I recently had the pleasure to talk with “Babysitter to the Stars,” Burt Watson. What started out as a few simple questions, turned into a 45 minute conversation about everything from before, during, and after his time with the UFC. Not only did I learn more about Watson’s job, but also about him as a person. He also let me in on some little known behind the scenes history.
As most of you know, Burt Watson was an integral part of the UFC for 14 years, but many people don’t know that he actually got his start over 30 years ago in boxing. He became friends with Joe Frazier and eventually became his manager. From there, his career continued to grow. Watson worked as the coordinator for “Champions Forever”, which was a global tour with Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes, George Foreman and Ken Norton. He also served as camp coordinator for Mike Tyson and Oscar De La Hoya. Throughout his time in boxing he worked with practically every big name in the business. In addition to fighters, he also worked with promoters such as Don King, Lou Duva, Frank Warren, and Butch Lewis.
In late 2000, with Dana and the Fertitta’s being in the process of trying to purchase the UFC, a promoter that knew Dana told him that he should speak with Watson. Dana and Burt met in November 2000, and Burt was officially working for the UFC by early 2001. Early on, Burt was working for the UFC as well as still coordinating for boxing events. He started working full time for the UFC about seven years later due to their continued expansion of events.
“We Rollin’ Baby”
While with the UFC, most fans knew Burt from the “We Rollin’ Baby” yell and his ability to pump up the crowd at weigh-ins, but to fighters, he was so much more. Watson did everything from booking flights and hotel rooms, to planning which floor they would be staying on, and where they would work out, as well as transportation. He also coordinated dressing rooms, which may sound simple until you realize how many different pieces actually go into coordinating that. Watson had to be aware of any potential conflicts between fighters so he knew which fighters to not have in the same room. Some fighters like cold rooms, while others liked hot rooms. Also, much like other sports, some fighters have weird superstitions. These were all things that he had to be cognizant of when arranging locker rooms. Burt was also in charge of fighter motivation. He always gave pep talks on “why we do this.” The fighters always knew when it was time to make the walk from the locker room to the cage when they heard Watson yell out “We rollin’ to the hole, baby!” He walked every single fighter to the walkout entrance and always let them know that it was “Your night, your fight, go get it right baby!”
With the ever increasing schedule the UFC kept, you would’ve thought it would have been near impossible to work almost every event, but Watson stated, “In 14 years, I only missed 11 shows, maybe.” It takes a special kind of person to work that many events and still find a way to consistently motivate fighters each event. So just how did Burt do it?
“If you take care of your body and your mind it will take care of you. I took care of myself. I took pride in what I did, inside and outside the cage. I kept going and didn’t pay attention to what I was doing. I’d go to Japan and wake up in Brazil. I buckled down and got it down. I fell in love with the sport, the athletes, the corners, all of it.” While Burt did more than 200 events and worked with countless fighters, it was clear that he truly cared for them all, he said
“They were my children. They were my kids. I took them under my wing and looked out for them.”
Even though Burt was always running around during fight night, he did watch the fights on a monitor in back. However, he definitely didn’t watch fights the same way that most of us do. Watson said “I made it a habit to only watch from a technical standpoint. I trained myself to look at the clock to see how much time I had between that fight and getting the next person in the cage. I never wanted to pick a loser or a winner. I’ve seen the biggest, baddest guys in the world come back into the locker room crying. I didn’t want to see, feel, or hear anything more than that.” On the rare occasion when Burt did watch the fights, he used to have a hard time telling the fighters apart when the camera zoomed in on them while in the clinch or on the ground. All fighters used to use white tape around their gloves. Then one random day, Watson thought to himself, “I’m going to flip the script on that.” So he called up and got red and blue tape to represent the red and blue corners. And now the red and blue tape is used everywhere. So the next time you can only tell the fighters apart by the tape on their gloves, be sure to thank Watson.
With six months passed since his departure from the UFC, Watson was able to look back and appreciate what he accomplished, “It’s impressive to put the past in front of you and see that your past was a part of history. I cherish that now more than ever with time to reflect on that.” So just how big of an impact did he actually have on the people he worked with? Of the roster of approximately 500-600 fighters, Burt said “Within the first few months I heard from around 300 of them. I don’t ever want to lose that son, period.” Even today, he still has fighters text, Instagram, and Twitter him regularly. Fighters aren’t the only one’s wanting to talk to Burt since he left the UFC, “I’ve had more interviews in the last five months than I’ve had in the past 30 years. This is part of what I do, part of my life. I love every bit of it.”
— Burt Watson (@BurtWatson4real) July 4, 2014
Some of Watson’s favorite memories throughout his time include his first couple UFC shows. During those first shows, he got to see Tito Ortiz, Jens Pulver, Phil Baroni, Pedro Rizzo, Kevin Randleman, and the debut of some guy named B.J. Penn. Another favorite memory was UFC 101. This was the first UFC event in Philadelphia, which is where Watson calls home, and featured fights between Anderson Silva and Forrest Griffin and B.J. Penn and Kenny Florian. Watson specifically recalled the late Junior Seau worked Forrest Griffin’s corner. Burt’s other favorite memory was the first time he met Ronda Rousey. That moment was special to Watson because “Dana White said that would never happen”, referring to when Dana said women would never fight in the UFC. While Rousey was trying on gloves, Burt discovered a serious problem, “The smallest glove for men’s fighters didn’t fit the female fighters. Two fingers went through one hole.” What did Watson do to solve the problem on a serious time crunch? He had to get creative. So he took the gloves to a shoe repair guy of course! The gloves were altered in time for the fight, and Burt made sure the first women’s UFC fight in history went down as planned.
“I was home the first 35 days. That’s the longest I’ve been home in almost nine years.”
One of the most powerful things Watson said to me while talking about what he did after he left the UFC was “I was home the first 35 days. That’s the longest I’ve been home in almost nine years.” Honestly, I never expected an answer like that. While as a fan it was easy to tell that his job took a lot of time and effort, it was still hard to imagine being away from your family for that often. Burt’s reply quickly put his job into a very real perspective. His response truly epitomized the sacrifice that Burt made in order to provide for his family. So what else did Watson do with his time off? “I caught up with family, nothing but time with family.” He spent time taking care of his mother, and also spent time with his kids. Burt has three daughters and one son. His grandkids were actually at his house while I was talking with him, which admittedly made me feel bad. I didn’t want to take time away from his family, especially after what he had just said before that, but he made time to talk with me and I greatly appreciate that.
So at 66 years old, would Watson think about retirement? While he may be slowing down compared to the schedule he had with the UFC Watson says his “Gas tanks not on half, but not on empty.” In fact, he recently signed with Cage Fury Fighting Championships. With this job, Watson is able to stay close to family and home, which was an important factor in accepting the position. So how are the UFC and CFFC different? Watson said that biggest difference is, “I get to see the feeder system to the UFC, see guys at another level, the guys that are in the gym everyday trying to get to that level. Having started with the UFC, I never got to see that before.” Burt’s first official event was CFFC 50 back in July. How did it go for Watson? He said “I’m still working with fighters and their needs are still the same. Rob Haydak (the CEO of CFFC) expects the same thing. No one treated me any different. There were 2,800 people at CFFC, the place held 3,000.”
Hopefully everyone enjoyed reading about Burt as much as I enjoyed interviewing him. He was truly a pleasure to talk with. He couldn’t have been a nicer guy, and the stories he had to tell were incredible to listen to. Burt really does have that infectious personality that we’ve all seen on TV, and it was easy to see why he was beloved by all of the fighters he worked with.
For more information visit Burt’s official site at burtwatson4real.com and be sure to follow him on Twitter @BurtWatson4real. He’d love hear from everyone.