An interview with the author, Thomas Gerbasi
Question 1: What is your background in reporting on fighting, both MMA and boxing?
Gerbasi: It’s a long story that for some reason gets even longer when I write it. Let’s just say that my sports management degree from St. John’s University wasn’t doing me any good, and my full-time job as a maintenance foreman wasn’t doing the trick either, so I began writing about boxing for various websites (with the occasional newspaper or magazine piece tossed in for good measure), just to keep my brain working. Eventually, I was so desperate to break into this strange world that I began designing websites (poorly) for some fighters, as well as doing publicity (not as poorly).
Eventually, during the tail end of the dot.com boom in 2000, I received an offer as webmaster/editor/writer for HouseofBoxing.com. That lasted a year, until the dot.com boom turned into the dot.com crash. Three of my buddies from HouseofBoxing and I then formed MaxBoxing.com, which paid the bills for a long time. Around 2000, I met Bruce Buffer through one of my partners in MaxBoxing, Gary Randall, and he needed some original content for his website. I had watched MMA since the first UFC in 1993, and jumped at the opportunity to cover the sport. From Bruce’s website, we formed MaxFighting.com, and this lasted until 2005, when I left to write for InsideFighting.com. Then fate intervened later that year.
Question 2: How did you end up as the Editorial Director for the UFC? Why did the UFC choose you to be the sole author on this project?
Gerbasi: My editor at InsideFighting.com (and present UFC.com contributor), Mike DiSanto, called me on a Saturday night and asked me if it was cool for him to give my number to UFC President Dana White. Of course I said yes, and Dana called me that night to talk to me about the editor’s job at UFC.com, which was being revamped and redesigned. I had interviewed Dana a number of times over the years for MaxFighting, and we had a good rapport, so when talking about the new job, we were on the same page immediately and came to an agreement fairly quickly. Mike gave me his blessing, and within a week, I was on the phone with Frank Mir, Diego Sanchez, and Nick Diaz for my first stories on UFC.com. Over the years, the job has expanded from handling the website into many other editorial areas within the organization, including the UFC Encyclopedia. I think getting the Encyclopedia gig was helped by the fact that I’ve followed the sport from the beginning and have also covered it for over a decade. I’ve been fortunate enough to have interviewed practically every major player in the sport at one time or another (and in many cases, multiple times), so I’ve had a unique view of what has gone on in the UFC from 1993 to the present.
Question 3: To confirm for everyone reading this, you actually wrote all the text in this gigantic book. Can you explain your process? Was it a daunting task?
Gerbasi: Daunting is a good word for it, though I’m sure I had some more colorful phrases for it around deadline time. This book is a monster, and trying to get nearly 18 years of history into 400 pages was difficult at times, especially for someone like myself, who has been called long-winded at times. Luckily, I’ve covered nearly every UFC event in one way, shape, or form since UFC 28, the last United States show under SEG ownership, so the basic reporting of those events was already in my personal archives. From there, it was a lot of tape watching of the early events, which required a different eye, mainly because you’re looking at it as a reporter and not a fan. I tried to write up these events as if I was covering them live that night, and if necessary I would add in any historical context to them. I think this works out better for readability because you retain the excitement of hearing about certain fighters and fights for the first time. There is enough historical context throughout the book; I wanted to keep a semblance of immediacy to the fight reports. The individual fight reports were without question the bear of the project, and once they were done, the fighter entries, the best of lists, and the other subsections made things flow a lot easier. When it came to those, the only problem was trying to edit things down to a manageable size. Thankfully, I had a stellar team to help me with that end of things.
Question 4: What was the easiest, or most fun, part of the project? What was the most difficult element of this project?
Gerbasi: Anyone who knows me well enough to hear me complain knows that the worst parts of this job are the behind the scenes ones-- tape transcription, researching that one elusive fact that you can’t track down, playing phone tag, etc. This was no different, and like my day-to-day job, the payoff in the end was watching the fights and talking to the fighters. Going back through all those old events brought back some great memories, even if the fights weren’t always up to the standards we’ve come to expect today. I think my favorite part though was going through old audio tapes and hearing some of those interviews from 2000-2001. It was like having an oral history of this sport, and one of these days I’m going to have to convert them into digital files so I don’t lose them. Hearing those old stories just never gets old. The most difficult part? Finding the time to get this monster done. When I started with the UFC in 2005, we were doing eight shows a year. Earlier in 2011, we just finished a stretch of seven shows in six weeks. So time was definitely an issue, and I thank my wife and daughter for their understanding as I disappeared into my office on any free moment to make sure this book was done, and done right.
Question 5: Can you describe one of your most favorite interviews used during this project?
Gerbasi: When you’re doing this on a daily basis, you can get spoiled talking to the best fighters in the world consistently. So for the book, the most fun part for me was going back to the tapes of the pioneers of the sport – Gracie, Frye, Coleman, Shamrock, Goodridge – and hearing their stories about the early days. But my favorite interview for this book had to be with the one fighter I had never interviewed before – Dan Severn. Unfortunately, Dan was coming off a loss two days before our interview was scheduled (yes, “The Beast” is still an active fighter at 53), so I assumed that he wouldn’t be up to talking on the record. But when I called him, he picked up right away and was ready to go. What followed was probably the baseball equivalent of talking to a Willie Mays or Sandy Koufax. This was someone who laid the groundwork for what was to come in his sport, and unfortunately these days, I think people forget the history of sports and the athletes that made that history. So talking to Severn and hearing some great stories about the early days of the UFC was priceless for me. The funny thing is, despite his accomplishments and presence in the UFC Hall of Fame, Severn doesn’t think people in MMA ever saw him at his best. One of my favorite quotes in the book was him talking about his college wrestling career and saying “If anybody wants to call me ‘The Beast’ now, then their sights were not all that high in the first place. If they wanted to see a real animal, they should have seen me from 1984 to 1986 because I ruled the world, hands down.” That’s gold right there.
Question 6: Will holding this book in your hands be an important milestone for you?
Gerbasi: Absolutely. I don’t see this as a few month’s work. To me, this is more than 10 years of my life in book form. I know the UFC began in 1993 and I didn’t start working for the company until 2005, but my personal journey of interviewing fighters, going to fights, and writing about the sport began in 2000, and this book represents that. It puts an exclamation mark on my first decade in this great sport, and I’m proud of this book.
Question 7: Can you provide the story behind your 0-1 record in amateur boxing?
Gerbasi: For some reason, I always felt that you could get an extra insight into whatever you were writing by competing in it or having a closer connection to it. Of course, one of my boxing mentors, Michael Katz, quickly pointed out years later “you don’t have to be a criminal to cover crime.” But despite this, in 1997, I decided to compete in the New York Golden Gloves, the same tournament that spawned the likes of Sugar Ray Robinson, Floyd Patterson, Riddick Bowe, and Mark Breland. I wasn’t any of those guys. In fact, I only listened to half of my father’s pre-fight advice to me, which was, “Get an attitude and let’s go home early.” Well, we went home early, as I was knocked out in 63 seconds by a gentleman named Disel “Truck” Means. The good part was that I was knocked out cold, so I didn’t feel a thing. The bad part was that my wife retired me when I still think I have one fight left in me.
(For the New York Daily News' recap of my lone fight, you can go to: http://articles.nydailynews.com/1997-02-06/sports/18028627_1_opening-bell-ring-golden-gloves)
(For a more entertaining version, you can click here: http://www.cyberboxingzone.com/boxing/box6-98.htm#gloves)