MMA Crossfire – 10 years of Daring to be Different
Welcome back to The Crossfire. For our 10th anniversary, we’re taking a trip down memory lane.
MMA Crossfire’s first post was created by Kenai Andrews on this day in 2010 and featured on Postmedia’s Canada.com website from 2010 to 2014. According to internal statistics in 2012, it became the most read blog on Canada.com that year.
“Canada.com needed content, and the editors were asked to contribute a blog,” Andrews recalled to The Crossfire. “I figured this was an opportunity to cover mixed martial arts, and though it was in addition to my other duties at the desk, I approached it like it was my only shot.”
When MMA Crossfire started, mixed martial arts was banned in Ontario and in most of Canada. Only Montreal and the province of Quebec had hosted several UFC shows, with many of the traditional local sports media being indifferent to MMA.
“So with the support of my managing editor Thomas Bink and vice-president of media Tim Doyle, I rolled up my sleeves and set about figuring out how to cover it the best I could,” explained Andrews.
Former Newfoundland amateur competitor Cassandra (Cassie) Wiseman was the second reporter to sign up with MMA Crossfire in 2010, months after the website was launched. Her six-year tenure included live-blogging UFC pay-per-view events, interviewing insiders, and filing detailed fight predictions for events, along with hosting MMA Crossfire Radio programs.
“Interviewing Liz Carmouche was a highlight, for sure,” she recalled over Instagram.
Cassie eventually helmed The Wiseman Report – a column focused on female fighters and WMMA. It’s no surprise that her experience mirrored the rise and the development of the sport in Canada. It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago, women in MMA were still viewed as a novelty, which made the working environment much different than it is today.
“It was a different time when I was writing and involved, because WMMA wasn’t established the same,” Wiseman said. “It was just before Ronda Rousey started (in the UFC) and all of that, so it was difficult to be a woman reporting and talking about it, just like most male dominated things in the beginning.”
Still, the experience wasn’t without its advantages – sometimes it can pay to stick out in the crowd. “In other ways, it helped because I was a woman trying to talk about MMA and especially WMMA.” It was a time she recalls positively. “I loved all of it, so nothing bad or negative,” she says, “Just at the time it was harder due to women not being viewed the same when reporting about it, or women being fighters.”
The first women’s bout in the UFC was a February 2013 bantamweight title bout between champion Ronda Rousey and challenger Carmouche at UFC 157 in Anaheim.
“Cassie’s column on the state of Seoul Korea, during the North Korea – South Korea tensions, was probably her highlight piece,” Andrews said. “I was working the desk and not many media organizations had reporters inside the country reporting directly on the conflict. Cassie was embedded in Seoul, sharing her observations first hand, with pictures that painted a very different picture than what was being reported by the Associated Press.”
These days, Wiseman’s career has taken a new direction. “Now, I’m a massage therapist,” she revealed. “I suffered a major concussion in 2016, which took me 10 months to recover. The only thing that helped was massage. I felt so thankful for what the RMT (Registered Massage Therapist) did for me that I wanted to do it for others. I went back to school, and now here I am, a RMT.”
“I was not a fighter, so I wanted to surround myself with people who could speak from experience,” Andrews continued. “Cassie was a former amateur competitor, who trained in South Korea. Michael McDonald was the first fighter to join and share his thoughts as a former K-1 tournament champion. We expanded to bodybuilding with competitor Ferlan Bailey’s journey towards making it to the pros. Sabu, Super Genie and Jaime D are professional wrestlers and Joe LoBianco was the premier MMA photographer in New York.”
The Crossfire moved to its current web domain in 2015 and began to expand its coverage. LoBianco was the first of the new wave, joining in 2014 to share and document his expertise as a MMA photographer via his column Breaking the MMA Lens.
Nowadays, LoBianco is involved with film through his own company, Tin Mirror Productions. But, from 2014 to 2017, he also wrote a column for The Crossfire.
“I did a lot in New York,” Joe explained. “In my area, I was the top photographer.”
Columns covered his life beside the ring, along with tips like how to take great actions shots. Despite the more recent change in direction for his career, he remembers his time as a photographer, and writing for The Crossfire, as a great gig. “It was always fun to work with them,” he says. “He gave me free reign to do what I wanted to do.
“He didn’t pigeonhole me,” LoBianco clarified. “I could go wherever I wanted.”
That meant getting up close – maybe, too close at times. He recalls an incident where he was shooting near a fight. “The fighters were getting into it, and my camera got bashed against the cage.”
The result was an unusually candid column on the MMA life on both sides of the camera. He delved into the behind-the-scenes world readers would never access on their own – and the view from up close was enlightening. Trouble with weight-cutting? No problem. “I’ve seen people cut five pounds in a couple of hours,” he says.
The pre-amble of trash-talking, vocally and sometimes physically combative press conferences? It’s for real. “I don’t know how many times I had to separate people,” he says. “I know a lot of the fighters, so I’m comfortable with that.”
Getting into film and TV didn’t mean letting go of MMA altogether. One of his more recent projects is called Chokehold, made in association with Triton Fights and Avail Films, the TV series chronicles the everyday life of an MMA fighter. “It follows two fighters with each episode,” Joe says. “Viewers get a glimpse of what goes into those final days before a fight.” The series is available on Amazon Prime and Roku.
“I was an amateur when I started writing for MMA Crossfire and then turned pro,” Ferlan said. “Kenai gave me the opportunity to give some insight into the bodybuilding world.
“I was able to share my journey to the pro ranks and I was brutally honest about my fears, which made writing these articles a therapy session,” Bailey said.
“I’m so happy to see the continued growth of MMA Crossfire.”
So, what is it like being a professional? “To me being a pro is much easier. The title of IFBB Pro alone gets you guest appearances and can boost your reputation as a trainer or coach … that title behind your name carries weight in the fitness industry,” he explained.
“To win it’s much harder, but you’re in an amazing fraternity and it’s easier to roam around the industry worldwide. As an amateur bodybuilder, I had to worry about making weight. But as a pro bodybuilder over 212 pounds, we had no weigh-ins or stress to make a certain weight. To me, getting there was much harder.”
Getting there is something fellow bodybuilder – and Crossfire columnist – Super Genie Melissa Coates knows well.
After writing some articles previously, Super Genie Melissa Coates and Sabu jumped onboard The Crossfire in 2015 with the Super Genie Diary.
These days, she spends most of her time as Super Genie, helping pro wrestler Sabu tour the world.
Sabu, aka Terry Michael Brunk, currently back in the ring with Impact Wrestling, as a hardcore wrestler, a style he made his own during a stint with the Extreme Championship Wrestling, or ECW from 1995 to 2000. His career began even farther back in 1985.
“I enjoyed the opportunity to do my Super Genie diary there,” Coates said. “It was during the time Sabu was having hip surgery though, so not good timing for continuing the column. I eventually ended up letting it go,” she explained. “I appreciated the opportunity to write for Crossfire, and would like to again, really.”
“I’m back on a busy schedule traveling and managing wrestler Sabu, so right now I’m in the middle of a busy month.”
“The Super Genie Diary helped establish us with wrestling fans who liked MMA and vice-versa,” Andrews said. Wrestling and MMA have been taking elements from each other for awhile, along with boxing. We have a good international following who still read the Diary, as they contain detailed and intimate thoughts of life on the road with the Icon of Hardcore.”
It is satisfying to see that today, Canada is an solidified part of the UFC landscape, with several stops made every year across the country. Of course, there is always work to be done.
“MMA Crossfire was born out of the movement to legalize MMA in Ontario and Canada,” Andrews added. “I wanted to be part of the solution to help move the sport forward in Canada.”
“And ten years later, here we are.”