiely's interview with Brown currently is scheduled to run a week from today (Monday, Dec. 6).