“Showdown” Joe Ferraro has been involved with Mixed Martial Arts for over thirteen years. Growing up as a kid in Vancouver, I knew Joe through TSN (Canada’s ESPN) during his time commentating for APEX Fighting Championship and many other Canadian promotions at the time. What I didn’t know at the time was that Joe was a “jack of all trades”, one of the hardest working people in the sport that helped legitimize it in Canada and legalize it in the province of Ontario. Not only did Joe Ferraro wear the commentary headset for events, he also owned his own fight clothing company, worked as a consultant, and manager. As a promoter, he worked in the early days with the likes of Georges St. Pierre, Rich Franklin, and Sean Sherk. To date, he is the only person in MMA media that is a Big John McCarthy C.O.M.M.A.N.D. certified referee and judge. Today, most of us know him as the host of the popular Rogers Sportsnet show “UFC Connected” and also the host of The Fan 590’s MMA show “The Showdown”.
On behalf of the Lowkick Nation, I had a chance to speak with the face of Canadian MMA media in a very candid interview. In part of one two Showdown Joe talks about the growth of MMA in Canada, the importance of being C.O.M.M.A.N.D. certified, and which fighter from his early promoting days surprises him today.
Showdown you’ve been in the game for over thirteen years. You’ve seen it go from halls and casinos, to UFC 129’s bright lights at the sold out Rogers Centre in Toronto. It’s been quite a journey for you in helping legitimize the sport of MMA in Ontario and all of Canada, but how did it feel seeing your hard work pay off at the biggest stage of all?
People will always give me more credit than I actually deserve. I was just one piece of a big pie back in the day that really believed in the sport. I remember back in 1996, I was sitting in a local coffee shop in the town I was living in. I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to fight professionally, that my body wasn’t going to be able to handle it. I knew that some way, somehow that I wanted to stay involved with the sport. Nobody could have convinced me otherwise back then that this wouldn’t be one of the biggest sports in the planet, at least in North America and Asia. I just believed it so much, but there were a lot of trials and tribulations. Anyone that has any sort of success, there’s always ups and downs. You meet a lot of people along the way, some good some bad.
I recall sitting in the Rogers Centre, this was after the big news on August 14th of last year that the sport was going to be sanctioned in my home province of Ontario. Sitting at the Rogers Centre, when I finally got to my seat it was just after Randy Couture got knocked out by Lyoto Machida. I did a one hour preview show prior to the event and I needed security to get to my seat because it was just mayhem in there. When I finally got there, I sat there, and just looked around. Like you said before I’ve been around, been to many events with just a few people in attendance. And here I am at the Rogers Centre surrounded by 65,000 people. I just told myself “carpe diem, seize the moment here, look around you, appreciate this, and realize how far you’ve come”. At that moment I felt like a fan again, I got to sit back, and say “wow this thing is just unbelievable.”
At that point I realized I had to work that much harder. It’s like that guy in Jiu-Jitsu who gets their black belt and he finally realizes “I might be a black belt, but there is so much more to learn here”. I now have to work that much harder, to get that much better, and really do what I can to help bring this sport to the mainstream in Canada.
Through the many ups and downs in your career, did you ever think in your wildest dreams think Mixed Martial Arts would be this big? Especially in Canada, where we’ve practically embraced this sport as our own.
Oh ya, nobody could have convinced me otherwise. I mean I got friends from when I used to work for the Rogers Call Center who contact me on Facebook or when they see me sometimes walking around the various Rogers buildings. A lot of them would say to me “I remember when you used to tell me about this UFC stuff and those guys fighting in a cage. And you used to have the Showdown Fight Wear shirt; you’ve been doing this stuff for so long, congratulations!” I’ve told everyone this sport would be big, even my own family has been telling me that this sport is really taking off for me and it’s doing really good.
It’s almost ironic; I was golfing with my agent last Friday. He asked me almost the same question you asked me. We were at the fourth or fifth hole and he asked me “do you ever think back and realize how far you’ve come and how big MMA has actually gotten? Do you ever look at yourself and ever want to congratulate yourself for a job well done?” I replied to him that I’m nowhere near with what I want to do. I’m really happy with where it’s at, but there is still so much more that needs to be done. This sport isn’t even anywhere near where it has to be. And I’m trying to do what I can to make sure it gets done. Not only in Ontario, but all across Canada, and globally, with a couple ideas I have that I’m running with a few promoters. From the UFC down to the newest promoter coming up, we are trying to get a bunch of stuff done, but there is still so much more.
You’ve paid your dues; you’re a jack of all trades. You’ve been a promoter, manager, consultant, matchmaker, color commentator. You are also a John McCarthy C.O.M.M.A.N.D. course certified referee and judge. As an analyst, how important are your combined experiences in understanding the business side of the sport and the action going in the ring?
I’m a guy that is forever reading or listening to audio books related to self-improvement. When it comes to Mixed Martial Arts, Big John and the guys at the C.O.M.M.A.N.D. course challenged me. They said to me “you know a lot of stuff, but do you understand what a ref goes through, what a judge goes through, and how to do it properly?” That was a challenge I gladly accepted and when I pitched it to Sportsnet I said “look, this is what they are offering me right now. I can do this course, we can cover it. We can get it out there, but the challenge is for me. This experience will make me a better analyst because now I can talk about what it’s like from a referee’s or judge’s perspective.” Now I can look at a fight and know how it’s supposed to be judged or officiated.
Even today, I try to get in as much training in. I still want to be able to box, do Muay thai, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, and Wrestling. I want to continue to feed myself with the knowledge, because the sport evolves so much. What we knew 5-10 years ago doesn’t always mean it’s always going to translate well today. I try to keep up to date in as many different things. That goes for the business of MMA whether it’s talking about different Pay-Per-View models, what’s happening in different countries around the world. I just continue to educate myself, take in as much knowledge as possible. That way I get asked a specific question or if I got to do an interview, I know what I’m talking about…At least sound like I think I know what I’m talking about if you know what I’m saying (laughs).
Rogers Sportsnet signed a deal with the UFC in April for four years. The name of your weekly magazine show went from “MMA Connected” to “UFC Connected”. The name change does make sense because of the new four-year deal, but there has been a little bit of controversy amongst fans because of that change. Now let’s clear the air for people who don’t already know. Even though the name is different, that doesn’t mean that format of the show is any different correct?
If people have been watching the show before the name change that occurred on April 25th when the name change occurred and if you watch it right now, everything is pretty much identical, and exactly the same. We still cover all of the other events; we still have the Octagon report where we talk about Bellator, MFC, and the latest happenings in DREAM. In our upcoming events part of the show we mention that there are Titan Fighting Championship, Shark Fights events coming up. We talk about the upcoming shows coming up in Vancouver, Edmonton, and even the Maritimes.
We still cover the sport as best we can, but the thing about Sportsnet everyone knows that we are a mainstream sports station and the big thing is the UFC. Being the UFC’s broadcast partner, there was a decision that was made to change the name of the show from MMA Connected to UFC Connected. But in reality the content is exactly the same. We are still UFC heavy; there are no bones about it. The UFC is the big show and that’s what the mainstream person knows about. If I was to walk outside right now, go out there to ask people if they can name for me five fighters in Bellator not everyone will know who they are. But if I ask if they know five UFC fighters, bang right away they know five different Mixed Martial Arts champions. That’s what our show caters to, but that doesn’t mean it’s the UFC is the only thing out there. The name change is what the network mandates and what we had to do as a show.
Before they ever hit the main stage, you’ve helped promote in the early days the likes of Georges St-Pierre, Rich Franklin, Sean Sherk, and many more. Without knowing how these fighters turned out today, were there any guys out there that you saw back then and would have never thought to be as good as they are now?
That’s really tough to say. I usually get E-mails to check links of this guy and that guy’s fights. Sometimes it’s harder to see how good someone is on video compared to seeing it in person. There were a bunch of fighters that I was told “hey could out to this show here, we’ll fly you out, cover your hotel, come watch this guy, let us know what you think.” I go out there and I’m like “this guy’s not ready yet, his boxing needs work.” Or “he’s got no wrestling; he’s getting taken down at will.” I see this all the time; I just saw something like this recently. I don’t want to name any shows or names, but I was told to pay attention to this guy. His vids looked fine online, but when he got into the cage and got beat up pretty good.
In terms of which guy blew up to the point where I didn’t think he’d be that good, I don’t know. I’m very happy with guys like Georges St-Pierre; we knew even back then that he would be a star, same thing with Mark Hominick. Mark getting a title shot against Jose Aldo was a very pleasant surprise. Did I believe he would ever get that title shot back then? No, but now looking at him he’s just so well-rounded. He’s such an amazing fighter, incredible speed in his hands and kicks, his Jiu-Jitsu is so underrated. I’d say Mark is the biggest surprise, because I knew he’d always be great, but that performance he had against Jose Aldo at UFC 129 is the stuff that movies are made of. It was unbelievable.
Be on the look out for part two as we discuss his famous interview with Chael Sonnen, his thoughts on amateur MMA, and much more!