This isn’t my goodbye, it is our rebirth. Also, FRAT.
The UG was an accident; The OG was an accident too.
In 1993 I had been running a martial arts studio for a decade, when we gathered at a friend’s condo to watch UFC 1. It was the application of the scientific method to the practice of martial arts, and quickly my life’s calling had a new, fervent direction. We searched around desperately for information, and found it in Rorion Gracie’s five-tape set, and a little later in the revelatory eleven-tape Renzo-Kukuk series.
My memory is so terrible I regularly miss my driveway and can hide my own easter eggs. I have friends who are athletic geniuses - they can watch a move done at an ADCC, and after a few minutes of practice, can explain it. I am an athletic maroon. So I took a lot a lot of notes. Then I got an Apple computer with an S video in capability, and around 1995 started screenshotting video stills, and adding them to my notes.
At some point, I realized I had a book. I ordered the techniques, printed them out in a spiral bound booklet at Staples, and offered it for free to Rorion, but he was too busy revolutionizing the global practice of martial arts. I also showed it to Renzo; we were driving 3-4 hours to NYC on Fridays to take privates) and he loved it, but said Kukuk ran things, and CraIg was too busy doing whatever he did to reply. So I decided to make a book.
I didn’t want to steal anyone’s work, so spent two years putting together my Neanderthal understanding of MMA, without using anything in Rorion’s or Renzo’s tapes, and in August of 1998, released The Fighter’s Notebook. But who tf buys a book about an unknown sport? So I determined to build a website to market it.
The single central problem at the time was getting fights. There were a few UFCs a year, Jeff Osborne was getting rolling, but locally, there were no fights. So I planned a Tinder for fights, where you could enter what you wanted to do (MMA, kickboxing, grapple) and how far you could travel. A kid from the gym who grew up to develop the apps for 12+ NFL teams was building the site, and said I should add a message board.
I replied absolutely not - I was a member of Mousel’s forum, and loved it. The developer insisted, and so against my protests, he added a message board. In August of 1998, I completed the publishing process, and got a migraine that took me out for two weeks. That same month, Tim Mousel, the single most underappreciated figure in MMA history, started covering his hosting costs by charging $5, per year. The outrage was vast, and everyone online who cared about MMA came to the UG.
Next everyone on the site started talking about life so much we started deleting non-MMA threads. Eventually someone suggested a forum for non-MMA topics, and The OG was born. For a time, Dana White, Joe Rogan, hundreds of fighters, everyone was on The UG. Ultimate Fighter magazine cited it as the 8th most important thing in the history of MMA, saying “If not for The UnderGround … the sport might have died, as PPV buys had sunk to such abysmal levels.”
It was all an accident - it started happened against my wishes, and worked because someone in 1998 had the outrageous idea of charging a few bucks a year for the Internets. Then things got tough.
Getting My Ass Kicked All Over
The social network emerged, and ate my lunch. Now notable figures in the sport (and everyone everywhere) had a vastly wider audience and a degree of control over it. I did jiu-jitsu as best as I know how (after 30 years I’m a purple belt) and built up a big social network (5,000,000 followers on Facebook). So we continued to grow. Then Reddit ate my lunch. And Facebook changed their algorithm to Friends and Family and the bottom dropped out of that traffic. Our ad ops partners assumed control for a year or two, but did far worse than I had been.
Then we had a massive stroke of luck - Covid. I got PP loans. I cut a badass deal with Sports Illustrated. But SI changed their focus from Pulitzer Prize-winning writers more to Pullet Surprise winners like you and me. We implemented what I believe is the best forum software on the market, but there was no appreciable gain in traffic. I hired my favorite journalist in MMA, John Morgan, to run news. I revere the man and his work. But that didn’t raise traffic either. I burned through a lot of revenue, over six figures, and was not feeling real hopeful.
I’m sorry I failed. I apologize to each of you.
And Then Came Alta
For the last five years, I have done fight color commentary once a month or so, in 29 countries total. Along the way, I struck up a friendship with John Kavanagh, who, as it turns out, was a UGer back when you had to go to an Internet cafe to get online. John told me about an MMA and technology company he was heavily involved in, called Alta.
It was born out of the Boston Bombing; I was born in Boston, and lived there when the attack happened. In 2013, an Australian entrepreneur was getting an MBA at Harvard, and his wife and three children went to watch the Boston Marathon. Then boom, and for a tense 30 minutes the Aussie didn’t know whether his family was OK or among the hundreds of injured, or worse. That gave him a new perspective on life, and brought him back to his childhood love for combat sports, which led him eventually to Alta. (you can read about it here),
Then I learned that an SVP at Alta was another longtime UGer, Rich Chou. If you look at BJ Penn’s MMA Book of Knowledge, you can sometimes spot a UG logo on the cage canvas; that’s because of Rich when he ran Rumble on The Rock. That led Chou to Elite XC, which led to becoming heir apparent at StrikeForce, which led to becoming VP for athlete relations at Bellator. And there were other stops along the way, including helping to run what I still believe is the coolest MMA brand of all time - Fokai. John Kavanagh, Rich Chou, Boston Bombing, MMA, Technology, Community, I was fascinated.
Alta is on the verge of going public and felt the site was a good fit, so acquired the assets. They have a lot of great plans for the community, but as a token of appreciation for the membership, the first step is turning off ads for the time being.
It’s ironic, but I spent so much time working on the site, with no compensation, something had to give, and that was spending time interacting. So, for what it’s worth, I will be around more now, both helping the site grow again, and joining in.
I love you guys, Not saying that lightly. And as I said, I am sorry I couldn’t make this work. But the site is now positioned to soar, and for that, I am really, really happy. I hope you are too.