Burt Watson

The MMA game is full of unsung heroes. There are countless men and women toiling away behind the scenes who are vital parts of the industry – without them, the sport would be nothing. Back in 2010, one of the most important people in the UFC was Burt Watson, a low-key figure with the unglamorous job title of “site coordinator.” Fighters Only chatted with him for Issue 60.

Watson’s role keeps him out of the spotlight. The only time you’re likely to see him is moments before the weigh-ins, when Burt takes to the stage to briefly whip the crowd up before Joe Rogan takes over MC duties. He may be unknown to fans, but every single person in the UFC knows Burt – without him, there’d be no show.

“My area of responsibility is most of the logistical things it takes to make the show happen,” says Burt of his role with the UFC. It’s a very succinct and modest way of describing his position, and one that barely hints at the importance of his job. “Along with the VP of Operations, Donna Marcolini, I work out all travel, arrivals and departures – together, we coordinate my week. I take care of all of the travel for all the fighters and all of the camps, everyone involved in the promotion.” The more Burt describes his duties during the ‘fight week’ (the days that lead up to an event) the more it becomes apparent that his duties know no bounds – if something needs doing he does it, no matter how bizarre it may seem.

“I want these guys to be comfortable mentally and physically,” he says. “I say to them, whatever it is during the course of the week, I don’t care what it is, what time of day or night. The only question that is a stupid question is the question you don’t ask. Anything in the course of the week that gets in the way of their performance, we talk about it, and I take care of it, and I’ve had some pretty strange requests during the course of a week. I tell my guys, ‘I don’t care what time of the night it is, you call me.’ Well, I’ve had guys call me at 3am – they call me because they can’t sleep – I had a guy call me because he had an argument at home and he needed to talk to somebody. I had one guy call me because his refrigerator was broken! Whatever I need to do for them in the course of a week, I do that.”

When it comes to fight time, Burt will ferry the fighters to the venue and guide them through the various processes they must go through, such as medicals, filling in paperwork, getting their photos taken and more. Only when the fighters are on the scale and weighed in is he “a happy camper,” but it doesn’t stop there. During the event, Burt is a constant blur of motion, constantly running back and fore from the dressing rooms to the Octagon.

An ex-military man, Burt served in the US Marine Corps and did a tour of duty in Vietnam. He left the service a sergeant, and it is with a military-like precision that he handles his business. There is one other thing he and his team share with the Marines – the motto ‘First ones in, last ones out’. “I’m usually the first one on site, and I have five guys who do all this with me. Without them I couldn’t make it happen, because you’re only as good as the people around you. If the fight is on Saturday we get in Sunday or Monday before. And then we’re usually the last to leave, because we’ve also got to get everybody out!”

Burt’s entry to the world of MMA came via his long-time association with some of the greatest boxers who ever lived. Watson was Smokin’ Joe Frazier’s business manager for ten years from 1985, and credits his time with the former heavyweight champ as being helpful in “opening doors.” Burt has worked with everyone from Mike Tyson and Oscar De La Hoya to Bernard Hopkins and the Klitschko brothers.

A mutual friend introduced him to Dana White in 2001, and Burt knew from the off that the UFC (which he knew nothing about) was genuine. “As a coordinator, I’ve got to pick up people and their personalities right away. I met Dana and his handshake and his eyes told me it was real. I had no idea what MMA was – I said, ‘What do I do?’ and Dana said, ‘You do what you do best.’” Burt’s first event with the organization was UFC 31, and he’s coordinated every event of theirs since – bar two. “One of them my daughter got married and one my son got married! I’ve done every UFC, except those, plus the WECs.”

At 60 years of age Burt isn’t getting any younger and the UFC’s brutal schedule can see him work on two or even three shows in the space of a week, sometimes on different continents. “I’ve always had a philosophy, if you take care of your body and mind, they’ll take care of you,” he says. “And thank the good Lord I didn’t abuse myself or my body – so now that I’m old as hell my body is helping me out!”

“History has a way of making you a part of it without asking,” says Burt. “Right now I’m a part of this, and this UFC is as big as I’ve seen anything – I thought Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier was big – this thing is getting big! I have nothing but the greatest respect for Dana and Lorenzo and the people I work with. Shit, I’m just having a great time – and that’s what keeps me going.”

Did You Know?

It is ironic that someone who flies over 100,000 miles a year has a chronic fear of flying! “I don’t like flying and I’m afraid of heights,” says Burt. “I’ve tried acupuncture, therapeutic music, just about everything, even medication. The older I get, the worse it gets – and I’m only getting older! I’m so bad I have to sit in a certain seat with my back to the wall, I’ve got to put the shade down. Luckily the UFC works with me on that; they book my flights far enough ahead that I can get the seat I want.”