A couple weeks ago, I stumbled across a Bleacher Report article titled “The Top 10 Questions Every MMA Fighter Should Be Asked.” It was written by a teenage contributor named Dale De Souza who, at that point, had only done one interview with an MMA fighter, but still felt like he’d accumulated enough wisdom to put together a guide for aspiring MMA journalists. Isn’t that adorable? For the most part, De Souza’s question suggestions are pretty standard fare if you’re interviewing an up-and-comer that fans don’t know much about, and you don’t mind being unoriginal. (i.e., “How did you get into the sport?” “Which team are you training with in preparation for your next bout?” “Do you like to stand with your opponents or take them to the ground?”)
As the founding editor of CagePotato.com, I’ve been interviewing MMA fighters for nearly three years, and through trial and error, I’ve learned a lot about what not to ask during fighter interviews. Dale will learn this stuff in time, but to save him (and others like him) a lot of heartbreak, uncomfortable silences, and dull articles, I’ve put together a list of my own. Read on, and avoid these interview questions at all costs…
1. Will you choke me out?/Will you kick me in the leg?
Don’t do it. It’s been done, and you might end up in the hospital. You’ll have to find another way to make your name by humiliating yourself. (By the way, barfing on camera has also been done.)
2. What’s your gameplan for [opponent's name]?
As it turns out, very few fighters are willing to publicly reveal what they’re planning to do to their opponents, in specific detail; go figure. So don’t expect a satisfying response to this question. Most of the time, you’ll get some variation of “I’m just gonna focus on what I do best, and try to show everybody what I’m capable of.” Boooooooring.
3. “You’re just so big, and you come out of the world of pro wrestling…”
Well, make sure in advance that your subject doesn’t mind being accused of juicing. Steroids fall into that category of interview topics — like the exact amount of undisclosed “locker room” payouts, and which fighters are secretly gay — that you should probably avoid altogether. The only ones who know aren’t telling.
4. What’s your training schedule like?
Maybe they train in the morning and evening. Maybe they train striking on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and grappling on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Does it really matter?
5. If you get past [opponent's name], who would you like to take on next?
There are three general answers to this question: 1) “I’m really not looking past [opponent] right now.” 2) “I’ll fight whoever [name of fight organization] puts in front of me.” 3) “I want [champion's name], baby!” You’ve heard these answers a hundred times, and they reveal nothing about the fighter being interviewed. On the off-chance that your interview subject calls out somebody specific, it won’t make a difference anyway. Joe Silva is not reading your interview. Joe Silva does not know who the fuck you are, kid.
7. “The story opened with an oath you made to your dying father to become a world champion. The chance is coming and barring any injury there’s no denying it this time. You’re in the main event of UFC 117, the organization’s debut in Oakland, and all you have to do is defeat someone considered one of the top if not the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. I get the impression you’re one to never allow the magnitude of an opportunity to overcome you, so how are you taking this in stride – or perhaps more accurately facing it dead on.”
We’re with Chael on this one. If your interview subject is having a hard time figuring out what you’re trying to ask, you probably won’t get the kind of answer you’re looking for. Ask a simple question. Get out of the way. Repeat.
8. Tell us one thing that people don’t know about you.
First of all, it’s an incredibly lazy question. Your job as an interviewer is to draw out information that your readers don’t know; if you can’t do that through questions and conversation, you don’t deserve to be holding a recorder. Plus, how is a fighter supposed to keep track of what people do and do not know about him/her? Between Facebook, official websites, and previous interviews, virtually all information about a given MMA fighter is public record — except for their closely-guarded secrets. And do you really think they’ll reveal that stuff just for you? “One thing people don’t know about me? I want to bang my wife’s sister. Oh, I mean…damn. Please don’t print that.”