In the UFC there are two matchmakers for fights. Joe Silva, who most MMA fans are aware of, and the newer Sean Shelby, who makes the matches for all fights in the featherweight division and below. Part of the life of a matchmaker is to stay behind the scenes and do your job in a way where nobody knows you are there. Matches set forth in the UFC sometimes seem very cold, or heavily favor one fighter. Joe Silva and Sean Shelby cleared the air recently, in a story credited to MMAJunkie.
In a brief summary of the job in question, Shelby puts it this way: “the thing is, there’s so many different combinations of styles and martial arts, you really don’t know. Some fights you think will be boring, they turn out to be ‘Fight of the Night.’ Some fights you think will be good turn out to be boring. Our thing is, are we creating legitimate contenders? the job of the matchmakers is to bring challengers to the champion.” Very fair breakdown of his own job, but you have to wonder where that logic was when Chael Sonnen was fighting Bones Jones off of a two fight losing streak, or when Frankie Edgar was fighting Jose Aldo for the featherweight belt coming off of two losses of his own.
Surprisingly, Joe Silva has a huge amount of sympathy towards the fighters. He does not share Dana White’s favoritism mentality, and on the subject of firing fighters he says “That’s the worst. It’s the absolute worst. I’ve almost quit this job multiple times because of that. People have broken down and cried. Dana’s Captain Kirk, and we’re Scotty. Dana’s always asking for crazy, impossible stuff, and we’re going, ‘Captain, we can’t go any faster!’ He’s the one saying, ‘Dammit Scotty, make it happen!’ If everybody only took fights that they thought they had a really good chance of winning, nobody would ever fight. When you look at the odds, they almost always favor someone, even if they end up being wrong. But if you’re in the UFC, you’re here to fight who I have. If you’re going, ‘I don’t think I can beat that guy,’ then maybe you should be doing something else. I really don’t consider myself a mean person at all, but I am very honest. I won’t lie, and I put things very straight. And fighters, they have a lot of buffers around them, sort of ‘atta boy’ guys. They’re not used to someone telling them, ‘No, this is how it is.'”
It is great to know that the man in charge of so many people’s careers is compassionate with a big heart. He is not cold and calculated like many boxing matchmakers. But what he does hate however, is not being told about an injury in good time. In fact, he despises it. He makes a statement to fight managers everywhere, saying “You cannot find a single fighter ever in UFC history who will say that they told me they were injured and I gave them s— about it. Not ever. The only time I’ve ever yelled, and I have done this, but you’d be shocked how many times I get a call where they say, ‘Hey, sorry, but he’s got to pull out of the fight. Two weeks ago he really messed up his knee.’ It’s like, really? Two weeks ago? Why didn’t you tell me then? I wouldn’t have pulled him from the fight, but I could have started thinking about a replacement. It’s always, ‘Oh, but we thought he’d be OK.’ You thought wrong. And you thinking wrong screwed the show, screwed me, screwed his opponent. Don’t think. If he’s got a hangnail, just let me know.”
This fantastic interview has really opened many people’s mind to what a UFC matchmaker actually does. They are truly good people who are business savvy and most of the time build really legitimate contenders. You could have done much worse, Dana.