Updated this post and did some extra clean up, hit me up @leebjj for any questions. Keep training!
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So what is a 'showreel' and why is it important? The official definition for a showreel is defined by wiki as 👇🏼.
A showreel is a short video showcasing a person's previous work used by many kinds of people involved in filmmaking and other media, including actors, animators, lighting designers, editors, and models. Usually 2 to 3 minutes in length and consisting of footage from different projects, a showreel typically supplements a résumé and is used to promote the person to talent agents, producers, and casting directors. A voice actor may create an audio-only showreel, referred to as a voice reel, for the same purpose.
The truth is, like it or not, if you are competing, then you are in the entertainment business. Tickets need to be sold, PPV’s, views on YouTube etc, marketing needs to be done, everyone is looking for that hook on why you should buy a ticket, why buy the PPV? So you need to get your head around why showreels are so important and what you should do to get yourself included in them as much as possible.
There are so many metrics that the bigger promotions use to decide whether or not you are going to be a draw. Here are some:
YouTube: They will put up an overview of you as an athlete on YouTube and then analyse the views, or release a free fight, or highlights of your fights.
Ads: They will run ads on Google and on their search partners to see who gets the most clicks when fighter images are rotated. They will do the same on UFC.com or other partner websites to measure the clicks on your profile, or how often your name is searched for.
Social: They will constantly monitor your social media profiles looking for metrics such as new followers per day, how much you interact, how often you post, how many people search for you on socials, how much interaction your posts get, views on your profiles. All very valuable data when you are looking to invest in athletes and offer contracts, information that is all publicly available.
There are also many other tests that big promotions use to see if you might be a draw, you won't even know they are doing it but the data is there, it is available across all the socials, it is so easy today to judge whether the 'Internet' finds you interesting or not.
So if you are just starting your MMA career and you want to be commercially successful then it needs to be on your radar from day one.
Companies like the UFC make their decisions based on data, in fact all corporations that have their shit together do, they are data-driven, and never more so than in the entertainment business, everything is measurable in terms of viewers, interactions, social discussion, likes etc.
But let's go back to the original key point here, getting yourself through the production team and onto showreels.
Let's start with some of the things you can start work on immediately. What you need to be thinking about and how you need to invent and polish your character, how you are the protagonist in your own narrative and how that is conveyed to the paying fans, media and promotion owners.
Now, I know what you are thinking 'I want to be authentic' - well you can, but for god sake, don't be boring. At the very least, you can take the best parts of your personality are crank it up. You could even start that process by sitting down with the people that know you best, ask them to be brutally honest about what they think is entertaining or interesting about you and what you need to work on, everyone is an expert at being a consumer of entertainment, because that is all we ever do.
Did you see the audience's reaction to Jessica Ribas this weekend at UFC 251? Besides being relatively unknown, fans can't get enough of her.
She is funny, full of energy, endearing, authentic and a really really good example of how to present yourself to a growing audience. She is reading the tweets out online as they appear on the camera and having some fun with that, brilliant, you can tell Jon Anik adores her! English isn't even her main language and she struggles, but she really doesn't care, the love for what she does, she just lets it radiate out of herself with no filter, and the fans love it.
Have you come across The Schmo?
Dave Schmulenson brands himself as 'A Much Needed Breath of Fresh Air in Sports Journalism' This is him out of character 👇🏼
Why? Well, apparently Dave Schmulenson created 'The Schmo' as a fresh perspective and a new alternative to what is occurring in sports today. He is able to get the athlete's point across by injecting humour with self-deprecation. This genre he calls 'sports comedy,' with an emphasis on sports first and comedy second. Check out his LinkedIn profile. Genius..
How's about Colby Covington? Yep, many fans constantly state that Colby sold himself out, but the difference is in-between fans understanding Colby in 'costume' versus Colby in real life. Colby decided to take on the role (you could argue he invented it) of the UFC's supervillain. Not an easy thing to do, most wouldn't have the stomach for it, but in his own words, he was going to get cut. The UFC just viewed him as a commodity that they were finding difficult to promote but who was also beating some of their best stock. You can almost get a sense of the real Colby in this interview he did with BTSport, he goes into detail on the character he formulated and eventually brought to market.
Regardless of what you think, strangers do want you to win, they love a winner, they love an athlete that is willing to put their reputation on the line by saying they are going to do something, and then going out there and doing it and then truly expressing how it feels, breaking down the barriers between them and the audience. It is something that the audience may be missing from their own lives, so they are looking to you to give them that feeling, if you think about it, it is truly a gift to be in that position, to inspire and to empower your audience through an expression like martial arts.
What can be even more powerful, if you get it right, is when people want you to lose. There is no Superman without Lex Luther, but, it is a very tricky and risky strategy, what you don't want to be is in the middle, where nobody really cares. As much as the fans roll their eyes whenever Dillon Danis posts a Tweet or Instagram story, he knows what he is doing, he is 2 fights in on Bellator and people have a very strong opinion on him, that drives online chat and search engine collection resulting in good data for his brand.
Annoying isn't it? 4.7k likes on that Tweet for a guy that is 2 - 0. You could argue that it is because of his affiliation with Conor McGregor, but Conor has worked with loads of athletes, Dillon has just planned his affiliation carefully and has capitalised on it as much as possible, the makings of a good business man.
It is a painful truth, but if you are boring, nobody really cares, nobody really makes that connection with you. Don't be naive to think that popular personalities don't get coaching on developing this part of their on-screen personality, they do and if you speak to any of the anchors, on-screen commentators, they are all trained and they are all given realtime feedback whilst on camera and it can be absolutely brutal.
Visualising your Perfect Sponsors
Meditate on, and think/visualise your perfect sponsors and align your behaviour accordingly, the bigger the sponsor, the bigger the personality, think about the type of person Reebok would want to promote, or Nike, or Onnit. Think about the level of professionalism that a high-end sponsor is looking for, the inspiration that you can pass through, your energy, confidence, passion, your mission, through to their consumers, they want you to carry those emotions, those feelings through their brand and products.
Do you know that the words that some of the most famous athletes in the UFC use when being interview after an event are very, very, well-rehearsed? Weeks in advance they are trying to thinking of the vocabulary to use to get on that showreel, so the production team see it and include it in highlights, on fight pass, in branding, anywhere they can. There is a science to it, it isn't faking, it is real and if you aren't in that game then you are missing out. You are at a tactical loss, knowledge on how to control a situation to help determine a pre convinced outcome is always going to yield a competitive advantage.
Try and imagine that you are in a stock exchange, and give your brand a 3 letter acronym like all the big players on the stock market. How do get your stock to increase? Just by winning? Nope. So many athletes have proved that losing does not affect their stock at all. It is their awareness of the camera, the production reel, the content they give the producers to use for the next highlight reel. It is so important.
Think and plan the words you use when you are interviewed, are you inspiring, are you authentic, do you have infectious self-belief, if not, then why not? You are competing in the most brutal sport on earth, you are already a badass right? Do fans want to hear you talk, how do they feel, how do they connect with you? Are people interested in you, how you progress, do they want to see you win, or do they want to see you lose, or both? Either is good start to build from.
Other things to plan meticulously...
Pick your walkout music carefully, does it align with your backstory, does it connect with the audience, as soon as a fan hears it, do they know it is you. When it’s time and the lights go dim, does the crowd know the energy that is coming, make it consistent, make them believe. Again, is it something that will get through the production team and into a showreel? The way you walk out, do you reach out to the fans? What will the commentary team be saying about your as your energy begins to fill the venue? Ronda Rousey nailed this whilst also taking women's MMA into the stratosphere.
Here are some examples of well-rehearsed walkouts that solidify an athletes brand, they make the hair on the back of your next stand up.
Tony Ferguson, The party has just begun. El Cucuy's spine-tingling walkout at UFC 216 where he lifted the UFC Light Weight interim belt from Kevin Lee who at the time was trailblazing his own path in the UFC rankings.
Amazing walkout music, just hits the spot. Ladies and gentleman, the party has just begun...
Darren Till, Sweet Caroline. Darren Till said that he had a surprise for the local fans with his original walkout at UFC Liverpool, and he did not disappoint as the Echo Arena was rocking as everyone sang along to 'Sweet Caroline'. An amazing walkout track.
Conor McGregor, The Foggy Dew. Flashback to Conor McGregor's iconic walkout at UFC 189 where Sinead O'Connor sang 'The Foggy Dew' live in Las Vegas. Typically you'll the this before a Notorious BIG track, both get the arena going into a frenzy.
Michael Bisping, Song 2. UFC Hall of Famer and UK pioneer Michael Bisping never fails to get the whole arena rocking with Blur's Song 2, an absolute classic from London.
You don't need to be a huge star, you just need to visualise and plan your walkout like it is envitable that it will be on the big stage, don't wish, just assume it is going to happen.
Be your Own Style Guru
You can't afford your own style guru yet so start thinking about your style, your hair, what you wear, your body art, the real details of your brand and keep it consistent. Do not underestimate brand loyalty when it comes to athletes, it is no different than brand loyalty with football, baseball, basketball and consumer brands such as Coke, Nike, Adidas, Apple, McDonalds.
Shaun O'Malley has this nailed right? Not that many fights in the UFC but boy is he nailing it on the style and branding front.
Back in the day, so was Dan Hardy. There is no coincidence that Dan is now working for the UFC, his personality has always extended the camera, he also has is own branding today with Full Reptile.
I supposed this is what the main point of the article is, getting past the production/social media team and getting into 'showreels'.
Imagine how this goes down in one of the primary promotions. There is a meeting room somewhere with people in it, they are either from the production team or from the social media team, they are meeting because they need to figure out what clips to use in some up and coming UFC promotions, maybe it is a PPV, maybe it isn't, maybe they are compiling a list of gifs to use in their socials, maybe it's a specific campaign to deliver into another country or market, you get the picture though right?
When you are in that octagon, a five-second move can change everything. It doesn't even need to be a specific technique you suddenly land, it can be your reaction to an attack, like Pettis when he looked up at the sky when his blood was dripping over Tony Ferguson.
Let's look at some examples:
That kick has actually made it into EA's UFC game. Now you don't need to land one of those to get noticed, checkout Cody Garbrants mid-fight dance moves, used so many times in highlights.
One of Max Holloway's defining moments that cemented his relationship with his fans was this exchange during the last 10 seconds of his bout with Ricardo Lamas.
I could spend the rest of the week providing examples of Conor McGregor, the walk:
The talk (which has now been made it into a dance track):
The stare into the camera ( always consistent)
The tag lines, forever to be used in gifs, the king is back.
The hands behind the back in a title fight which has made into so many showreels:
The press conferences:
It goes on and on and on, Conor has given the production and media teams at the UFC an absolute gold mine of material to use for future showreels, UFC branding, product, everything.
Nate Diaz invented his own belt. The BMF belt. Who does that? it wasn't even a UFC thing, Nate just came out with it and of it went.
During the press conference for Diaz v Masvidal, Diaz interrupted Dana White to tell him he was going to defend his “BMF” title against Masvidal.
And let's not forget that final comment he made to Joe Rogan after the Conor McGregor win.
It took a 14-week hiatus on a Mexican reality TV show away from all social media and distractions for Masvisal to kick start the super necessary resurrection. He finally realised that he needs to cut the distractions, delegate anything that distracted him from core training and finally, finally build that brand he so deserved.
Masvisal has proved that you can build an incredible brand, even when everyone else thinks you are a journeyman. Masvidal's showreel against Ben Askren will forever be played in all sorts of scenarios.
I once read that Conor McGregor realised that there was nobody in the UFC that represented the same persona that Prince Naseem Hamed brought to boxing, that represented the right generation at the right time, and that is what inspired him to create the persona and brand he created. I am not sure how true that is but it makes sense. Hamed was one of the best at it, he would always deliver on his self-marketing.
There will be a new version of McGregor that will play towards a different generation than he did, it will come, it is inevitable, because there are smart emerging athletes out there, already trying to figure out this dynamic before they even get anywhere near a major promotion.
Update, regarded as the best KO in UFC history! I rest my case!!
Watch Joaquin Buckley pull of the greatest UFC knockout in history
Now listen carefully to what Dana says to him back stage
So let's have a recap. Maybe you are uber-talented and that will just carry you through to amazing success and you don't need all this brand awareness and showreel bullshit, but know this, the people that do it, it is planned, just like any other business plan for any other product. When a company releases a new product, they plan, they have a marketing budget, they know their audience and their demographics, they follow the money, they follow the data, so why shouldn't you?
Try and abstract yourself away from your ego and think about your shelf life as a fighter, as a product within a group of other products, that has product managers that make decisions based on data. Think about it realistically and make sure when the time comes you surround yourself with a management team that thinks the same as you, that aligns to this vision of product marketing and growth. Be data-driven, just like they are.
Remember Jay Z's famous quote? "I am not a business man, I am a business man!".
Be the CEO of you. Nobody else will. So dress for the job you want.
Remember, build yourself a cheat sheet and plan it, visualise it and keep practising it, if you are up and coming then this is your responsibility, you can offload it later as you get bigger:
- Who are you? What is your product?
- What you say in interviews and how you say it (practice it).
- How you look and dress in front of the camera.
- How you treat fans in front of the camera.
- How you treat the media.
- When you start with your first promotion, befriend everyone you can that knows about the business.
- Learn as much as possible about the business side of the promotion, who is who, what the hierarchy is, how they promote, how they make decisions, who else they know higher in the game, how they feed into the bigger promotions, how they track ticket sales, where they advertise, be a sponge, never stop learning.
- How are you contributing to ticket sales?
- Why should anyone care if you are competing?
- How is your relationship with the event organisers?
What is your plan to climb up the card next time? (think showreels)
Why should anyone bother following you on Twitter or Instagram?
What are you contributing to the online community?
How are you building your social media profile? Are you keeping at it daily? Consistently? Don't get complacent, think as if you have invested $1m in a product you are promoting, in fact, the stakes are higher for you as you are committing your body to the outcome.
Actually plan your social media pipeline properly, take time know what’s coming next, try and get familiar with some good social media tools like Buffer.
What value would you put on the damage of your own body during a successful MMA career? Does that make you think of maximising your return?
Have you thought about doing AMA's on the promotions socials?
Be proactive in trying to help the event organisers build their events, even when you're not on it.
- What are you wearing on your head?
- What are you wearing on your face?
- What are you carrying with you?
- What story are you telling the fans about your opponent?
What story are you telling the media about the fight?
How are you looking in front of the camera and what are you saying as you enter the venue and as the production team are following you about? Looking for those showreels?
As they count you down and you walk towards the octagon, what is your relationship with the camera and people at home?
Choose you walkout music carefully, it needs to tell a story to the audience, not just to pump you up.
Remember your pace as you enter, this is your time to connect and feel everything you have worked for, this is the moment most fighters enjoy the most, it is why they return day after day.
How do you interact with the audience as you enter, are you one of them? Reaching for the stars.
Your octagon walkout theme (your flag, what you wear on your head, shades, face paint, what connects you to your country, your fans, your people.
How you walk into the octagon, what are you bringing in with you, the energy, the belief, your energy, passion and personal power.
How you react to your introduction
How you come out of your corner and begin your work.
- You should have your post-fight interview already planned in your head. Deliver it, with conviction, just as you planned.
- At your post-fight interview, deliver your pre-planned narrative, just as you planned. Give people those showreels, give people something to write about.
Still not sure? Then learn about how Max Holloway is redefining what it is to run an MMA team.
Lastly, I will leave you with some relevant Tony Robbins quotes in context with this article
It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.
If you talk about it, it’s a dream, if you envision it, it’s possible, but if you schedule it, it’s real.
Any time you sincerely want to make a change, the first thing you must do is to raise your standards.
The more rejection you get, the better you are, the more you’ve learned, the closer you are to your outcome… If you can handle rejection, you’ll learn to get everything you want.
The only thing that’s keeping you from getting what you want is the story you keep telling yourself.
Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.
Most people fail in life because they major in minor things.
You see, in life, lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know.
If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.
The meeting of preparation with opportunity generates the offspring we call luck.
When you are grateful fear disappears and abundance appears.
Your past does not equal your future.
It’s what you practice in private that you will be rewarded for in public.