411 MMA Interview: WAR MMA's Jim Cooley
Posted by Evan Zivin on 08.21.2013
411's Evan Zivin sat down for an exclusive interview with "The Voice of Champions," Jim Cooley. See what he had to say about WAR MMA, his relationship with Nick Diaz, the future of both, announcing and fighting in MMA, and much more!
So in the June 25th edition of my column Five Quick Rounds, I did a quick review of the first event of Nick Diaz's WAR MMA. the review was silly and full of bad jokes, just like the rest of my writing, but I did genuinely enjoy the show. A few days later I got an email from Jim Cooley, a combat sports announcer who did the in-ring announcing for the WAR MMA show. He was entertained by my writing (at least someone is) and we talked back and forth and I decided to interview him. He's a very cool guy and knows a lot about MMA and I thought it would be interesting to get his insights on fighting, announcing, and whatever behind the scenes info on WAR MMA I could get out of him. Below is our exchange. Enjoy.
For the readers, could you please state your name and what you currently do?
My name is Jim Cooley. I am currently the voice of Nick Diaz WAR MMA and the IFC. I also ring announce for Rogue Warrior MMA, USA Boxing, The Battle of the Badges and The ArtofWar MMA. I do various other shows as well.
How long have you been a ring announcer?
I first began ring announcing in 1996. Although I did take quite a bit of time off.
What are some of the organizations and promotions you have announced for over your career?
APW Wrestling in Hayward (featured in the movie Beyond the Mat), West Coast Wrestling, HWA Wrestling, along with all the fight companies I listed above. Numerous amateur boxing events as well.
It says on your website that you are a lifelong fan of all combat sports. Which are your favorites and what do you like most about them? What is it about them that gets you excited and has made you a fan your entire life?
Discounting professional wrestling (which a lot of people do not consider a sport), which was my passion growing up to the point I even promoted it and wrestled for a time, my favorite combat sport will come as a surpise to some. It is boxing. I am a lifelong boxing fan and I get more pumped up for big boxing matches than I do most MMA shows. Do not get me wrong. I love MMA and still watch and analyze every major fight I can. I fought MMA and trained MMA. I love MMA. I only trained boxing for a short period when I was younger but it is still my heart. I get excited for all combat sports though. I cannot explain it I just get submerged in it.
When did you first learn about MMA? What did you think of it then? Did you know then that it was a sport that you wanted to be involved with? Did you think it would become as successful as it has within the last 20 years?
I first learned about MMA when the very first UFC Payperview aired and I went to a friends house to watch it. I thought it was amazing. I knew right then and there that I would fight in the cage no matter what. I actually thought it would become popular much quicker. I underestimated the difference between "underground movements" and "mainstream love affairs" with things. I kept saying to myself, "How do people not love this?" Then when the Ultimate Fighter started I saw the reaction and said, "Ah, they just didn't really know it was there."
Who are some of your favorite MMA fighters? Do you have any favorite fights?
My favorite MMA fighter of all time was Marco Ruas, "The King of the Streets." I remember his first fight in the octagon and the commentator saying, "Don't blink." He landed a text book rear naked choke very quickly. I was sold on his attitude and his swagger and, obviously, his ability as well. I bought a little pet Rabbit and named him Marco "Bun Bun" Ruas. My favorite fight was Brock Lesnar vs. Shane Carwin. Even while Brock was losing I continued to double my bet with my friend Lewis. Eventually Brock landed the submission and won! It was a roller coaster ride. Since I am a wrestling fan I was rooting for Brock.
How did you get your start as an announcer? Is it something that you had always wanted to do or was it something you just fell into, so to speak? Do you have any influences that impacted your desire to announce or helped shape your announcing style?
It is actually a funny story. The truth is I lied to become a ring announcer (laughs). As I said, I was a huge pro wrestling fan. I had worked a little as a marketer (among other things) for a small promotion out in Hayward called APW at the time. I was not an announcer but I wanted to be one and I knew I would be good at it. I am giving you that background because it leads us to the fateful day. I went to another local show as a fan. The show was being put on by 80s WWF wrestling legend the Tonga Kid AKA Sam Fatu. I was standing in line when I heard one of the promoters, who eventually became a close friend named Eddie Davis, say to someone, "Our announcer is not coming" in a very panicked voice. I spoke up quick! I said, "Hey, I am a ring announcer and I am here right now." He asked where I announced and I rattled off some fake companies or something (laughs) and he actually bought it. Five minutes later, I had a cordless mic in my hand and was warming up the crowd. Everyone said I did amazing so I didn't feel too bad about lying. We both got what we wanted.
My influences are Mike McGuirk and Howard Finkel of the World Wrestling Federation, I can close my eyes and hear both their voices in my head. I do a mean Howard Finkel impersonation and some of him is in my voice. Also, obviously, Jimmy Lennon Jr. and Michael Buffer.
Did announcing start as something you did on the side for fun or were you able to make it into a full-time career? Has it been hard to make a career out of ring announcing?
It is still not a full time career. For a time it was. When I was with APW. I was doing other things for the company but I announced a lot. I think if I had stuck with it and did not insist on fighting/wrestling I would have already made it full time. I just started coming back last year. But I am slowly becoming booked solid each weekend. I am also talking to a certain major cable network about a serious full time job in the announcing industry. I have to say skill level dictates difficulty when it comes to getting jobs. At the expense of sounding cocky, I think I have a real feel for what I do and that has in turn gotten me more jobs. I went from one show in December to now getting booked very, very frequently. I attribute that a lot to Nick (Diaz), who put me on a much larger stage. And to Paul Smith of the IFC for giving me a place to hone my craft. Since then I have done so many local shows people know how I sound.
What are some of the things that you enjoy about ring announcing for MMA, boxing, pro wrestling, and other sports? Are there a lot of differences between announcing for one sport versus announcing for another? Is there a sport you prefer to announce for more than the others?
The biggest enjoyment I get is being able to sit ringside and watch some of the hungriest fighters out there. I get to be up close and personal while these young fighters work their asses off to get further in this sport. There are quite a few differences in announcing each sport. For one, boxing pays more than all the rest (laughs). Well that is not always true. A lot of promoters take good care of me. The other thing is I get to share it with my fiancé and my family. Most promoters are cool about giving me tickets for my family. My fiancé backs me and so does my big sister, Lori Jo, and my Mom. They deserve to be there with me. So it is cool to be able to bring them along with me.
The difference between me and some announcers is I am not satisfied with being a local announcer. I want to (and will) turn this into a much bigger career and I will build my brand no matter what it takes. I am digressing. Getting back to your original questions, I do not prefer announcing one over the another. If I had my choice I would do at least one of each show every month.
Walk through some of your process for announcing an event. Once you've been given a job what are some of the things that go into preparing for it? What challenges exist as you prepare to announce an event? Have you ever experienced issues or embarrassing moments that caused problems while you were preparing for or announcing an event (read the wrong name, had voice problems, etc.)?
Once I find out I am announcing an event the first thing I do is ask the promoter to send me an itinerary. I take my job very seriously because a lot of these kids have dreamed of the announcer saying their name and pumping them up to the crowd. They have lived through that moment 100 times in their heads and I do not want it to be a let down. Even if they are not fighting on a huge national show, I want them to feel like they are when I announce them. So asking for the itinerary allows me to know when fighter meetings, rules meetings and weigh-ins are so that I can individually get with each fighter and camp. I want to get pronunciations, team names, records and nicknames down pat.
My process may be boring to fight fans and readers. I will tell you anyway, though, since you asked. I find out I am announcing, I take a suit to the cleaners, if I do not have one clean. I study as much as I can about the promotion. I make sure to look up directions to the venue. I then buy a new batch of index cards. I use one for each match. I pack my backpack and get it ready. I go to the show and do my job. My goal is to add to the show without making it about me. It is about these fighters.
I do have an embarrassing moment that actually happened quite recently. I was announcing a USA Boxing show for Brian Schwartz from Undisputed Boxing in the Bay Area. I had not announced boxing in a while and boxing rings have stabilization ropes that run from the top rope to the bottom rope. I was getting in the first time and my foot got caught on the stabilization rope and I sort of stumbled into the ring. I was beat red. However, the very next fight I did it again.. This time my mic went flying and I sort of looked like a drunk one-legged man as I fell forward. I actually caught the mic and myself! I was embarrassed but proud (laughs). Also, in my entire career I have only announced the wrong fighter once, and it just so happens it was on WAR. Worse than that it was my own cousin (laughs), which turned out good because I saw him coming and knew I said the wrong name. Epic Fail.
In addition to announcing combat sports, you have also trained in various martial arts and even competed in a few MMA fights. What are the best memories and stories you have from your fighting career? What did you enjoy and hate the most about fighting?
I have, yes. I trained at Washington Neighborhood Center with Don Connelly, a legend in the boxing community when I was in my teens. Not much came of it. I also trained MMA with various teams. I liked to bounce around to different teams and train with everyone. I never really had a camp for any of my fights. I trained with Cal Worsham, Paul Smith, Shamrock 2000 with Val Ignatov and Steve Heath, and later on with Nick and Nate. I never really stayed with any one team very long. It was a downfall of mine.
My favorite memory is fighting David Velasquez who went on to fight UFC. I was destroying him and even knocked out two of his teeth with an uppercut. I gassed out and broke my hand and ended up losing the fight on exhaustion, but I didn't like him and hurting him at the time made me feel good (laughs). Obviously that was a horrible attitude to have back then but it went deep between our two teams and I was a young cocky punk. He rubbed me the wrong way and carried himself like he was better than everyone else. Looking back we were both young, ya know? I hold no ill will these days.
One of my biggest disappointments was not long after that. Due to my performance in that fight I was given a superfight against Jason Von Flue (he was an up and coming fighter at the same time I was). We were set to fight at Table Mountain Casino near Fresno, A few weeks before the fight I got two ribs broken at Shamrock 2000 by a huge new guy who had no idea how to train with someone who had a fight coming up. I was probably only getting paid like 200 bucks for the fight, but I cried because I wanted to fight so bad and knew I couldn't. I am a guy who fought Dennis Hallman at Sacramento Showdown with a 101 degree temperature puking right up to five minutes before the fight. I just could not imagine not fighting (laughs). I guess that is why I am so hard on the kids nowadays who say they want to fight and then turn down every opportunity. They are all better fighters than I was. I guess I am just old and grumpy when it comes to that (laughs). I currently am a matchmaker for the IFC and deal with what I call "pretend fighters" everyday. Like I said, I was by no means some great fighter. I fought because I loved to fight. A lot of guys do that today too but a lot just want to say they are fighters.
A cool side note: I ended up announcing for a show Jason put on a few years back and he announced to the crowd that we were supposed to fight back in the day. He really put me over and I appreciated it. It sucks because a lot of my fights were before anyone even paid attention and on hole in the wall bar cards (laughs). So it is cool to be recognized as a former fighter sometimes.
Do you feel that fighting and training has been beneficial to your announcing career? Do you think that it's important for all officials in a combat sport (referees, judges, announcers) to have trained or competed in the sport to be able to perform their jobs properly?
Oh it has been invaluable, especially when it comes to commentating and dealing with the fighters. You sort of understand how the fighters think and you understand what they are going through and that helps me to remember that the show is about them not me. I think almost all officials should have some MMA background, especially judges and refs. I mean, how can you judge what is happening in an MMA fight if you have never done it? There is just too many intricate moving parts in an MMA fight and you really need to understand what is happening to judge it, which is why I think we have such a hole in the judging in MMA these days. They just do not really know what they are looking at half the time. That is obviously not the case with all officials. I will cite one example. Wade Vierra is a judge and a referee. This is a guy who is not just an accomplished martial artist. He is a legitimate bad ass and expert in grappling and mixed martial arts. A 7th degree black belt in Taekwondo, a black belt in Danzan-Ryu Jiujitsu, a black belt in Kodenkan Judo, a brown belt in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu (may even be black now. I am not sure). This guy is a 6 time world champion. I can tell you this as a fighter I would rather have judging my fight than say a boxing judge who learned about MMA from watching Spike TV reruns.
How long have you known Nick Diaz? How and when did you first meet him?
I met Nick in about 2007 I believe. My cousin Darin "Whitey" Cooley had been training with him for years. I was out of the sport completely and wanted to get back in. Darin invited me down to train. I had been a fan of Nick's since he knocked out Robbie Lawler. Nate was fresh off The Ultimate Fighter 5 and I thought it would be cool to train with these guys. Plus, I had a lot of respect for what Cesar [Gracie] had done for the sport and that played a part as well.
I went to Stockton and just kind of started training. I think the guys were not too sure about me at first, but I was Darin's cousin so they treated me well. The first couple times I went, Nick was not there so I had not met him yet. I remember the very first night. They were doing burpees. I can't remember the exact amount we were supposed to do. Truth is that it might as well have been a gazillion at the time (laughs). I was so out of shape it was disgusting. I am former Army so I am no stranger to physical therapy and exercise but I had certainly lost touch with it in the interim. They all finished their burpees and I was determined not to be the washed up has been/never was fighter who couldn't do it. So I just kept doing spurts of ten or twenty and resting until I finished every single one. I think Nate started giving me a little more attention and respect that night. Nate is a cool cat even though he still owes me a dollar, which I better get soon or I am going to sue (laughs).
Anyway, Nick was there on about my third or fourth night of training. It is actually a very cool story and really shows how the media misconstrues these guys. I was sitting on the ring and he was about five feet from me. I was trying to just blend in and not seem like I was a fan. He sort of stepped closer as he was shadow boxing and began talking to me without looking at me or losing focus on his warm up. He said, "You're Whitey's cousin?" I replied yep and he said, "You know, I used to watch a guy fight when I was younger. He had Team Cooley on his trunks. Would that be you?" I replied that it was. I was sort of shocked that he had watched me fight and that he remembered that. He stopped what he was doing, extended his hand, and said. "Thank you. You guys fought for almost nothing. You paved the way for us to do what we do today and I respect that." I shook his hand and thanked him. Here is a guy who is supposed to be an asshole, right? Instead, in one moment, he made me comfortable, made me feel good, and welcomed me in with one gesture. It was incredible and I will never forget it.
How did WAR MMA get started? What can you tell us about the formation of the promotion? Did it come about because Nick Diaz was looking for something to do after his loss to Georges St-Pierre or had the idea to create a new MMA promotion in Northern California existed before that?
I came on board a little later on and, from what I know, Nick wanted to start a promotion that would adhere more to Pride rules and at the same time make people learn to fight on the ground, to avoid wrestlers just laying on you and throwing intermittent punches winning on points. One of Nick's best friends, Damian Gonzales, and his lawyer and close friend Jonathan Tweedale, along with Nick started the company, at least to my knowledge. I do not think Nick was trying to "find something to do." Nick has plenty to do with his triathalon/ironman competitions, working with young fighters, training and fighting. I believe it started because Nick felt it was time for it to start. He was right. UFC has had a monopoly long enough, and that is not a knock on Dana or the Fertitas (hire me, guys). It is just that there needs to be real alternatives for these young fighters to get national exposure.
What is the goal of WAR MMA? Does it hope to one day rival other major MMA promotions or does it just look to showcase up-and-coming fighters and fighters looking to return to the big leagues?
I think the goal of WAR is to be a successful mixed martial arts promotion that gives fighters that are not signed to UFC or even Bellator the ability to fight in front of people everywhere and get mainstream exposure. I for one think it is cool of Nick to use his name to help these guys get their names out there. He makes it about the fighters not about Nick Diaz. He gives the media just enough of himself to pay attention to these damn fighters! They are good, even great fighters. They deserve to be able to showcase that!
Was WAR MMA originally meant to be just a one-off MMA event or was it always the idea to create a brand new promotion that would put on multiple events a year?
I don't think Nick would ever do something as a one off. Nick is a guy who is focused and fights hard to complete things. He doesn't do anything, to my knowledge, "just to do it". If Nick put this effort into it then it was for a purpose. Look for an announcement for another show very soon. From my experience this is meant to be a promotion, not a one night event.
When and how did you become involved with WAR MMA? Were you there from the start? Did you know that you would be announcing the event from the very start or was it a decision that Jonathan Tweedale and Nick made later on? Were there other duties that you performed in putting the first show together?
I, like everyone else, was caught by surprise when I saw that this was happening. It is like I said, Nick said "Let's do this" and all of the sudden it was real. I sent Nick a Facebook message, which always gets lost in the fan mail. I saw he had not read it and I had changed phones recently and I no longer had his number. I decided to try something else. I hit up a buddy of mine named Chris Quitiquit from the Cesar Gracie/Diaz camp. He is a great fighter and he is friends with these guys on a much larger scale then me. I said "Hey, get at Nick. Tell him I want to announce WAR". He told me to contact Jonathan Tweedale, who was in charge of a lot of the WAR stuff. I contacted him and he said thank you for reaching out and he would talk to Nick. He was very polite and open to the idea. Literally at the exact moment I clicked off the message, Nick responded to my message with his number and said to call him. So it all happened kind of fast. Nick backed me as announcer, he let Tweedale know, I sent Tweedale some video, and he was on board too. And just like that I was in.
As far as other duties, yes. I helped with the weigh-ins and was an integral part of keeping the weigh-ins organized. I hosted them and worked with Jonathan, Damian and CSAC in keeping things on track. Damian was a guy who was busting his ass and he saw I was willing to do the same. Jonathan was moving and shaking, dealing with disgruntled media and just about everything else! I wanted to help Nick make this work. So, slowly, Damian and Jonathan gave me more duties. At the show I arrived to find my name on the production door just under Nick, Jonathan, Damian, Nate and Dan Black (matchmaker and trainer extraordinaire, who had a huge hand in making this show a success). It felt good that they had that much faith in me. I mean, they put me in the same locker room as them. Nothing could have made me feel better. I worked with the visual team and the sound guy and we made it happen. I missed some cues and I will take full blame. Overall I think the show was amazing and was put on by some amazingly focused people.
How much involvement did Nick actually have in the first WAR MMA event? Was it mostly Jonathan and you and the rest of the crew doing all the work with just the use of Nick's name value to promote the show or was he hands on in working with everyone to make sure the first show was successful? Overall, do you feel that Nick did a good job promoting the event?
Nick had a lot of involvement. It pisses me off when people say, "oh, he attached his name and everyone else put their money in and did all the work." Fuck that! Nick did put money in this! Nick was a huge part of this. Nick was the end all of every decision leading up to this event. This is Nick's company! Were there others involved? Of course, and they did a ton, but people should not sell Nick short. He did a great job promoting the event. The whole team did. I think it showed.
What were some of the challenges faced in putting the first show together? Were there any major production or logistics issues or problems with fighters and managers in the lead-up to the show?
There are always problems with promoting a first event. I have promoted wrestling and worked in depth with promoting fighting and in the entertainment industry. There are always going to be problems. The big difference is this was a very large scale show, so there were even more problems that arose. However, Tweedale, Damian, Nick and everyone else handled them in stride. The biggest thing was the stream was a huge undertaking and at one point someone sabotaged our feed/stream, which resulted in the show being delayed, but it was overcome and the stream ended up being great. I do not recall any problems leading up to the night of the event involving fighters or managers. Everyone was very professional.
We did, however, have some nut job corner guy start a fight with Nate during one of the fights. I was like, really? Serious? Bro, you're in Stockton in Stockton Arena.. This is a Nick Diaz show. the whole Skrap Pack is here. Are you mentally challenged? I was the one who ended up getting him to leave. This guy had to be half crazy. Nick just said, "get him out of here," so I did. He ended up leaving and realizing he was in a no win situation.
I watched the show on June 22 and thought it was great. How did you feel the show went? What was the general feeling among everyone regarding the show as it was happening?
I think it went great! People are going to point things out no matter what you do. People will have gripes. Hell, I even got told I sounded like Yogi Bear by some troll on a message board. People do not like to see other people succeed sometimes. It is a very strange dynamic, but it is out there. I was out by the ring and DJ most of the night, although there was one time I did forget my job. I went over to Darin's (my cousin) corner in between rounds and started giving instructions (laughs). Then I looked down at myself and said, "Jim, you're in a suit. You're announcing. Go sit down!" After the event, though, I was talking to Nick. He was pumped. He was very excited with the outcome of the event as was I. Overall I think everyone felt good about how the show went down.
Was there a lot of concern in the arena when the show didn't start on time due to problems with the live stream? Were people thinking that the show would have to not air live or even be canceled?
No. This was a team with a "shit will work" attitude. So we knew it would work out. The crowd was very patient and it all came together. At no point was the thought of cancelling the show even considered! We knew we had a product that was worth waiting for. And we had great fans who did not complain.
What did you think of the fights? Were you satisfied by them? Did it seem like the fans in the Stockton Arena enjoyed them? As someone who got to watch the show from ring side, what stood out to you as most impressive regarding the fights and the entire show production?
I think the fights were incredible. I got to see Roy Boughton do a handspring! My night was made (laughs). Everyone seemed to enjoy the fights. I think real fight fans respect every fight and every fighter. These are guys that are going out there and engaging in hand to hand combat for your entertainment and they deserve respect. The fights were great! Overall a great card! What stood out was the whole show to me.
Who did you have winning the main event? I thought Daniel "Ninja" Roberts dominated with his grappling in the latter half of the fight and was robbed of a decision win (no offense to Justin Baesman, of course). Do you think it was a satisfying conclusion to the event?
I had Justin ahead. It was a close fight and I would love to see a rematch. I feel Justin won the fight and I think it was a satisfying conclusion, yes. Justin just signed with Bellator so I am glad we could help with that. He is a great fighter and deserves everything that is coming his way. Roberts is a great fighter too!
Now that we're two months removed from the first WAR MMA event, how would you sum up the entire experience? Do you feel that everything went the way you and everyone else had hoped it would? What did you and everyone else take away from the first event that will be helpful in putting together WAR MMA 2?
I think there is now a solid base in place with which to build WAR 2. I think The entire experience was incredible and I was honored to be a part of it. I take pride in being the voice of WAR. For me, I learned a lot about my on screen announcing style, voice and overall the way I am viewed by fans. I have a lot I needed to work on and even change, which I have. I like to try to grow in everything I do. Having feedback from so many people can do nothing but make you better at what you do. I even want to thank the haters.
Is there anything you can tell us about WAR MMA 2 at this time? Has a date, location, fights, or anything else been determined yet?
Just that it is coming soon and it is only going to be better!!! This is not going away. This is coming back into your living rooms! WAR is here to stay!
Does Nick enjoy promoting fights? Does it seem like he wants to continue promoting fights or do you think he'd rather be fighting? Do you think he'll fight again soon?
I am not going to speak for Nick. I am not in his head and no one ever will be. From the feedback he gave me I believe he was happy with the event and enjoyed doing it. Beyond that Nick is the guy to ask.
Do you have any other projects you would let to tell the readers about?
I do. I am getting ready to launch a web based half hour MMA/boxing/combat sports news and interview show called "In This Corner" With Jim Cooley, which you can find out more about on my website www.announcechampions.com and you can even donate to the show at http://www.gofundme.com/jimcooleyannouncer. I am riding this to the top. This show is going to be a cross between Sportscenter, Jim Rome and even a little Tosh.0.
Where can readers go to learn more about you and your services?
Thank you for taking the time to talk to 411mania.
Thank you. It has been a pleasure my friend.
A big thanks to "The Voice of Champions" for taking the time to talk to me. Visit Jim's website here. Donate to Jim's GoFundMe page here. Find Jim on Facebook here. All images, except the Nick Diaz one, are from Jim's website and all credit goes to him and the original photographers.