By Kaitlin Young
I’ve had a few messages lately from fighters asking what they can do to get more fight opportunities. It can be incredibly frustrating to put your time in at the gym and watch other fighters being rewarded with fights while you are left twiddling your thumbs. We have a limited timeframe in which we get to compete and need to make the most of it! There are a variety of reasons a person may not be getting matched, and that can change based on their experience level.
Let’s go over some reasons you may not be receiving opportunities, and what you can do about it.
1. Nobody Knows You Are Looking
This may seem obvious, but make sure your coach is aware of your goals! Speak with the coach and ask what is expected of you to become fight-ready. Take it seriously and do as they ask. Don’t tell them you want to fight with your mouth while allowing your actions to say you aren’t that interested. Also, avoid trying to book your own fights without the guidance of your coach. Unfortunately, there are some promoters out there that love to take advantage of fighters without an advisor. It’s great if you are willing to fight anyone, but that’s exactly why you shouldn’t be making the decision alone, especially early on.
If you are attempting to fight, hopefully you’ve found your way to an established gym that has experience developing fighters. If you are at a gym without any active competitors, that is going to create a lot of difficulty for you. You’ll lack training partners with similar vision and it’s unlikely that your gym is well-connected enough to get you fights. It’s tough for a promotion to take a chance on a new gym they are unfamiliar with. Gyms establish a certain level of quality and reliability that matchmakers can expect from them, so as a student from an unknown gym they’ll be taking a chance on you. Your gym could have a real go-getter coach who is willing to make those connections and search to find out which competitions are available. If they are unwilling to put the legwork in, you are going to be sitting for a while.
2. Relationships Have Been Damaged
This is a big one. If someone has damaged the relationship with a promoter, they are unlikely to give that person’s student, teammate, or client a fight. As mentioned above, promotions get to know gyms based upon their previous interactions with them. If more than one athlete from your gym has put that promoter in a tough spot, they are going to be far less likely to give you an opportunity. If your coach is difficult to deal with, doesn’t communicate well, or bitches about the promotion online, guess what? His or her students probably won’t be fighting for that promotion anytime soon. It is very unfair to be punished for someone else’s actions, but it would be insane for the promotion to continually give space to a team that devalues the business and makes their job more challenging. There are plenty of athletes from other gyms willing to take your spot, so unless you’ve already proven to be a massive ticket seller, there is really no incentive for them to risk being burned again.
Managers can have a similar effect, though usually they are dealing with professionals and they are making decisions directly for the athlete. That is a hell of a lot of control to give another person over your career, and you had better trust that person a great deal. It is tough for promotions to parse out your decisions from those made by your management, so you need to consider how every decision made could affect you and your reputation. Often athletes are locked in for a length of time, so, unlike a gym, they can’t just leave if things go south. We’ve all heard horror stories of managers stealing from clients, but sometimes the long-term financial damage is due to plain old terrible decision making. I’d suggest being cc’d on all correspondence regarding your fights and sponsorship. If they are resistant, there may be good reason for it. Remember that they work for you and not the other way around.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some great managers and coaches who go out of their way to do the best for their athletes. There certainly are. We are talking about when things aren’t going well. Pay attention to patterns. Is it just you sitting on the shelf, or is it most of the fighters on their roster? Are they moving up at the same rate as fighters with similar experience that are managed or train elsewhere? If you are a coach or manager reading this, ask yourself the same questions. If you’re experiencing the same problem with more than two, it’s probably you.
3. You’ve Proven Yourself Unreliable
You’ve worked with this promoter, or a promoter that is friendly with this promoter, and dropped the ball. You’ve pulled out more than once or for less than serious reasons. You haven’t communicated well. You didn’t turn in your medicals on time or missed some. You’ve asked for fights and then, when matched, you turn them down. You’ve asked for a fight and they’ve taken a look at your Tapology profile, only to see that every other fight was canceled due to you having an “injury.” Maybe they were legitimate injuries, but regardless, if you are injured enough to pull out of a fight that often, you are an unreliable fighter.
Consider your reliability rating amplified if you’ve ever been the main or co-main event. They’re going to remember if you rolled with the punches and still fought even when the situation was not ideal. They will also remember if you were given top billing and pulled out for a reason that wasn’t life threatening. It’s your career, and you’ve got to make the decision that is best for you, but you also need to think about the long-term effects of those decisions.
I had a situation occur earlier in my pro career where I had been booked as the main event in a local show. The promoter had flown in an opponent for me and I had sold well. At weigh-ins, my opponent came in 7lbs over the limit. That was after I had already agreed to move up from our initial contracted weight. I was beyond pissed and wanted to have her suspended (commissions still won’t do that, unfortunately). Now, in some instances, 7lbs would be a ridiculous amount to give up. However, it was clear that this person had no idea how to cut weight. I was probably going to be bigger the next day anyway. I was so caught up in the principle of it that I had threatened not to fight. We negotiated for hours (I did end up fighting and won easily).
In my mind, I was punishing the opponent, but in reality, I was just making things more difficult for the promoter and all others involved. This wasn’t a giant promotion favoring the other woman that could fork out money to make the fight happen. It was a local show that had taken a chance on me. She didn’t give a shit if we fought and was possibly even trying to get out of it by missing weight — hoping I wouldn’t accept the fight. I was the one who had all my family and friends planning to be there. The promotion had already invested in marketing the fight, the travel, and other associated costs. What I did that night was show the promoter that I couldn’t be relied upon to carry a show. I couldn’t be used as a main event. I was expensive to match anyway and now they couldn’t even rely upon me to ensure my own fight would happen. I shot myself in the foot while trying to shoot my jackass opponent. Try not to make the same mistake.
4. You Don’t Promote Your Own Fights
This is another one that should go without saying. Post about your fights. If you are trying to be a fighter of any kind, you need to be active on social media. It is a large part of the industry that we are in. If nobody cares that you are fighting, and you aren’t making any effort to get anyone to care that you are fighting, you are not going to be fighting. You can pay your way to amateur tournaments. You can fight outside of the country in other places with different fight industries. However, if you are going to be fighting in America, it is your job to build your brand and your following. You can do it in a way that is true to you, and you don’t have to be something you aren’t. I discussed some of this in my previous blog about ticket sales and fighting on the local circuit. If you can’t be bothered to promote yourself, don’t expect opportunities.
5. You Are a High Maintenance
You’ve been offered fights but you don’t want to take them if everything isn’t perfect. You need to have both a size and experience advantage. You need a minimum of two months’ notice. Your boyfriend/girlfriend can’t come to your fight that day, so you need another date. You can only make weight if the hotel has a bathtub. And so on, and so on. It isn’t that you’ll never get fights, but a lot of the time they may just not want to bother calling.
6. You’ve Priced Yourself Out
This pertains to pros. We all deserve to be paid what we are worth, but you need to consider what you are worth to the promotion. Most pro fighters in the world are underpaid for their skills and the amount of time they spend in the gym. Professional athletes are not necessarily paid according to their skill, they are paid according to the amount of value they bring to the promotion. Value = viewers. Think about your personal goals when negotiating as well. Is it more important that you fight frequently or that you get paid more when you do fight? Are they offering you a single fight or a contract for several years? Sometimes you can make up the set income elsewhere, depending on what sort of platforms they have for you to display sponsors, etc.
7. You Live in the Middle of Nowhere
It may cost too much to bring you in. If there are no shows in your immediate area, you’ll have to travel to fight. Somebody is going to have to foot the bill for flights or gas and hotel. If you are a professional, they may also be paying for an expensive visa. Search the cost of flights from your city to the promotion’s city. Now multiply that by two (for your corner). That is how much the promotion is going to have to drop ahead of time if they want to book you on their show. What if you drop out last minute or you do come and don’t fight well? Oh well, they are going to have to eat that cost. If you believe travel expenses may be holding you back, you can always offer to cover them for the first time (or maybe be reimbursed after the fight). Once you’ve developed a relationship, it will be easier for them to invest in you in the future.
8. You Are in a Rare Division or Weight Class
Some weight classes or divisions are just tough to match. You might have too much experience (this can be quite common with amateurs) or there just aren’t many people competing that are your size or gender. It sucks, but sometimes your inability to get fights is not due to anything other than being rare.
If you find yourself in this spot, you can do some other things to stay active. You can try other combat sports. If you are an MMA fighter or a kickboxer, there is no reason you couldn’t take some boxing bouts to work on your hands and stay busy. Similarly, you will probably at least get mat time if you do some no-gi tournaments. BJJ tends to be even more flexible about size and experience, offering absolute divisions at nearly every event. Another approach is taking a training/fighting trip. If you are a lighter Muay Thai fighter, a visit to Thailand could easily result in several fights. If you are behemoth, they’ll have more for you in the Netherlands. Don’t be afraid to think out of the box to keep your development on the up and up.
9. You are Low Ranking or Boring But Dangerous
This happens frequently with pros, but it’s not unheard of in the amateurs. Your opponents may look at you as a lot of risk with little opportunity for reward. You are a dangerous and difficult opponent, but you’ve lost the last several and have no ranking. Beating you wouldn’t do much for them in terms of esteem. You present a high likelihood of injuring them or even beating them. Maybe you have a boring or ugly fighting style that might take out a budding prospect. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s a real bummer. A lot of people don’t get out of this one if they have not maintained a good relationship with promoters. See above.
10. You Aren’t Skilled Enough for the Promotion
Sometimes you just aren’t there yet, or sometimes you used to be and are on your way back down. This is a safety issue as much as it is an entertainment issue. Maybe they don’t want to see you get KO’d for the 6th time in a row. Maybe you are just too green and need a few more years to develop. Maybe you are in your prime, but your fights are not fan friendly. Whatever the case may be, sometimes not receiving fight opportunities is in your own best interest. It is very important for all of us in this industry to have a close friend or coach who will tell us the hard truth so we don’t put the cart before the horse or stay too long at the party.
If you are struggling to get fights, it is likely one or a combination of the reasons listed above. Be honest with yourself and adjust accordingly. Don’t be afraid to ask promoters directly about what could help you earn an opportunity in their promotion. They may have some very valuable feedback. Best of luck!