From Philly to around the world, Burt Watson has been there and done that and is still rolling baby! One of the most beloved members of the mixed martial arts family, Burt came up with the help of a chance meeting with one of boxing’s legends and took that momentum to the top of the mountain in MMA. Coming off the successful CFFC 60, Burt talks to us about his new role with Cage Fury Fighting Championships, his past with the UFC and the legend himself, “Smokin” Joe Frazier!
Like a cat with 9 lives, the stories you’ve told and shared over the years can’t be made up. What a life and it’s still going full steam ahead. But how does a Philly kid, fresh out of the Marines working in Manhattan hook up with another Philly legend, former World Heavyweight Champion Joe Frazier? How did that all come about and how did you adjust going from clothing salesman to site coordinator and business manager to “Smokin” Joe Frazier?
Burt: Well, I can see you’ve done your home work baby!!! And there are definitely things you can’t make up. But just like HISTORY, time & HISTORY have a way of making you a part of it without you asking for it. I first met Joe Frazier (early 70’s) in a chance meeting on the streets of Manhattan, New York. From that first meeting we exchanged info and kept in touch. At the time I was a piece goods salesmen for Burlington Industries. I was in the fashion industry, selling piece goods to manufacturers of men’s suits. Even then my instincts were honing in on coordinating and organizing. The transition to site-coordinator came with time and hard work, always wanting things to be right.
My time with and as a friend and then manager for “Smokin” Joe Frazier, I got to see things, go places, meet people and live in the history that the time became. Joe thrust me in feet first and said to me “Just watch everybody, learn their moves and get it done.”
Now, I don’t know if you remember… But you and I had a chance to sit and chat for a moment while you worked for UFC and were in Fairfax, VA. Even in those short moments you had to relax, you were able to tell a few great stories. Was there any one story about Joe Frazier that you will always remember and care to share?
Burt: The one story I will always remember and there were many, would be any one about Joe that showed he was just a “Plain Joe.” He liked it simple and plain. Every now and then he liked a little flash (which was as much and more of his southern roots & upbringing than anything else). But he had a BIG heart. He always believed others should share in his fame. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, as a big boxing fan, one of his first requests was to meet Joe Frazier & Muhammad Ali. We got that call and the invitation to the United Nations Building in New York to meet. With not very much of his cherished memorabilia left, Joe gave Mandela the WBC Championship belt from the March 8th ,1971 fight against Muhammad Ali. I personally put that belt around Mandela’s waist.
How did Joe Frazier’s passing affect you and what will you remember most about him? How do you think the world should remember one of the greatest fighters of all time?
Burt: When I heard of Joe Frazier’s illness and possible passing I was with the UFC and in the UK, London. Dana White saw me in the hall and asked had I heard anything. I then got on the phone to call Peter Lyde who is the husband of Joe’s daughter Jackie (who fought Ali’s daughter Laila). Peter told me that he hadn’t passed but it was not looking good. I didn’t know what to feel but I was faced with finishing the show at the High Energy Level everyone was use to and expected. I found out it wasn’t hard because I was able to SCREAM OUT LOUD with HURT and no one knew.
Before we get into your transition from the boxing world to MMA, I have to ask… Does Don King still owe you money?
Burt: There were two things I always liked and remembered about Don King. One… he never tried to tell me how to do my job, but always expected the best. Two… his checks or the money he gave me never bounced. He always paid me. I never worried about my money with him.
You went from doing site coordinator jobs for boxing promoters to this cool new concept called MMA. How did you get hooked up with the UFC and how did you transition from boxing to UFC?
Burt: Again… here goes those Chance meetings. I was in Vegas doing a Boxing event (Kostya Tszyu vs Zab Judah) and someone named Bernie Dillon, set up a meeting for me to meet Dana White. The three of us met for about 45 minutes, talked about him doing a show the following year and all he wanted from me was to bring the same skills he had heard about with me to his promotion.
Joe Rogan famously coined the phrase for you, “Babysitter of the Stars” and it stuck. You embraced it. How did you feel about that role and was it something you enjoyed doing?
Burt: I embraced the name Joe Rogan gave me, I asked him to do something cause no one knew me or my name. Just that I did nothing but stand on the stage at weigh-ins, hugging all the fighters and making them get undressed.
Who were some of your favorite fighters during your time in the UFC to get ready and prepare for an event? Who were some of the more enjoyable to work with?
Burt: I enjoyed the entire 14 years spent with the UFC. During that time, I became very attached to just about EVERY Fighter and Camp member I worked with. I never wanted anyone to feel slighted or favored over the other. But somehow and even I don’t know how, I had something special for all. I loved and touched them all. I felt the joy, the hurt and the pain every night with every fight.
If I were to think about sheer intense moments and anyone who lifted themselves more than others, I’d have to think about Diego Sanchez, Jeremy Stephens, Jens Pulver and Rampage Jackson. There was another notch for them weigh-ins & event day (The Walk).
Now I know you are a very positive person. It’s a large reason why you are so beloved in the sport. But… I know there had to have been a few headaches along the way. You traditionally don’t spill the beans on people but were there any fighters that were more than a little difficult to get prepared for fights?
Burt: First of all, YES! There were fighters and sometimes camp members who were a bit of a pain the booty but only when it was weight cutting time or fight night. Then their problems became my problem. And their problems were mine to solve. Just about all of the fighters had their own little quirks and some superstitions but at that time, it all made sense because it made sense to them. Whatever it was from the temperature of the room, who was in the room, the temperature of the bottled water, how many ice cubes in a bucket, seating positions on transportation, how many people odd or even numbers, seating positions in the dressing room, who was wrapping their hands and who else that person was wrapping, certain places either in the rooms or wrapping hands, how other guys warmed up and even the smell of fear. But all that taught me how to set things up for their comfort level. And if I learned how to satisfy ONE, I had the whole room baby!!!
Recently you hooked up with Cage Fury Fighting Championships for CFFC 60 and the return of Jonavin Webb. How did that come about and can we expect to see more of you with the New Jersey promotion? How did you enjoy the event and what were some of the highlights of the show for you?
Burt: About a week or two after my departure from the UFC, I got a message on Facebook from Rob Haydak, owner of Cage Fury Fighting Championship to contact him once things settled a little or when I had a minute. About a month or so later, I contacted him and the conversation was about a possible position with the company. Even though it had only been a month or so, I had and was having conversations with other MMA Promotions about continuing my run… I talked, listened and even made visit with other promoters but the vibe I got from Rob, the sincerity, the projected future and of course the opportunity to now stay close to family & home, looked pretty good. Since then I’ve been exposed to the vast history of the organization and some of their fighters who have gone thru the UFC from the Miller Bros Dan & Jim,Nah-Shon Burell, John Howard, Zack Makovsky, Louis Gaudinot, Nick Pace, Katlyn Chookagian, Eddie “Truck” Gordon”, Jonavin Webb & Paul Felder.
For the first time, I’m also getting the opportunity to working with MMA Amateur, something I knew existed but never had the experience of working with them and that program.
I’m loving the people I’m working with, and good people are hard to come by, I’m enjoying this ride and having a great time doing it. I’ve also been proud to say that organizations I’ve been with have all been successful and the future of CFFC (Cage Fury Fighting Championship) is lookin’ nothing but awesome. With a capital A!
Can’t let you get out of here without asking how important it is to you to stay positive and hype and to get one “Let’s Roll Baby!” Thanks for the time Burt and please feel free to let people know where they can stay in touch with you and find more about what you are up to.
Burt: It’s a Poker game. You gotta show your hand to get the pot. So it betta be right. Always be sure of your hand. Always play it out… and NEVER let anyone play it for you.
I’ve always said to the athletes I’ve worked with that their biggest achievement is getting there, Now they have to achieve the “Staying.” This is What We Do and Why We Do It… Ya Gotta Keep Rollnn or Get Rolled Over… “Its Yo Night Yo Fight Get it Right”… “Ain’t but two him and you”… “We Rolllnnnnnn” Yeah!!!! All Night Long…