Travel Journal (#3): Iowa & The Full Monte

This post is about the second leg of my U.S. trip doing research for my book, “The Political Economy of Ultimate Fighting”. It covers events from 9 October 2017 to 14 October 2017. You can read my past journal entries here:

***

“In boxing, you will never get a 5-0 fighter [five wins, zero losses] to fight another 5-0 fighter… that’s what I loved about MMA; everyone was willing to fight everyone.”

“I’m godfather to [former UFC heavyweight champion] Tim Sylvia’s son. [former UFC lightweight champion] Jens Pulver was over here this evening watching The Voice. I could hit [former welterweight champion] Pat Miletich’s house with a rock. We’re all still here, we’re still friends. The thing with MMA is that we’ve made lifetime relationships… you can’t have a better time than I’ve had in MMA.”

“I used to say to my fighters, ‘nothing is ridiculous, tell me what you want?’, and then I’d go out there and do my best to get it… Sometimes I would be in a standoff [with UFC matchmaker Joe Silva] for a month before we got the right deal.”

“The upper fighters, headliners and champions, would benefit from the Ali Act. The lower end guys [would] benefit from a union. For me, I can handle the lower end guys myself. I don’t need a union to negotiate good deals.”

That’s just a  few of the many anecdotes and insights long-time MMA manager and promoter Monte Cox shared with me during a phone-interview I conducted with him in September. A former newspaper editor and professional boxer, Monte began promoting MMA shows in 1996 in Iowa and soon after tried his hands at management.  He would go on to be the in-house manager for the Miletich Fighting Systems gym – MMA’s first super camp –  and would represent nine UFC champions and three Bellator champions over the next two decades.

At the end of our phone call, I asked if he would be willing to sit down with me for a face-to-face interview during my time in the United States. He accepted, and in addition to putting me in touch with a number of his former fighters, offered me a place to stay while I was in Iowa.

Team_Extreme_photo
That’s Monte (second from the top left) and the rest of the Miletich Fighting System (MFS) crew back when MFS was the most successful and prolific fight camp in MMA.

My plane from Vegas touched down in the Hawkeye State at 12:30pm, and after stopping off at baggage claim I called Monte who drove down to pick me up with his wife Missy. They’d mixed up the dates (he thought I was arriving on the 11th instead of the 9th), and were on their way to meet a friend for lunch, but graciously invited me to join.

After a turbulent time in Vegas, my lingering doubts about my journey dissipated. 

It was apparent right away that Monte and Missy were very warm and open people. Despite me being a stranger in every sense, they spoke in an unguarded, casual way as if I was an old friend visiting from out town. In between inquiring about my trip and what I hoped to get out of my time in Iowa, they openly discussed their political views and the trials and tribulations of real estate trading (Missy is a realtor). After a turbulent time in Vegas, my lingering doubts about my journey dissipated.

After lunch, we drove to their house, where Monte showed me around their beautiful estate and introduced me to their two pets, a gorgeous Labrador named Foreman, and a feisty kitten named Lloyd. I had intended to spend the afternoon reviewing my notes in anticipation for my interview with Jens Pulver (who was coming over for dinner) but my sleep deprivation got the better of me. Missy found me face down and fully clothed in the guest room bed at 7pm and, after gently waking me up, informed me Jens and his family had arrived.

2017-10-10 20.53.14.jpg
Jens Pulver, the UFC’s first ever UFC lightweight champion

Jens “Lil Evil” Pulver was the UFC’s inaugural lightweight (155lb/70.3kgs) champion back in 2001 and throughout the course of his 14 year career has competed for promotions all over the world, including Japan’s PRIDE and California’s World Extreme Cagefighting. He met Monte in the late 1990s in an airport after he had already been signed by the UFC and moved to Iowa to train with Pat Miletich, who was at that time the promotion’s first Welterweight champ (170lbs/77.1kgs). In Jonathan Snowden’s Total MMA: Inside Ultimate Fighting, Jens recounts the beginning of his professional career as follows:

“When I moved out [to Iowa] I had two duffle bags, quit my job, left my house, gave up everything, and took the train for two and a half days to come to Iowa. Monte let me stay in his house. I can’t thank him enough. A lot of guys were in there for the same thing. They were in there to fight, train and be the best they could be”.

As the first fighter I’d interviewed in person, I was nervous when I introduced myself to Jens and immediately felt underprepared for our interview. I was shy over dinner (Missy’s homemade burgers were spectacular however), but enjoyed observing the dynamic between the two families. Although Jens’ last fight was in 2013, he and Monte remain close friends and have dinner together on a weekly basis. More endearingly, they get together twice a week to watch NBC’s reality singing TV show The Voice – and after polishing off a few more burgers, that night was no different.

There I was, 15,000 kilometres from home, watching The Voice next to one of MMA’s most important pioneers while desperately reviewing my notes for our upcoming interview. Monte had also informed me over dinner that Pat Miletich would be coming over in the evening – so I was trying to consolidate my research on two different fighters, engage in light banters and live in the moment watching the show (GO TEAM MILEY!) – all at the same damn time.

There I was, 15,000 kilometres from home, watching The Voice next to one of MMA’s most important pioneers while desperately reviewing my notes for our upcoming interview.

As it turned out, Jens had to go home to put his kids to bed, so we arranged to conduct an interview the following evening. Pat Miletich arrived a little after 10PM, and after some small-talk, we got down to business.

Born in Davenport, Iowa to immigrant parents, Pat “The Croation Sensation” Miletich was first introduced to combat sports in high school where he took up wrestling, a sport he would also compete in in junior college. When his Mother got sick, he left his degree in advertising to take care of her. In between work as a bouncer and a concreter, he took up a myriad of different combat disciplines including karate, kickboxing, boxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, eventually making his way into Mixed Martial Arts in 1995. By 1998 he was the UFC’s first welterweight champion, a title he would defend four times (in between fighting for other promotions) until May 2001, when he lost the belt to Carlos Newton. With Monte as his manager, Pat opened up MMA’s first super camp, Miletich Fighting Systems (MFS), which would produce UFC champions (including Jens) in four different weight classes between 1998 and 2006.[1] At one time, MFS boasted forty fighters ranked in the top-10 of their respective weight classes.

2017-10-10 00.15.44.jpg
Pat Miletich, the UFC’s first Welterweight champion

Over the course of three hours, Pat shared with me a variety of anecdotes and opinions on the evolution of the MMA industry and his career as a fighter and a trainer. I’m saving the best of them for the book, but here’s a cheeky sample:

  • On why many young fighters who would travel to Iowa train with him: “they followed me because I tortured myself to unimaginable ends to win a title”
  • On transitioning out of fighting into a career in broadcasting: “I don’t miss fighting remotely. I miss the teamwork, I miss the camaraderie, I miss the intensity… Also, TV pays a lot better than fighting.”
  • On why he was estranged from the UFC for the better part of a decade after retiring: “I stood up to them.” 

He also gave me his fair share of opinions on the state of global politics, the Trump regime and the Las Vegas massacre… but you can hear those for yourself on his podcast, The Conspiracy Farm (parental guidance recommended).

On day #2 in Iowa, I woke up late and spent the day preparing for my interview with Jens and accompanying Monte and Missy on various errands. It was my birthday, so they also kindly took me out for lunch at a delicious Mexican restaurant.

The interview with Jens took place at a Vietnamese restaurant ten minutes from the Cox household, with Monte and Jens’ family present. We spoke about a wide variety of topics, including how quickly MMA evolved, his life after fighting and the love and fulfilment he gets from being a husband and father. Some snippets:

  • On the initial allure of MMA: “Wrestling was done after college… we viewed [MMA] as a way to keep competing… that’s how I saw it.”
  • On the beginning of his professional career: “I got paid $750 for my first fight in the UFC… I didn’t get into this sport to get rich… It was [only viewable on] VHS and legal in three states, what did you expect?”
  • On how MMA became a mainstream sport: “If you truly believed in this sport, you knew it would get this way. It answers all questions, it’s the greatest goddamn thing there is. Movies are built around this.”
Monte & Missy.jpg
Monte and Missy Cox

I spent my third, fourth and fifth days in Iowa hanging out with Monte and asking him every question about his career and his fighters that I could think of. In between long conversations in the car, on the couch, or during midnight “Steak and Shake” runs, I worked on a few small articles, tended to some family matters back home and planned out the next few legs of my trip. On day #4, I was also able to score a short phone interview with former two time UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia – but you’ll have to read the book to find out what we talked about.

Overall, I had an incredibly rewarding time in Iowa. Monte and Missy were gracious hosts and extraordinarily generous with their time. It was tough getting on a 30-hour bus to New York, but I knew I was leaving armed with invaluable information and contacts for the remainder of my journey.

Next stop… the big apple.

[1] A captivating long form article by Chuck Mindenahll on the history of Miletich Fighting Systems, entitled “The Eagles of Bettendorf” can be found here: https://www.mmafighting.com/2014/3/13/5499090/the-eagles-of-bettendorf

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s