Before most people cared about the UCF and MMA culture, only a chosen few saw what what coming. These are the folks who would trade VHS tapes (remember those?) with other people across the country and meet on message boards to try and find the latest scoop on fighting, fitness training and gear.
Then came OTM. It was founded by two Brazilian jiu jitsu guys known in the fight world as "Scotty and Gumby" in the sunny Bay Area. Since its early creation tean years ago, On The Mat has arguably become the number one fight news and culture brand in the business. They recently opened a chain of OTM Fight Shops across the country.
Almost any fighter you know about was first seen on OTM fight DVD's and videos before you knew them. Here I talk with Alan "Gumby" Marques about the the business of the MMA and BJJ fight world.
AB: How did you first come to learn about jiu jitsu?
G: I ordered the very first UFC PPV event out of curiosity, and although I knew the importance of ground fighting from a limited amount of judo as a kid, I was blown away when I saw Royce Gracie march through the tournament. A few years later, when I was ready to pursue the martial arts again I was fortunate enough that Ralph Gracie, cousin to Royce and a famous fighter in own right opened up an academy a few blocks from my house. I signed up, fell in love with the art and the rest as they say is history.
AB: How did learning about jiu jitsu turn into the creation of OTM?
G: When you get into something as much as we did, you either have a desire to find out as much about it as you can, or share with others as much as you can. At the time Scotty and I created OTM, there weren't a lot (if any resources) for Jiu Jitsu out there and we felt that creating a webpage (which we knew a little something about), would be a good touchstone for getting some connections in the Jiu Jitsu community for ourselves, which right off the bat it did so amazingly well for us.
Fast forward to ten years to the present, and honestly one of the most gratifying things to hear is when someone tells me how much OTM has meant to them, how we've helped the sport and their own progress within it.
AB: When you began were sales good, or was it hard to keep alfloat?
G: I had a day job when we started OTM, so sales were not my first priority. Actually 10 years ago the Silicon Valley was booming and a lot of people seemed to have more money than they knew what to do with. I've never been in THAT category, but I was comfortable enough that I didn't need OTM to turn a profit right away. Around 2000/2001 work and opportunities began drying up in the Valley in a major way and I came to the realization that the little side hobby website we had created was technically generating more profits than any of the well funded companies I had been working for. So it made the choice of pursuing something I am truly passionate about a fairly easy one.
AB: What is your biggest selling DVD to date and why do you think it was so successful?
G: That would definitely be the 101 Submission series of DVDs and I think it was successful because it made our Jiu Jitsu accessible to everyone. While I LOVE watching Jiu Jitsu, many matches take a least a bit of prior knowledge and interest in the art to appreciate. The idea was to create a video that if someone asked you what Jiu Jitsu was, you could play this and get them excited regardless of their prior knowledge. At the same time, the material would also be interesting to people who were already well versed in the sport. I can't tell you how many times some one has told me that they've watched these videos dozens, if not hundreds of times and how they are proud to show it off to all their friends.
AB: Now you guys have fight shops set up across the country. Tell me about what people can expect when they go to an OT fight shop?
G: I guess it's a little unusual for a a virtual/web based business to move into a brick and mortar style retail shops, but with the explosion of MMA across the world, it actually makes a lot of sense to do so, and how better to do than the guys who've been at the party for ten years already?
AB: Will you guys still be doing the grappling DVD's ?
G: We'll have some new videos, for sure, but I think the market is moving away from DVDs now. This trend is true in the entertainment industry as a whole, videos on demand are going to become the norm. We are in the process of revamping our website to take advantage/be ahead of this trend, and will either offer the footage we shoot as an enticement for coming to the website, or offer some pay per view type options.
It's actually a little bit ironic, we started off putting videos on the web before anyone really did this, I'm speaking of the internet as a whole in this case. We were really the only source to able to watch a lot of these matches and see jiu jitsu, it's not like you were able to go to the store and even buy jiu jitsu matches. So by demand we began to make videos for sale (first VHS, to show you how long we've been in this). Now we're going to move back to emphasizing videos online.
AB: I know you think that the Bay Area is one of, if not the top places to train MMA or jiu jitsu. Why is that?
G: This area has a long history of attracting top talent in the martial arts, any martial arts you happen to have an interest in, there is a pioneer or leader in the field based out of the Bay Area. As far as the Jiu Jitsu and MMA scene goes, I think we were lucky enough to have a first generation here (Cesar Gracie, Claudio Franca and of course my own instructor Ralph Gracie) who set a high standard and produced a number of top notch students and competitors. More so there is a second generation of home grown talent now that adheres to those high standards and are proud of the fact they came from the bay area. There are equal measures of rivalry and respect in this area which makes everyone stronger I believe and I look forward to seeing the scene in the Bay Area continue to flourish.
AB: Whats next for OTM?
G: Keep checking www.OntheMat.com for all the latest!
AB: Whats next for Gumby? I know you just got your black belt from Ralph Gracie. Do you have any specific fight plans?
G: As far as fight plans, I plan to enter a few competitions per year as my schedule permits. I just love being out there. No plans on fighting in MMA however, I received my black from Ralph well over a year ago now, it ranks among the biggest accomplishments of my life and it meant a hell of a lot to get it from him . I tried not to give myself too much time to bask in the glow, after all I'm always trying to learn more, and share what I've gained over the years. Jiu Jitsu to me is a marathon, not a sprint after all!
FULL DISCLOSURE: I have known Gumby and Scotty since they trained with Ralph Gracie many years ago. I was a music director for some of their early DVD's. They have also sponsored my non-profit HHCF several times.