BRANDON RESNICK TELLS THINESH JOHN ABOUT THE CHALLENGES OF FINDING AND DEVELOPING MMA TALENT IN THE WORLD’S MOST POPULATED COUNTRY.
It’s not often one can immediately decide what to do with life when there are still a myriad of influences that can dictate your path.
But for China-based Ranik Ultimate Fighting Federation’s (RUFF) matchmaker Brandon Resnick, he knew exactly what he wanted to dedicate his life to at an early stage of adulthood.
It all started with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. From there, the higher ranks eventually captivated his interest in mixed martial arts, and the rest as they say, is history.
“I first went to China and started working with RUFF almost five years ago. I was 17 then,” Resnick said, in an exclusive interview with ROUGH.
“As soon as MMA came into my sights and I started getting older, I really saw how it affected my life and what it could do for people. From there I found a way into the sport without having to get beat up for a living.”
Resnick is the brainchild behind RUFF’s materialization along with his father, Joel.
Together, the duo have established RUFF, China’s first government-sanctioned MMA promotion, as one of the front-running promotions in Asia’s competitive MMA landscape, with no more than five to six events held on an annual basis in China since 2012.
The 22-year-old serves as the organisation’s matchmaker and director of talent, with his dad overseeing the company’s day-to-day duties as CEO.
WE ARE INVESTING LONG TERM INTO FIGHTERS AND WE WANT TO MAKE STARS OUT OF THEM.
While combat sports largely revolves around risk, when it pays off it can be a game changer.
That’s exactly how the Resnick’s saw it with the fruition of RUFF.
They knew China was going to be a tough market to break into, considering how MMA was still at its infancy in the country. But it was a risk they were prepared to take.
“It all started out pretty much as a naive fantasy,” Resnick recalls.
“I was about 15 when I remember my dad saying he was getting bored and was looking for something else to do. And it was at this time, both my father and I were getting into the growing sport of MMA.
“Seeing that no one was really putting on organized, government sanctioned MMA fights, I thought we should give it a try. It almost started out as a hobby. Then when we really started getting into it, we noticed how great the athletes were and how China is a perfect place for MMA to flourish.”
The story with Resnick is, he was never a sports enthusiast to begin with. He never delved into watching sports like other kids did. Instead, he had a keen eye for what was going on behind the curtain, how much competitors were making, who the executives of the teams or leagues were and the television side of the business.
Those grubby little details was what grabbed his attention and his love affair with the business side of things have paved the way for his matchmaking obligations today.
“When starting the company we had to look at what areas in the business I already had the credentials and skills for and being as young as I was, there weren’t many, except for one,” the Toronto, Ontario native added.
“I always wanted to know what was going on behind the scenes and that followed me into my love for MMA. Even at 17 and 18-years-old, I was confident I could build a team to recruit and build talent while putting on the best shows possible. Being around martial arts since I was a kid gave me a very good eye for fighting and I’ve always been interested in learning different fighting styles and getting into the athletic side of things.”
Unknown to many, it was the younger Resnick who first brought the likes of Chinese superstars Wang Guan, Amu Rijirigala, Wu HaoTian and even current UFC bantamweight Jumabieke Tuerxun to the public’s attention by signing them under exclusive contracts to the RUFF banner.
So you might think that as China’s top MMA promotion with the ability to bring a wealth of big names on board, Resnick doesn’t have anything to worry about as he goes about his daily routine.
But, an accurate representation of his job does not simply entail acquiring fighters. In the role that he plays, scouting missions are a must, and taking it in stride, Resnick can often be seen in numerous talent hunt missions across China, where he is constantly on the lookout for up-and-coming Chinese products.
He agrees that most Chinese fighters he gets to see have bad records. But that, he says, isn’t normally cause for concern.
Instead, he looks at the potential in the fighters and their marketability and on top of it all, the value in building them up as stars for the future.
“MMA is still a developing sport in China so that brings on some challenges when it comes to finding talent, but our team just has to be more creative, really get out there and search and put a lot of attention into developing these athletes,” the Canadian stated.
“We look at the same criteria we look at when matchmaking. We are investing long term into fighters and we want to make stars out of them. If you look at some of the fighters on the RUFF roster, you will see more guys with generally considered bad records, but that usually means we see some sort of potential in them.”
“Just because a fighter loses, [that] doesn’t mean he didn’t put a great fight on. MMA is growing in China so we have to allow our fighters to grow with it.”
While ‘unique’ was the word Resnick used to describe the talent pool in China, it wouldn’t be criminal to discount the crop’s lack of multi-faceted skill-set(s) because Resnick for one, believes the Chinese fighters bring more than just fighting fitness to the cage.
“They bring a very different attitude and style to the sport. Most fighters come from poor families that rarely support their kids with their fighting dreams. So for these fighters to go into such a hard sport against the wishes of their family, they need to be extremely passionate and determined,” Resnick said, enthusiastically.
“Physically the Chinese fighters are also in a class of their own. Most people don’t know this but the Chinese are actually some of the most gifted people when it come to natural athleticism. Chinese fighters have such natural strength, speed and movement that translate into MMA so well.”
Nobody in their right mind would like to hand pink slips to their employees. Resnick is no different. If you ask him, it’s definitely the least favorite part about his job, but he’s thankful he doesn’t have to do it too often.
“Firing someone is never fun,” he admitted. “Luckily at RUFF, we rarely let fighters go unless it is very necessary.”
On the other hand, he has to contend with injuries complicating the picture, and the guesswork involved prior to putting the fights together too.
And that, in essence, is just one of few parts in the fleeting glimpses into the life and career of a matchmaker. There’s a reason why it’s often billed as the ‘toughest job in MMA.’
“To a matchmaker, the worst thing is when fighters get injured and have to pull out of fights. Especially last minute,” he added.
“Being in China where MMA is a growing sport, it makes it that much harder to find replacements. We always try to follow my initial criteria for the match which makes it that much harder, especially when there are time constraints because of marketing needs and opponents’ needs to alter training on short notice. I believe in these situations, creativity and perseverance are key.”
What makes his job even more tough is the fact that he works in a country which is yet to claim a give much status to the world of mixed martial arts.
Moreover, it can’t be easy to call a foreign country home, especially at an age where friends would be living their lives to the fullest. Resnick, though, is adamant that the experience will be worth it.
“China is such a unique place and has such a unique culture and I got thrown into it at a very young age. It had its obvious difficulties, but I matured in China and it really opened my eyes to other cultures and made me think about the world a lot more,” he stated.
“Working alongside my dad has definitely been an interesting experience. We butt heads sometimes, but I am able to learn a lot from him.”
With so many years ahead of him, Resnick brings the willingness to learn and develop in the art of matchmaking. Especially in a job that’s continually dominated by males twice his age.
“I bring a very unique vision to the company whilst still having the maturity and knowledge to handle myself in situations where my age would generally be looked at in a negative light,” Resnick concluded.
“My short-term goals are to build multiple RUFF fighters to be role models and as households names in China. In the long term, I love the sports entertainment industry and I have been lucky enough to get my foot in the door early, so my plans are just to grow in the industry and learn as much as possible.”