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Exclusive Interview: Bodog Matchmaker Eric Nicholl

(The Bodog Girls: “ridiculously gorgeous.”)

Though he’s only thirty years old, Eric Nicholl calls the shots as matchmaker for BodogFIGHT‘s Vancouver-based operation. It’s a job that demands his attention 24/7 — Nicholl has to juggle phone calls, e-mails, meetings, fighters’ demands, contracts, and a host of other details on a daily basis — but he makes it look easy. Fresh off of a well-deserved vacation, Eric took a moment to chat with us about matchmaking, Bodog’s much-jeered payouts, Matt Lindland‘s gripe, and who his choice is to play him on the big screen.

CagePotato: How did you get the Bodog job?
Eric Nicholl: It’s kind of a unique situation. The company that really does all the marketing and advertising is Riptown Media, and I had transitioned from operations about 3 ½ years ago into marketing/PR for BodogFIGHT. So I was basically the initial person that was going through doing the media interviews. And it kind of developed from there. With mixed martial arts, I’ve got seven years of kickboxing underneath my belt and I wrestled in high school. And I also attended university on a full football scholarship. Contact sports and hand-to-hand combat has always been a passion for me. Basically, BodogFIGHT totally evolved. I kind of got to come along with it. I got to work alongside some really key people in the industry, like Miguel Iturrate, our original matchmaker. I studied under him since the beginning of August, 2006.

Describe what you do, in a nutshell.
Not only do I focus on matchmaking, but I also look at fighter relations. I look at scouting, single fight, multi-fight contracts, purse negotiations. I look at sponsorship proposals. My day, I come in, I’ll fire up my computer and I’ll just scan through the list of guys getting a hold of my e-mail and they want to be fighters. ‘What do I have to do?’ I’ve kind of taken the approach that I’m going to reply to every single one of these guys. If they reply back, fantastic. If they actually fill out the bio stuff that I need, if they have some amateur fights, I want to see video of it. I want to see what their style is, how finely tuned their skills are. I want to see what they look like in a ring, on a canvas. I’d say out of about a hundred people that actually reply back to me, I’ll get five or six that will actually complete the bio form that I need from them. Once it gets to there, I’d say maybe two out of a hundred will actually make it to the cut, where I can say, “Okay, great, you’re an up-and-comer, I can match you against another up-and-comer and let’s see if you guys can make the cut.” It’s a swift process.

Tape is critical. Typically what I’ll do (everyday), I’ll catch up on my e-mail, I’ll go through the forums, all the message boards, all the sites, just to see what’s going on to stay up on all the news as I possibly can. If there’s nothing super important, typically I’ll have meetings — planning for different events, who we want to work with. The people we want to work with — the different organizations — is a key factor. It’s a small niche industry and I want to surround myself with the most positive people.

Do you interact with other organizations’ matchmakers a lot?
All the time. The bigger camps all around the world…Brazil, the UK…again, these are like promoters/matchmakers, they kind of do everything. I also work very tightly with our commissioner and that’s Jeff Osbourne. I don’t think his word is gospel, but I certainly have a tremendous amount of respect for what he has to say. There are different philosophies that I find amongst these other matchmakers — some people are sport purists, other people are all entertainment value. I find that the right mix of personality of someone that can see the value of the sport as a sport — because it is — but also the value of the sport as an entertainment outlet. At the end of the day, you need to have people watching the show.

What happens when, say, an injury or something leaves you without a fighter just days from an event? Where do you look for a replacement?
Again, that has a lot to do with networking. If someone goes down, I will rely on a local promoter that I’ve made contacts with. And there are certain groups in various regions that have guys who train very hard. A specific example is Eben Oroz — I called him when we did our TV shoot in Vancouver in August of this past summer and it was to fight “DJ.taiki” (Daiki Hata). On four days notice. Daiki is a phenomenal fighter, he’s world-renowned and he (Eben) took the fight last minute. And he stepped in and won a great fight and an incredible upset.

It’s really setting up your network as to who you draw from — and at the end of the day, depending on the level of the fighter, I have probably a thousand bios of fighters all set up by the weight class and I’ll look at them. If there’s a guy that maybe deserves a shot, that’s on the cusp, let’s get him in the ring, let’s give him a shot.

The hours you keep must be crazy.
I have my Blackberry. I work 24 hours a day, every day of the week. One of the reasons for that is I’ve got people in Russia, I have people in Brazil, the U.K., we have fighters in Australia, Japan, so my phone rings all hours of the day…and I’ll answer it.

Do you have an assistant or do you handle all this on your own?
Typically, there’s an assistant that helps me out. They’ll look after following up on medicals for some of the guys. Basically, the younger guys are the ones who need help going through the different sanctioning bodies. Recently, Nick Thompson‘s opponent, John Troyer, wanted to make an eye exam appointment. Well, how many people would know that when you go to make an eye appointment the Nevada State Athletic Commission requires an opthamologist (not an optometrist)? That stuff takes a lot of time and a lot of patience, so I do have some people that help me out.

How often do you travel?
Last year, the longest stretch I was at home for was about six weeks.

I hope you have someone to water your plants.
They’re all plastic!

What’s the biggest perk of the job?
Being able to sit at the apron. Watch the fights, and actually witness what we put together in the ring materialize to what we thought it would be.

Speaking of sitting at the apron, how hot are the Bodog girls?
They are ridiculously gorgeous.

You guys recently lost Nick Thompson. When we chatted with him a few weeks ago, he felt the current model hinders fighters by not giving them enough preparation between fights. He also felt Bodog should acquire better talent to make bigger waves in the industry. Can you tell us what ways Bodog is working to improve on these situations and how much truth there is to Nick’s statements?
I’ve had private chats with Nick as well. He does bring up a lot of good points. Nick’s in a position right now where he wants to fight the biggest names in the sport. He’s got a phenomenal record. From a business standpoint, for me to go out and chase down guys he wants to fight — it’s a ridiculous financial commitment, basically. I’m competing (against) other organizations who want to pay top dollar for these guys. As a promotion that’s still trying to develop itself, there are going to be some ups and downs in the business model. If you do another interview with Nick, ask him how hard he got hit in the face by John Troyer. Even though John Troyer is relatively unknown — he was 8-0 as a professional when he came into that fight — my goal right now is to find and cultivate the next generation of superstars. That’s our objective.

When it comes to allowing these guys enough time to prepare, one of the things I’m working very hard on right now is the schedule of events…we know where we can go, and getting the fighters in that rotation. Realistically, in a year and a half, we have done a lot of amazing things and I just want to make them better. One of the things, by establishing a calendar that allows these guys enough time to adequately prepare — I really hate being the guy that phones up somebody four, six weeks out, and say ‘Hey, I got a fight for you do you want it?’ That’s not how I want to prepare. I take that into everything I do on a daily basis. I want to give these guys something they can commit to.

Matt Lindland has been very vocal about not receiving two of the three fights on his one year contract with Bodog. What’s your side?
Matt’s contract was actually through a third party, Sixth Row Productions. I’m not going to get into the financial details of his contract — if he wants to, that’s fine — but Matt claiming that we set up these shell companies is just not true.

Lindland made our “Ugliest Mugs in MMA” list. Is he really that ugly in person?
(long pause) Matt has a unique look (laughs). But his appearance or perceived level of marketability had nothing to do with the (BodogFIGHT) relationship — and it falling apart.

I know you want to discuss the recent payouts that CagePotato — among other sites — had a beef with.
You betcha! Obviously when you go into a commission that reports and makes the purses public, I expect to have some backlash on that. What we’re really trying to look at is a sponsorship model where we can keep our core guys active. And like I said, we want to develop the next generation of superstars. It’s an incredible scouting tool, we get to go in and look at the new talent that is arriving, For the main event, the co-main event, and maybe a couple of other guys – you look at the difference in the purses, you can tell there’s a company that’s providing these guys.And here’s some of the things we’ve done for Nick — perhaps if he gets into a bind in between fights…I’ll certainly advance him some funds. And we’ll recover it from the next purse. So the purse that was reported — and Nick will tell you right off the bat — wasn’t accurate. John Troyer? Same thing. We helped him out with things that weren’t necessarily part of the purse.

It’s the same thing with the other promotions. All of these are part of a purse that aren’t necessarily reported. We’ll come through, we’ll provide the fighter for the main, the co-main, possibly another fight. We take care of their purses, we take care of their travel, their per diem, make sure they’re treated very well. So the local promoter is there to basically fill the undercard. And that’s operated off a smaller budget.

What kind of a headache is it to put together a contract, especially for a marquee fighter?
I don’t want to go back and forth to the bargaining table 15 times. I want to be straight up front…I want to give you what you’re worth as a fighter. If we can’t come to an agreement, we can’t come to an agreement. That’s life. At the end of the day, all you have is your integrity.

What are your career goals in this business?
I love this. It changes day-by-day. If I were to go into a rut, I’d probably go insane! At the end of the day, I’m incredibly passionate about the sport. I hate giving props to the UFC, but — Calvin agrees — that no one can repute the positive changes the Fertittas and Dana White have made for this sport. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, we just want to make it nice!

EliteXC just signed with CBS. Will this help other organizations score broadcasting deals and is there anything like this in the cards for you guys?
We are actively pursuing a network deal. I can’t really get into it right now, but there is a lot of interest. I’m excited for them (EliteXC) — I certainly wish them all the best — at the same time, we’re still going to be pursuing our own deal.

Anymore cross-promotions like “Clash of the Nations” on the horizon that may still be under wraps?
I’m hoping (soon) that our PR guy will be going through with a couple of releases.

What are your thoughts on guys like Brock Lesnar? Are they good for the sport? Because the publicity is through the roof.
I actually spoke to Brock Lesnar’s agent after the June events in L.A. It was a money issue. The money he wanted was astronomical and it did not make sense. He left pro wrestling where he was making significantly more. He’s not in this for the money — in my opinion — he’s in this to actually become a powerhouse in the sport. Do I think they could have stylistically matched him with a better opponent? Of course! Striking is only one element of this sport. You need to be well-rounded. Did he do the right thing in marketing himself in his interviews? (laughs) I like a little bit of trash talk. So now he’s 1-1 as a professional, so what? Go back and continue to develop your skills. I think we’re going to see big things from Brock Lesnar.

Any of those larger-than-life guys in the works for Bodog?
No, none of those prospects on the line. Back to developing talent, I tell every single one of these guys, I want to see your personality come across in your bio. I don’t want to know why you got into fighting. That’s boring. Tell me the story about you growing up. The incidents in your life that developed you into the person that you are. Those are the guys that are very charismatic, they understand how to handle a mike, they understand how to relate to the crowd. And those guys are the gems.

Who do you think you could last the longest with, Brock or Kimbo Slice?
I’ve watched Kimbo’s fights on YouTube. How do you hit a guy in the jaw with everything you have and he laughs? What do you do at that point? At the end of the day, there’s no way I’d make it out of the first round with either one of those guys.

Do you guys just loathe the UFC and Dana White?
It’s interesting. Dana has his own style, the Fertittas have their own style, and they have a model that’s working. How do you knock a guy for that? Does he want to go out and attack the other organizations on occasion? Fine, no problem. Calvin will always take that media press. It’s free press. The UFC is the organization that’s doing well and I have nothing negative to say about the way (Dana) does it.

Who’s got the greatest nickname in MMA?
How do you not say “The Axe Murderer” is not the greatest nickname you’ve heard?

When the Bodog movie gets made, who will play you in the film?
Ben Affleck.

Cagepotato Comments

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GSP- March 18, 2008 at 11:37 pm
i feel bad for nicholl as he is part of an organzation in dismay and has no intention of staying in mma for the long haul...with poor ratings from their previous tv shows and unable to get a current tv deal with a mainstream network things could not get worse for this company. not to mention their live events which have been lack luster. matt lindland really did expose bodog fight as a crooked promotion regardless of who his contract was with. at the end of the day bodog fight put their name on the card and should be responsible, maybe not from a legal standpoint but ethically and morally. this is why all their promising fighters have left for greener pastures. not knowing when their next fight or payday would be, will can scare any fighter. its sad too see an organization with so much financial backing not be able to make a run for it. i guess it goes pack to poor mgmt and lack of vision, something we've seen in other competing upstart promotions...