The UFC will hold it’s first ever event in Scotland on Saturday July 18th at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro arena after a long and patient wait from Scottish fight fans to see the world’s premier MMA organisation in their home country. Tickets don’t go on sale until May 29th however the UFC are already expecting the event to sell out in record time after the venue received a phenomenal early response to pre-register for tickets.
Ahead of this historic event in Glasgow, I spoke exclusively to MMA pioneer Campbell McLaren, one of the UFC’s co-creators, who explains why he still loves the UFC and why Scotland can claim a place firmly at the root of the UFC family tree.
Q: MMA fans will know you as one of the founding fathers of the UFC along with Art Davie and Rorion Gracie but some folk may not realize that you are actually Scottish?
A: Yes I’m actually Scottish and now a naturalized American citizen. I emigrated when I was seven. My dad was a RAF pilot and when he came out of the Air Force he decided to move to the US. My mother’s family are all Campbell’s. I went to primary school in a tiny wee town called Cowie (near Bannockburn) and the vast majority of my family are still in bonnie Scotland. One of my TV production companies is actually named Tillicoultry Productions after my dear cousin Joyce Watkinson’s home town.
Q: Gracie is also a traditional Scottish surname and BJJ’s legendary family descended from George Gracie, a Scotsman from Dumfries who emigrated to Brazil in 1826, who is actually the great grandfather of BJJ founders Carlos and Helio Gracie. Did you realize the Scottish connection between you, the Gracie’s and the UFC?
A: Rorion Gracie told me right away about his Scottish ancestry; he’s very proud of it. In fact he does not say “emigrated”, he says his ancestor “jumped ship” and swam ashore in Rio. That’s much more in keeping with the Gracie mythology.
A: Of course I will be and I have a huge sense of pride when it comes to The UFC. I almost consider it as one of my children. I brought in Joe Rogan, matchmaker Joe Silva, helped design the Octagon, developed the original TV style and, of course, did the “No rules” and “Banned in 49 states” marketing so when I see today’s UFC it still looks a lot like mine. As far as Rorion attending, I don’t think so. We were together for the 20th anniversary show but he does not regularly attend the events.
Q: The UFC have now announced the fight card and the appetite for this event is already near fever pitch. Dana White said that Dublin was the best atmosphere he has experienced at an event. How do you think the atmosphere in Glasgow will compare to Dublin?
A: Dublin was really amazing and stands out for me as a very exciting show. I told Dana that if Conor lost I was going out with his security team. Dana answered that if Conor lost he was going to tunnel out. The first UFC in November 1993 was awesome because nothing like it had ever been done before. None of us new what to expect; well maybe Royce Gracie knew what to expect. Many of those original UFC’s were absolutely riveting; no weight classes made for some spectacular match-ups. Because I love Scotland so much, Glasgow is definitely going to be a high point for me and I’m really counting on a warm and rowdy Scottish welcome.
Q: As expected, the card features Scotland’s three UFC stars; Robert Whiteford, Steven Ray and Joanne Calderwood. Joanne has been widely tipped as the UK’s most realistic chance of winning a UFC title, that is quite a compliment for Joanne and Scottish MMA.
A: I think the UFC in Dublin was all about Conor. I think the UFC in Scotland is going to inspire an explosion of interest in MMA. Joanne is absolutely terrific and I will be cheering loudly for her. I’m anxious to see Steven and Robert in action too.
Q: So far, there hasn’t been many title fights staged outwith the Americas. Do you think regional UFC titles would work in a bid to promote MMA across the globe as the sport grows, and give fans a chance to see belts won or lost closer to home?
A: I’ve spoken to Joe Silva about that at length. That certainly is how I’m doing it with Combate Americas, my US Hispanic fight promotion.
Q: MMA is now statistically one of the world’s safest sports however there are still too many cynics out there that remain determined to hold onto the human cockfighting tag of the ‘old’ UFC. What more can MMA, and the UFC in particular, do to change such opinions?
A: There isn’t much you can do to open up closed minds. But it does point to how effective my original marketing was; 22 years later it’s still working! Keep in mind in the beginning there was no marketing budget. I drove interest by promoting The UFC as completely wild. The press played along perfectly. The rules actually came in pretty quickly. I wanted to keep no weight classes (something GSP agrees with me on) but I was under a lot of pressure so I tapped.
A: The Octagon was famed Hollywood director John Milius’s idea. John suggested an Octagon like the one in the Conan The Barbarian movies; a stone Octagon! I wanted a contemporary look and and even suggested razor wire on top of the fence. Fake razor wire of course. We considered nylon walls and even plexi-glass before using the cage wire. Milius wanted Roman columns, which I thought were stupid, but you can’t say that to the man who worked on Dirty Harry and Apocalypse Now.
A: The US is a tremendous country because it has people from all over the world coming into it and adding their energies. One of the biggest groups arriving in the country are the Hispanic immigrants who now number 62 million! Hispanic fight fans are super passionate too. For Hispanic fight fans the martial art of choice is boxing. I wanted to create something that was truly and genuinely Hispanic; different style fights, different music, different celebrities ringside. Even the round card girls are different; Latinas are known for their curves. I also point out Brazil is not an Hispanic country and very different culturally from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Columbia etc. I never wanted to do anything to compete with my creation, The UFC. So when I told Dana and Lorenzo about Combate Americas and how it was different they wished me well. Currently Combate Americas is only being shown on US television on NBC Universo but we are working to take it globally.
You can follow Campbell on Twitter @campbellcombate
You can follow me on Twitter @heffiejr