Friday, November 2, 2012

Sam Wilson Interview

Photo Credit: Joe Pic Photography

If you are one of the die-hard women's MMA fans, surely you have heard the name Sam Wilson. If you are a casual or new fan, you need to know the name Sam Wilson. Sam is involved in many facets of the sport, and is one of the people behind so many of the exciting fights we get to see on a weekly basis. She is a defender of women's MMA, a proponent of women's MMA, and any other word you can think of. I wanted to do an interview with Sam for two reasons. One, I wanted to try and give people a better idea of what she does, and two, I wanted to help people who may be newer fans get to know about a very influential person in the sport.

Q: Can you talk about how you first got interested in MMA?
A: It started about seven or eight years ago when I was following the likes of Debi Purcell back in the day, the older female MMA. It was kind of underground-ish and I thought it was cool these women were fighting. I actually knew a couple of them up here in San Francisco and talked to them. Then I met Lana and she she was here to be a part of the West Coast MMA. From there I got involved with a female boxing promoter and she wanted to put her card together, and I put sixteen matches on that card and from there on it has been one right after the other. I've kept in contact with the ones from back then up until the newbies and ammy's right now.

Q: From the beginning of helping out, did you know you wanted to keep doing it?
A: Oh my God, it was like herding cats. I would get one situated and then working on the second, then the first would come back with something else. It was something really cool, it was multi-tasking, which I love doing because the more on the plate the more opportunity when something comes up, it's like "I got this for this person, I got that for that person, and this and that". Back in the day Jason, the pay was like five hundred, and I was like "wow five hundred bucks". Now if you throw that at some girl they would be like "for sponsorship maybe". To top it all off, the person who was paying them was under-paying them, and they were chasing him down. It was right on the campus of UCLA, they didn't do any kind of promotional work, getting out there and telling people to come see it. We walked into the arena and there were like fifty people there. There was Miesha Tate, Vanessa Porto, Roxi Modafferi, Lana Stefanac, all these names who are big now, were there fighting, and there was no one there to watch them. They promised DVD's, that they would get them out, but there was nothing. So something had to be better, we have to take the next step. From there, there were other promotions I had to reach out to, from California, to Nevada, to the east coast, working with Tuff-N-Uff, a beautiful organization for amateur and the professionalism of that. I finally met Shannon through Strikeforce and started to work with that. It is growing, bigger and better things.

Q: Back when you started, most cards that had a female fight, usually they had one or two and treated it like a side-show, did you ever think back then you would see a promotion such as Invicta putting on quality all-female cards?
A: It was always there just because, like I did an interview on a radio show the other night, he asked about Dana White. It wasn't a negative question just asked about him, he paved the way for the women to come in. It was like "women should be in the UFC, women should do this". No, women shouldn't be in the UFC, women should create their own platform to stand on. Did I see it back in the Fatal Femmes? No because I was just thinking, these poor women so hard, and granted women back in the day, I think probably Roxanne Modafferi was one of the hybrids way back when. To see the new hybrids now, and not the specific "I am a Black Belt in BJJ", or "I am a boxer", or "I am in Judo", it is more MMA now then it was. It was harder to match back then as opposed to what it is now. I don't know if I answered your question haha.

Q: Talking about women not getting respect, recently Zoila Gurgel, the Bellator champion, not even put on Bellator's main card and not on t.v., how did you feel about that?
A: Well, I don't know if you follow my facebook, but I was like "you gotta be kidding". As matchmakers and the connections I have, I hear she is on the main card and then fifteen minutes later she isn't but she is the main fight of the under-card and on t.v. if the fights are fast enough. It is like "what the fuck are you talking about, either she is or she isn't". I found the picture where the no-name promoter is in the background like "why oh why didn't I put them on the main card?" So I put something on Facebook about is Jessica Eye vs Zoila Gurgel on the main card, here is my petition. It is the fan base that actually gets some promotions to move things around. When Zoila came out to weigh in they didn't even announce her as the title holder, you gotta be fricking kidding me. She was on the Internet, but make it a bigger deal so people will watch, so yeah it pissed me off.

Q: Moving to Invicta, after three shows, how optimistic are you about what they can do?
A: I am extremely optimistic and the main reason is Shannon Knapp. I have known Shannon for awhile now. When she called for women to put on Strikeforce, we formed a quick bond because we are both country girls and have the common respect for each other. In order to sell a female card a lot of promotions ask "is she pretty?", how about "can she fight"? Like you said, they were side shows for a long time, they put women on and the crowd goes nuts saying "oh my God, two females, how sexy", no, they are not sexy, they are athletes and fighters. They do the same thing as guys and have one fight on the card and have to be better than eleven other bouts on the card, so they have to be twice as good, get the promoters attention. Invicta eliminated that challenge of having to be better than the guys. With Shannon and Invicta, they can pay the elite fighters, so the fights you would never see are now being put on by Invicta. We are seeing higher caliber fights now, not a one sided fight where they pay one fighter thousands and the other fighter five hundred. They are capable of paying the nice pay-checks. And they are still pretty haha.

Q: Everyone remarks about how much they like fighting for them, what does Invicta do that other organizations don't do?
A: They are organized. Shannon has OCD, she wants to make sure things are done and no questions are asked. The first card, it was "this is how it will be", you got a fighter walking, a fighter on the deck, a fighter in the hole, constantly moving. Everything from the buckets, individual buckets for the corners, someone there to braid hair, they have people come to the hotels to do the hair. The minute they walk in the hotel, we take them upstairs, meet Janet, sign paperwork, video shoots, media interview, and any other little things. It is the most professional event I have been part of.

Q: Use your crystal ball, where is Invicta five years from now?
A: Well, in 2013 I see it on a network, from the network I see it growing. Like how UFC used to be every three months then two months then every month. Invicta has to create the depth. It has to be long-term. That is why they bring in the ammy to pros, we see pro debut fighters come in, so they can grow. Like Jessamyn Duke, the 135 division, you have that solidified with Shayna Baszler and Alexis Davis, but in two or three years, who is that 135 gonna be. They are building people like Jessamyn and Taylor Stratford coming in. She is looking long-term for Invicta.

Q: You mentioned Dana White earlier. He has said he wants women in the UFC, do you feel he wants women in the UFC or he wants to promote Ronda Rousey?
A: Well, I think he wants the side-show, the 135. It's nothing that he is gonna do to promote women, he is gonna promote a division. He isn't promoting women in the UFC, he is promoting a division, the 135'ers, which is good, good fro the likes of Liz Carmouche, Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, but the thing is, where will he get his depth? He has to look to Shannon Knapp and ask who her elite 135'ers are and bring them to UFC. He and Shannon have a good relationship, so it isn't "fuck the UFC", it gives the 135'ers in Invicta a platform to maybe move to the UFC. Maybe Dana will say "I need your 135'ers, your title holder". Who is to say that an Invicta title holder will never fight an Invicta title holder?

Q: Just to throw a name out, let's say it is Sara McMann vs Ronda, and Sara wins, do you think that is the end of his interest if Ronda loses?
A: No! If he does that he is shooting himself in the foot. He has spent hundreds of thousands on Ronda, so I think Ronda will be there to stay. She is their poster child. If Sara beats or or Liz beats her, two or three fights down the road, Ronda will be right back in. She is gonna be there long-term for them. Do I see her fighting on Invicta? Not any time soon. If she does lose a couple back to back, maybe she would be filtered into Invicta. Because of the investment in her, she isn't going away soon. It's like Randy Couture, he kept coming back and coming back. She is there and probably for a three year contract coming up.

Q: Especially since the start of Invcta, you see more female fighters kind of rallying around each other and becoming friendly with each other, but you do still see bickering at times. You are always quick to squash that, why is that important to you?
A: United we stand and divided we fall. If we cant come together, there will be loose ends that we are constantly trying to tie up. You cant have individuals going out having enemies. When Ronda and Miesha had that love-hate relationship, it was o.k. for their fight because people wanted to tune in because of the bullshit on social media. But long-term what did it do for Miesha? It didn't do anything. She is struggling now, getting her head back in the game, to come back and be a better and more personable person and not engage in that. I tell them to be the better person, don't engage in that, it is childish antics. Don't say any of that shit, it isn't good for it.

Q: You mentioned Invicta bringing up the new fighters, in your opinion, who is the next Ronda or Cyborg?
A: I truly believe Jessamyn Duke has proved herself. Her last fight where Allen pulled her hair, she was telling the ref and getting clocked, and still pulled out the armbar and remained professional. She is an ambassador when it comes to the new young bloods coming in. She is always positive. She could have torn into Allen for doing that, but she took the high road. She didn't complain and say Allen cheated. Nicdali coming back, she has found her division. Beating Chavez was phenomenal. The older fighters realize the younger fighters are coming in multi-talented. They are good at everything. Janet and Shannon see that and want to build that for Invicta. She has girls at the top who are in their thirties, and in five years they will be training the new girls.

Q: Girls like Jessamyn and Tecia Torres are coming in and paying respect to the older fighters, does that make you happy?
A: That is what you dream of. Tecia and Kaiyana had a beautiful fight and were respectful after. A lot of fighters don't wanna have eye contact with opponents, but this last Invicta, they were doing shoots by each other and everything. After the fight, everyone is friends again. You get in the cage and do your job and have a drink after.

Q: When you finish, how would you like to be remembered in the sport?
A: That I created opportunities for women who wouldn't have had that chance. Pros or amateur. As a go to person. I have been there for a lot of promotions. Like Bellator, they had no one for Zoila, I called Casey and told her "I know you are retired, but it is win win". She did good, she gave three rounds, can you imagine if she had an eight week training camp. To work with Shannon Knapp, she will be a legacy, when all these fighters are retired and the young girls take over, walking into Invicta, it will be the biggest thing for them.

Q: Anything else you want to add?
A: I wish XFC, Bellator, King of the Cage, all the ones with exclusive contracts, that by signing these contracts, girls limit their opportunities. Jessica Eye is tied into Bellator right now, will Bellator ever give her an opportunity to go to Invicta and fight girls like Barb Honchak and Aisling Daly. Exclusive contracts don't let girls come to Invicta. Invicta gives non-exclusive so these girls can work. They can't sit idle for eight months. They need to still fight and make money.

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