On episode #16 of The Unknown Strength Podcast, Brenton and Macgregor sit down with Melbourne's Muay Thai mogul, owner of Outliers Promotions, Sy Nadji. Sy is also the owner of renowned Melbourne training centres, William Street Gym and Box On North.
Outliers Promotions is the driving force behind Australia's premier Muay thai events, Rebellion Muay Thai and Roots Muay Thai. Outliers are also responsible for the outstanding Melbourne-based Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournaments, BOA Super 8 which is of particular interest to Brenton and Mac...
In this interview we explore the path Sy has taken in his own martial arts journey, as well as the journey towards bringing Australia's best martial arts events to the public through his Outliers Promotions brand and the gyms he owns/operates.
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* Melbourne Rock Band -> Killed By Technology
[intro] Brenton Welcome Sy, really good to have you on the show.
Sy Thanks Brenton, thanks Mac.
Mac Thank you buddy.
Brenton You've been in and around the fight game for a long time now. It seems you're just continuously growing an empire and you've got some way to deliver and give something to the fans in Australia and around the world. How did it all begin, what got you into the fight game?
Sy Enter The Dragon man, like most people my age. I was born in the late 70s and Bruce Lee was still a thing, before Royce Gracie was a thing. I was obsessed with karate when I was a kid. I remember the day that we were gonna go do karate, we were walking out the door, I remember this clearly. Walking out the door and the phone rings, it's my uncle from Australia and he said that we should move to Australia. My mum and dad were literally out the door.
Brenton How old were you at this time?
Sy Seven years old. I was thinking this was the greatest thing. Me and my brother, who was 11 at that stage, were going to do karate, it doesn't end up happening. My mum and dad didn't see the point in us starting something new, we were moving to Australia.
That went on hold. A few years later before we came over, we sold our house. I went back to see the new owners, I remember clearly our front yard, there was punching bag hanging. First time I had seen a punching bag in my life. I remember it so clearly. It looked cool.
When I was 12, watching Enter The Dragon, I was obsessed, I nagged my parents until they let me start doing martial arts. I was obsessed, everything I did at school, every essay, every assignment, every artwork we did had something to do with martial arts until they let me do it. I was a good student just so they would let me keep doing it.
Brenton Was there any dominant martial arts grabbing your attention? There's so many variations, today's [inaudible 00:05:34] Jiu Jitsu guy. You've got Brazilian Jiu Jitsu but then you've got Carlson Gracie Jiu Jitsu and so many variations. Was there one you were fixating on?
Sy At that stage, this is 1991. It was still karate and Taekwondo, Ninjitsu, that sort of stuff. The thing that was closest .. the best was Taekwondo. We went there, my parents took me to a taekwondo club, I remember my first class. We went in there and everyone's idea of fighting was stand up fighting, kicking, punching. We did two classes of wrestling at high school. We had a Canadian PE teacher. It was Taekwondo. There wasn't any YouTube or internet to help research things. I got into Taekwondo and I was as obsessive as you can get. I had a Korean flag hanging in my room .. that level of obsession.
Everyday, we had a punching bag in the garden, I used to train in classes, and then two and a half hours a day in the backyard. Seriously obsessed.
Mac I love it.
Brenton I went to an international school. I watched so many martial arts movie, I was so excited about high school because I thought I was gonna gert to learn from some of the best martial arts fighters in the world, I was obsessed thinking about it.
As far as your own martial arts training, you started off in karate, you moved to Taekwondo, you're even managing, owning, promoting. You have Rebellion Muay Thai, you have Roots, you have Boa. How did Rebellion Muay Thai and Roots begin?
Sy So, through all the years of going from Taekwondo, and shoot boxing with John Will, then I met Lao Stewie, who became my Muay Thai trainer. I went back off and went to do olympic wrestling. Come back to striking martial arts, years later I opened my first gym. My second gym when I started, I was teaching boxing, I called it kickboxing because I didn't feel that what I was showing was Muay Thai. We ended up hiring a couple of Thai trainers. Jojo who's in Melbourne. I always went to fight shows. Christopher Kronos used to promote Stan the Man, he was used to fight. It was a big deal. I had [inaudible 00:08:52] fight shows for a while. I remember going to the fight, we were meant to have a fighter, I took my two trainers with me. The show started and they looked like “what the hell is this”. I [crosstalk 00:09:09] -
Brenton In a good way or a bad way?
Sy In a bad way. I thought back then all the fight promotions were max. There'd be two kickboxing fights, one K1 fight, one Muay Thai, back to kickboxing…
Brenton So Muay Thai would be a special rules fight?
Sy Jeb had done Muay Thai shows. Muay Thai with shin guards. George [inaudible 00:09:45] was doing Brute Force but they'd still put a Karate fight on. I wanted to just do a Muay Thai one. Initially I thought I just wanted a series, just a basic show. We talked about it, finally I decided to do it. There was a reception hall across from where my second gym used to be, I'd been talking to the owner for ages. I asked to do a fight show there. So, 2011 we did the first Rebellion. I always remember that first fight starting. These two guys started .. these two young guys. I said that there would be no shin pads, no nothing. It's gonna be Muay Thai. the first fight happened, Paris who does the filming, he ran down the stairs and said I was onto something good. The night just got better and better. The main event ended up being the fight of the year. An epic fight between Sam Edney and Kim Johnson.
The next day people were going crazy on Facebook. It just literally from show one, to show two. The quality doubled. It just grew and grew. It's been very challenging. But, probably the thing that's been most rewarding.
Brenton From the sounds of it Muay Thai is young here. You're talking ten years ago there wasn't much available for a Muay Thai fighter to fight in a top tier organisation in Australia.
Sy In Australia, there was a large organisation called Evolution. Their shows were 2000 people. Melbourne's always had a kickboxing culture. The guys that promote all have kickboxing gyms, and kickboxing fighters. The Muay Thai guys, it was a real side thing. New South Wales always had bizarre rules with combat sports. You couldn't fight without shin guards. Perth had a strong scene. Victoria never had it. Evo went away 5-6 years ago and the Queensland scene moved around a bit. Victoria was never considered a Muay Thai state, whereas now we’re right up there.
Brenton What is Rebellion Muay Thai?
Sy Originally, I was coming up with names, it was gonna be The Muay Thai Rebellion. We were uprising against everything else. I got weird things in my head. All these other shows Muay Thai was the second word. The kickboxing guys were my friends, they were helping with my licence, and I didn't wanna be a dick about it. So, I went with Rebellion Muay Thai. Friend of ours, we went and sat down and he's a branding guy, we have these cool chats. I tell him my next idea, half hour later he has a logo and brand for me.
Brenton Amazing, he's done a lot of really good work.
Sy We talked about it, two hours later he told me to check my Dropbox, there was the Rebellion logo which I thought was sweet.
Mac This is it.
Sy We had 5 Rebellions in a row. They became big quickly. Rebellion 5 was a $10,000 eight man. The guys I had were just phenomenal. Daddy Cool ended up being the ultimate, the best guy in Australia sitting there taped up waiting for someone to fall through. It went viral quickly. By third show I was getting messages from people saying they wanted to come fight. The standard went up, I couldn't put any new guys on. That's when we come up with Road To Rebellion, which was an opportunity for guys to work their way to Rebellion.
Mac Like a feeder for Rebellion?
Brenton Even the UFC has something like that, The Contender series to get onto the UFC.
Sy Exactly. I did that, but there's only so many times a year you can do shows. I'd put a date in and get calls saying so and so is available. I just liked the idea of a good match up.
The first Road To Rebellion was what it should be. Between Road To Rebellion 2 and 6, it became this thing where some of the fights, I had Toby Smith, he's the guys that knocked out John Wayne Parr in two rounds. So, the standard went from this is a feeder to, this is almost exactly like Rebellion.
Brenton It's just a premium standard local show.
Sy Yeah. I was charging less for sponsorship and tickets, but I was still putting that card together. The whole idea got diluted, it became a running joke for everyone, they'd ask which one they were on, Road To Rebellion or Rebellion. I ended up icing the idea. The number of pure Muay Thai shows wasn't there. That's when we come up with Roots Muay Thai. it's grassroots, Roots. I've got a weird obsession with Reggae. Each one of them is named after a different Bob Marley song. The first one was Exodus, then one was One Love. All the guys wore either black or white shorts it's got the Rasta colours. We get Jessie from PBS, he DJs all day. It's really chilled. It's still Muay Thai, but I like having that contradiction of everyone thinking it's a fight sport expecting ACDC. But, you come to my show, and it's Bob Marley and Fat Freddy's Drop.
It's a really cool show, what we do is of it in the afternoon. Two full pro shows. It's guys who are pro, but they haven't had many fights. We put on 13-14 fights, shut down for an hour. Then do the big Rebellion show at night.
Brenton That's crazy, to think from your second show, you went from Australia's second-best fighter sitting there as a backup fighter, that's quite an achievement.
Sy Yeah. it's really funny. The thing with promoting, professional fighters, if you pay them they'll fight. Anyone can offer a fighter. It's getting them matched evenly, having a depth of a card. Some of the guys that message me and say that so and so is dying to come and fight on your show. I'm usually a big fan of that dude ..
Brenton And you gotta keep it cool.
Sy Yeah, the guy that's on my next show .. the number of times I've watched his YouTube videos of him kicking pads before I kick pads [crosstalk 00:17:58] -
Brenton For inspiration -
Sy -I’m like a fan. Then I get a Facebook message from the manager of him holding a pair of Rebellion shirts and saying that he's dying to come to Melbourne to fight on your show. For the last month I'm getting Instagram messages from him.
Brenton These events are getting a lot of attention on the world stage, what percentage of the fighters on these events are international, you talk about Australia's best sitting as a backup to get on to your show?
Sy Look, we still have the cream of the crop Australian. We will get 2 or 3 good Thai fighters. At the end of the day the Thais are still the best at it, especially at the lighter weight classes. I don't like Muay Thai heavyweight classes. I prefer to watch K1 at a 90-kilo weight than Muay Thai. I think Thai boxing; the beauty of the style is the lighter guys do it better. We get random guys from Scotland, the last guy was from Slovakia, nobody knew him. He came and fought Toby Smith, it was an incredible five round fight.
Mac Who won?
Sy Today, it's hard to beat him. Jakub, they fought at 76 kilos, but he's a metre 96 tall. Today's fight style is a clincher and kneer. It was the first time ever that somebody laid into him.
Toby clearly won, but it was insane.
Brenton Muay Thai is a different beat. I'm not professing to know much, you got this entire underground world of Muay Thai fighters that could be future champions that people don't even know about. There's so many shows, and people live and breathe Muay Thai, in Thailand. So many of these people are waiting for their opportunity.
Sy You'll watch UFC and they talk about word class Mau Thai, and those guys are good strikers for an MMA standard. But at the end of the day there's the number 30 ranked guy in Thailand is a million times better. When you see the guys, who are up to 65 kilos, Thais who are top ten level, it's something else. Until you're there live, you just go ..even our Thai trainer, he's retired, but he had 110 fights, 102 wins. You watch that guy kick, then watch the next best guy you know kick, you see it's a different thing. They're phenomenal. We've got a good kid coming up at 55 kilos, he's in Thailand living. There's these random guys in places coming up, Thailand by far the strongest. There's random guys you get, the English and French are great at it. AMerica is quite behind, they have a couple of guys. Australia does well on the world scale. The calibre of guys out there, it's getting high. We've got a lot of Thai trainers here, guys go and stay there. Thais are teaching them more, it's not a thing where you go there and you're just a Farang and your annoying.
The knowledge is growing. The information's out there. The standards coming up, but still having a million people start Muay Thai at the age of seven, the guys you get out of that 20 years later is going to be different to 20-year-old starting, the way our hips are. They've been kicking since they were young. Culturally they know and understand it. I terrible at football, but I understand it's strategy. Whereas someone from Korea it would take them a long time to understand just the concert. Same with the Muay Thai guys, they understand how the scoring works everything. We’re still learning and we have our own misconceptions of how it is. There is only one style of scoring, it's Muay Thai. you wouldn't tell a Brazilian that that's not how he scores points for mount.
There's that weird thing, it's a standard, it's crazy.
Brenton I see new techniques changing the game in Jiu Jitsu year on year, different styles taking shape, is Muay Thai's still something that's evolving in style?
Sy Look, there's core basics of Muay Thai. if you watch how they fought 50 years ago, there's a difference. The fundamentals are there. Each region has a different style they favour. It gets a bit over used now, a few videos go around, they Muay Khao is really aggressive, there's Muay Mat which is more like what we do, then there's the Muay Femur, the beautiful stylists. You watch Sanchai and you want to know what he's doing.
In the western countries you'll notice we have a culture of boxing, people like to punch more. It's this argument where we say westerners have better hands. Thailand's won more medals in Olympic boxing then we have. There's a reason they don't emphasise boxing in Muay Thai, it's the scoring.
Mac They use the punches to set up knees and kicks.
Sy Muay Thai punches set up kicks and knees and elbows. It's a lot more dangerous punching. The westerners do tend to do that. We also start harder from round one. In the stadiums over there, the first two rounds they don't give much, they score it even, it's so the gamblers suss them out. Muay Thai survives there because of gambling. Round three onwards they fight their guts out. Round five, if they know they've won, they dance around for three minutes.
Brenton Is that to avoid unnecessary punishment, is it a respect thing?
Sy Those guys live and train out of a gym, their livelihood relies on fighting, there's no point in getting bashed when someone's clearly won. You have the option to still go for it. It's got it good and bad sides. It's happened on my show twice, I saw an Aussie guy fight a Thai, the Thai looked comfortable, the Aussie guy was hurting him, round five they backed off. Everyone said it was sill. I was really proud of him for that. I don't need to see someone get butchered to appreciate it. Generally, I will start hard from round one, till the last round goes, will still try and knock guys out.
Mac Do you find there's some sort of a conflict as a promoter, where the fans want to see them beat the shit out of each other, but you have concern for the welfare of the guys in the ring?
Sy It's the culture. The crowd is getting better. For me it's a struggle because I'm friends with a lot of the guys, the guys I bring from overseas I'm a fan of. When guys get knocked out I struggle with it. I've been with one of our own guys when they get knocked out, and I'm so grateful that a quarter of a second. When I was younger my trainer said I look a psycho until I hurt someone. That's a big struggle. I've matched 450 fights in the last six years, I have had under 20 knockouts. I match them up evenly. A lot of guys get matched against guys so they can build up their record, get titles and popularity. I just let them fight. If you lose you're still coming back. I don't wanna see one sided guys, it is a dangerous sport. It doesn't take much for people to get hurt. It doesn't need to happen. I don't want to make money off people getting hurt.
Brenton Talking matchups, everyone out there can dream up fights. McGregor Mayweather two in the octagon. GSP vs Anderson Silva. As a fight promoter and a matchmaker there's so much more to this, what goes into this process that fight fans might not understand?
Sy Suggestions on Facebook, people message all the time, my bros sick. There's things that stop things happening. There's financial things, giys being committed. But, generally I consider myself a fan of the sport. I think about the fights, part of it is an art, it's a feel thing. Part of it is understanding styes, there's guys you know that fight a certain way, if you match them someone else it's a lamb to the slaughter ..
Brenton Or you get two conservative fighters jump in and nobody pulls the trigger.
Sy It's not always A - B. you can get three guys fighting each other, and they get different results. That's the main thing. The record and who they've fought. You can look at two guys records, see they've both had 20 fights. Then there could be a guy who's had 20 fights, and he's fought a certain calibre of guys. You've got your age, then your fight career age. Everything. How long have you been fighting, there's a dip point for guys. Some guys hit their peak after 15 fights, some are still rising up a lot longer. Guys will see a guys had 70 fights, another has had 10, but that's an even match up. It's hard with combat sports, because they may ask if it's a fair fight.
There's that. Where they're at, their weight, their fitness level, how prepared they come in. generally, nowadays \I know a lot of guys want to get on the show. If they get the opportunity, they'll put up a good fight. They want to come back.
Brenton When you talk about fight age, I think of Shogun, at 24 he'd had so many fights, he went through Quinton Rampage, Overeem, and by the time he got to the UFC, the guy had been through so many wars.
Sy That's the most frustrating thing. Fedor wasn't that good, he was getting monkeys when he was fighting. Take a footy player, are they playing at a high level still. Fedor was playing ten years ago, he's off his peak. You can't say he's not as good as .. the John Wayne Parr and Toby thing. Who's the greatest fighter, people think it's not Wayne Parr because Toby knocked him out. Toby is 21, Wayne was 37 and had had 120 fights. Put them both at their peak .. I'm not so sure. I love Toby, John Wayne Parr is an idol. It's probably Parr, it's hard to tell. You can't do it.
Brenton The reality, when you hit the top of your game at that age, everyone is focusing on you and training to beat you. You're the guy to beat. When you're at the top you're not fixating on anyone.
Sy You go to Jiu jitsu school and you're a white belt, and there's that purple belt you couldn't get close to. Five years later your closer to him. You're closer to your instructor. There's that learning curve. There's a lot of things fight fans don't .. it's like politics. I stopped watching Fox News because it pissed me off. I have to avoid fight forums a lot, the promoter thinks it great, talk shit, build up fights. At the last show, there was a French guy that was coming to fight, he ended up getting injured. I had to message him to say sorry, the Aussie fans didn't know who he was. This other guy people didn't think he looked like much. Look, it's great you have an opinion. What's that based on? By the end of the night I was running around shouting at guys I knew had said stuff. It probably isn't professional.
Mac How do you like me now bitch?
Sy When you talk the match making thing, Toby is a clinch fighter. This French guy he puts a video of him hitting pads, he keeps dropping his hand. People were saying, “His hands are low” ..
Brenton People used to say that about Cro Cop.
Sy Yeah. exactly. I sat for awhile and didn't want to engage. In the end I said that Toby wins by knees and elbows, he hasn't dropped people with hands for years. This guy they call him Dr Knee. he won his first 25 fights by knee stoppage. He's over in a meter 90 tall. There's a reason I've matched it. They just don't get it.
Brenton It makes me think of Sammy Shilt, he throws knees like jabs.
Sy Yeah, he had that teep, where it was like a toe poke. He used to knee, it's like .. we've got a guy, the first time he fought on my show he was 65 kilos, he sends me photos for the [inaudible 00:35:21] George Mann. I kept sending it back saying I can't put it on the poster. He looks like a school boy. I know he's a good fighter, he comes out and I ask him how tall he is. 6 feet four and 65 kilos. Man, shit. Uses his body, uses his front kick and knees, if you look at the body, it's made for that style. You can match him up, where you think someone will smash him. George will do the job.
Brenton Range is very important. Sometimes you get exceptional fighters that come through. Sometimes it must be difficult to work with them, how do you manage that?
Mac Had any prima donnas?
Sy In Muay Thai, not a lot. The guys you get, that are like that, it's the weirdest thing. I don't wanna blame MMA culture. But it's the guys who have had two fights, they have an athlete page on Facebook, they have seven sponsors and the sponsors probably give them 5% off purchases. They show up, those guys, I don't deal with them once they're difficult. The good guys in Muay Thai, almost 100% of them are the worst at promoting themselves. Toby doesn't post on Instagram, if he pushed out live stream details you'd send an ext [mumble 00:37:15] His greatest interview that I bring up, he fought in an 8 man a few years ago, he's in the final and Mike Hammer's interviewing him. He does a big thing, asks him how he prepared. He goes, “I've done Muay Thai.” he just has no self-promotion. Last week we interviewed a girl who's had ten fights, if we were gonna write a script to promote Muay Thai, she just perfectly spoken, knew what to say. Some of the guys, they're just fighters. That's fine, they promote the event in a different way.
Brenton Toby was 18 then, how old is he now?
Sy 23, 24. The main guys that are competitive opponents for him, they also cross over to organisations like Glory, they have a little bit more money. They're not paid a lot, but it's getting harder. It's getting harder to match him. I have him on the August show, I've been talking to French guys that are tall clinchers. The Thais at that weight, it's not a good weight for them.
Brenton How often are you running these Rebellion shows?
Sy Four times a year, March, May, August, November. Every day we do two shows. We did one in Sydney in 2016, there's always a plan to do another. I come up with other things.
Mac Each event is Roots and then Rebellion?
Mac That's awesome.
Sy It's challenging. We get a venue that's a shell at 7am, then we leave at 3am the next day. This whole thing happens in between. The guys who help out on the day are legends. You get to Monday and [makes panting noise 00:39:31] Brenton Why run two shows on the same day?
Sy The Roots, there's a lot of gyms in Melbourne that wouldn't be able to have fighter son Rebellion. I find Roots is a good crossover for them to get in, see how we run the show, how the scoring works. Then the fans, if you buy tickets for one, you can come to the other. Their fans, I might be a fan of my mate, I’ll watch him fight, then I’ll stay and watch the other guys. I'm trying to bring new fighters and new fans into it. It's working well. Helping develop relationships with a few .. guys will fly themselves from Perth. Normally we pay and fly fighters over. For the Root shows, people from interstate will make their own way down.
Brenton So as a Jitsu guy, BOA 8 is like the Olympics for Jiu jitsu, it happens every two years. Glad we don't have to wait four.
Sy It was almost three years.
Brenton We are approaching the fourth addition of BOA 8, yet another star-studded event. We had Roberto, I still show him, I show that dragon ball z entrance. You had guys like Marus Souza, Leon Netto, so many more to name. There's always big news for these shows. How did BOA 8 begin, what's it about?
Sy I like all fight sports. It's this weird thing. I get guys that are my Muay Thai hero's calling me Mr Muay Thai, it's embarrassing. I love all fight sports. I joke about Enter The Dragon, the guy having the island and bringing the fighters, Bloodsport, I love that stuff.
Brenton That was an early MMA actually.
Mac It was.
Sy Years ago, friends of ours Charles start talking about pro Jiu jitsu. I started doing my tournaments for Rebellion. I realised it would be cool to do, I was talking about for ages. I wanted to do it. I like running events. I like fight sports, I get a creative outlet. It's a thing I do.
Brenton Bringing a vision to life.
Sy The second Road To Rebellion, Thiago came to watch. He walked in and said that it was huge. I told him I wanted to do it with Jiu Jitsu. It was good.
Mac Just to be clear it's Thiago ? couldn't make this out sorry ?
Sy Thiago was teaching at my old gym. We caught up and I told him what I wanted to do, asked him about the details. The first one, the response was ridiculous. I had an idea what I wanted it to look like. With Muay Thai it's regulated. The first BOA ..
Mac We were there man.
Sy The day before we put the stage together, the guy doing the staging calls [crosstalk 00:43:56]-
Brenton The pit of death.
Mac It's what it looked like.
Brenton It was an elevated stage. When people dream about arenas, the only thing missing was a moat of crocodiles.
Sy I decided I didn't want to do it on a boxing ring. I wanted this thing. I decided to build staging, I found a guy, he said he could do it at 60cms -
Brenton Are these health and safety requirements?
Sy No. he comes in to set it up. Said he had done another gig, so decided to change the legs of the stage to 120cm. I have zero concept of height. My friend reckons he can pick everybody's height by looking at them. I said yeah let's do it. I went to get coffee. Come back and the stages were up. It's high. He builds it out, we build the ramp, the seating. He builds the seating all the way to the balcony. I was watching, I walked out, messaged my friend and said there should have been an adult here. It was ludicrous. There's nothing around the stage.
Brenton I remember thinking it was going to be the first and last BOA.
Sy I was wondering who was coming to help. I needed a bunch of guys to sit around the thing ..
Mac To hold people in place.
Sy Exactly, if it looks like they're gonna fall off ..
Brenton Like Pride, just push them back in.
Sy We did tickets online, the they walked in and they seen lights, music.
One of my Muay Thai friends showed up. He asked if Combat Sports regulated it. I said no, I do. The first one was good. It was funny. The main event was Diaz and Bruno Alvez. My worst memory of BJJ tournament, is where there's ten minutes where guys are screaming about the decision. I remember the final happened, and it was all the controversy.
Brenton They restarted in an omoplata with a choke on.
Sy Guys are running to me saying I had to change it. I'm the world's longest running white belt, I won't say the rule wasn't right.
Brenton I had an idea that you were the longest serving blue belt.
Sy 23 years. I go to just before blue and stop. I was standing there and Graham Johnson, his brother was there at one of the tables. He's just screaming, I look at him wanting to know what he wanted me to do. Thiago knew I hated the arguing. He said he's never doing it again. We did it. The reaction was massive, three months later was number two. I lowered the stage. Marcus in the first one, he cartwheeled off and landed on his feet.
Brenton He's an athletic guy, he’ll be fine.
Sy Setting up the second one was so much work. Me and a few guys got in early, had girls from the gym underneath the stages taking them apart. We had to get the stuff out.
Setting it up and taking down is, there's so much going on with running an event people don't see. Building staging is time consuming.
The third one we did in a theatre. We did the whole curtain raise. The atmosphere wasn't the same. Some of the athletes liked it. For me, I get my charge of people, I thought it would be cool. We’re behind the back of house, not interacting with people. To go out there we had to exit the venue. You didn't know what was happening. I found it weird. There was elements I loved, I'm a fight sports guy, but I'm doing an iconic theatre. The fighters came out beautifully. That one was, it didn't have the energy at all. It was just stuff happening that made me think I didn't want to of it anymore. Rebellion was growing. But people kept messaging me all the time.
Mac When's the next BOA?
Sy Yeah. The guys Grant and Scott from Fight Factory, they were supporters from day one. I caught up with them and they asked when I was doing it again. I said I'd do it in July, a year went past. Everyone's messaging and tagging photos. I'd go on the page and put up a photo to keep it going.
At the same time I'm doing Rebellion. I have a thing where I want to do a three-day fight festival with all these different martial arts. Couple of the guys involved said that it's the best combat sports event they'd been too. It's a unique thing, the event being in there, that's essentially what I want. I want people to say Holy Fuck. then go out and do Muay Thai. give them an aspirational thing to do. We achieved it with that. I went off for three years.
Brenton Thank you for returning to it. What's happening with this next edition, what are we gonna see?
Sy You're gonna see a few extra things. It's the more days go by, the more things come up. I didn't want to come back and it be what it was last time. Three years have gone by, there's guys who are loyal and I don't want them to be unimpressed. I want them to love it. Doing it, it has to have that pay off for me, this is spectacular. Few things different, the biggest thing was, the first event we had our own rule sets. It was IBJJF rules with alterations. Now, it's gonna be ADCC rules. It was a GI event, this is NoGi ACC.
Brenton Leg locks, everything the fans wanna see.
Sy I don't like the idea of a fight spry having too many rule sets, the ADCC rules, it's established. Everyone says I should do sub only, but that creates issues in a tournament format.
Brenton Yeah, how do you determine a winner?
Sy Exactly. That's one of the main things. The first event, the prize money was $5,000. It's $20,000 now.
Brenton That's crazy.
Sy First place, you walk away with it.
Brenton Apart from Abu Dhabi, nobody's paying that much. Pro Jitsu events, in the last few years, when BOA came out.. $20,000 is incredible.
Sy I seen video, they went to Sodashi, and he had the belt. Even at the thing he was saying how heavy the belt was. The next day I went to give him his money and he told me he slept with the belt. This is something we've made that's important.
I looked around and didn't see any events where it's an eight man with that sort of prize money. I can come in with a bang. It's predominantly going to be overseas fighters. I want people to see people they've only dreamt of seeing. Going back on the Facebook thing, I've asked so many times who people want to see.
Brenton I've been tagged in this.
Mac I'm embarrassed for you.
Brenton Thank you.
Sy I put it up, I've had people Boraks been tagged 800 time's. I like him. People message me. I'm putting up prize money, I'll fly people out. Do you really want to see six people from Melbourne fighting in this?
That's been a bit challenging. The six guys that are in, one that was obvious was Grex, he was always gonna be in.
Brenton Interesting timing. He's just had a phenomenal year of Jitsu.
Sy The weight classes are the same as the first one.
Brenton 88 kilos?
Sy Yeah. the Craig thing happened and it all gelled well into the other.
Brenton It's funny you brought them up. Both of them have fought on BOA, Borak beat Craig a few years ago.
Sy The first one.
Brenton Very different fighters now.
Sy That and .. Craig come on, we put the information out, and it became a running joke. People like [inaudible] were messaging, I mentioned he had a contract with ACB. he said they can't compete on it. The level of guys I've had, if it's an open and anyone can enter, we can come.
Brenton Can you have a tournament that allows them to qualify then enter?
Sy You can do that. You can also do an elite open. Have novice, intermediate, advanced. Then an elite open. The elite open requirements is that you've placed in top two in the world at an event. Which would narrow them down. I don't really wanna mess with the Cheznian guys and their rules.
I had so many guys. I was gonna get Jackson Souza.
Brenton I was talking about that the other day. I was thinking how can we mastermind getting these fan favourites on.
Sy It got to a point, Jackson was talking, he said he was gonna sign the contract. The guys we had, we end up with a pretty cool lineup. Craigs on, Charles is on, DJ Jacksons on, Gilbert Burns.
Brenton Current UFC fighter, Brazilian BJJ champion.
Sy Yep. James Brasco is a funny one man, he started messaging me and I thought this guy's a dick. Now, he's the coolest dude I've ever spoke to. He's funny as hell, as a Facebook friend, his politics and stuff is cool. The other day he said he's coming all guns blazing.
We've got the seven. It's an eight spot. There's all these guys in Melbourne. People are messaging me thinking I’ll do it. There's a few guys that make a good point for this. May 26th, we’re gonna do the BOA challenger series. I haven't got enough stuff to do. It will be a tournament to qualify for the final spot. Been waiting on a venue to get back to me but they didn't. I've got a cool venue in Morab, it's an American barbeque place. They have a car park/function area. The warehouse is called Warehouse 35. The feel of it's gonna be different. DJ and all that. Have the event run, and I'm gonna put up 2 grand for the winner. They get the money and the main eight-man entry.
You might have a suggestion, it's a night time event. Might put up some fights, guys who want a match up. Maybe a brown belt tournament. Just we’re there. We got the matt. The challenger series May 26th and BOA Super 8 June 23, the BOA Open June which is the straight Gi and NoGi tournament. With the addition that the finals of the black belt division will be the opening fights of the BOA night. If you make the final, you come back at night and compete at BOA Super 8 on Flo Grappling in front of everyone.
Brenton Flo Grappling, that's massive. It's the premier broadcast for Jiu Jitsu and grappling. How did that come about?
Sy They contacted me after the last event, I said I didn't know when the next one would be. When this started to gain momentum I sent a message, I sent it to one of the guys private messages. He didn't look at it, but he messaged me through the BOA page. I was planning on doing BOA last year, but getting the venue was getting crazy. It just got pushed back. I thought the guy was stringing us along. I got my brain around how to so this. It's great, being on Flo it will be good exposure for the event. Good exposure for the Australian scene. Hopefully, as we get sponsors it will be good exposure for them. Hopefully people don't decide to just sit at home and watch it on Flo, because if we don't have an audience it won't happen again.
Brenton I've booked my VIP table, I'm there front and centre.
Brenton What I'm learning from this is like that Kevin Costner movie, “If you build it they will come.”
Sy Yeah. They do, it's like everyone, you do stuff and you get self-doubt. But people come. Even BOA will be my 37th event in six years, and I'm still wondering if people want to come. It's like your birthday party when you're a kid all over again. I think people will come.
Brenton These spectacles are very different. People say they don't wanna see a Jiu Jitsu event, people's fights are running on time. You wait two hours for your friend to fight and it lasts five minutes. These are perfectly structured events.
Mac Spectator events.
Brenton Incredible. $20,000 for the winner. As far as these fighters, what else can we expect?
Sy There will be, the black belts will be competing..
Brenton Is that gonna be Gi?
Sy Gi and NoGi.
Brenton There's gonna be a qualifier during the day?
Sy We have a very big venue. When you come in there will be an area that will be the arena. It will be open for the event at night. There’ll be a food area, then the six mats for the comp. That will go on all day, then at night time, the arena opens for ticket holders. The black belts, their final matches they'll have at the opening. Then we’ll have super fights and the tournament.
Brenton Incredible. With some of the super star names you've gotten, are all these dudes approaching you?
Sy Thiago did the whole of the matchmaking for the last ones. This one, I approached some, and some approached me. I had a few guys help research. Obviously, some of them have contractual obligations. Some of those guys were off the menu. I think those things will open up in a couple of years. For the show, we want high level competitors, popular. It's got to be a good balance.
Brenton How do you balance that. You have talented fighters, but they don't always yield an entertaining watch. People bring up GSP, when he won his belt it became about not losing it. As a matchmaker, how do you go about ensuring you get the healthy balance?
Sy Some of it is .. for it to be a sport you can never dismiss someone because they're boring. I get this a lot, guys messaging me about Borat saying they will put on a big show. They can say that, but if they get submitted in the first 30 seconds, they're not putting on a show. So you've got to be good at what you do. Researching social media pages, reading the profiles online, watching their fights, all that stuff is accessible. Any of the stuff .. you gotta do it. I had a guy research for me, come up with all the top guys. I started looking more so I wasn't looking through 1000 names. I went through the research. Once Flo Grappling came up, a few people got tagged and approached me. I sussed them out and got a vibe off them. I asked people and asked who would give Craig a hard fight.
Brenton Did he name me?
Sy Yeah. you meet some guys and they'll say they want the easy fights, then I've found [crosstalk 01:08:32] Brenton ..seven white belts.
Sy Yeah. Over time, I've realised who wants to be in it for the challenge, and the guys who want to win the money. The guys up for the challenge, they're the guys we want. I don't think Craig wants to be part of something that will be a walkover. He says the guys i've got are good. Most people want Australian Jiu Jitsu on the world scene. Everyone's rooting for it that way. There are always selfish people who say other stuff. I've had feedback from him, Millai, I bounce ideas off him. I've got friends who are Jiu Jitsu fans, they know the names more than I do. I'm trying to stay on top of Muay Thai. I get their opinions too. The depth of it's good.
Brenton Is there a few international names that could be arriving?
Sy Yeah. there's one that's been in the grappling world news a lot lately, I'm working him out to get here. Don't guess, because if I can't do it it's bad for all of us.
I'm trying to do that, part of it is the response to the show so far gauges how deep I wanna go in with bringing in names and paying them.
Brenton How do you work that out, you think of fantasy matchups. The UFC has a lot of controversy with its matchups, at the end of the day it's an entertainment industry, people will buy the PPVs, you need sponsors, it needs to be viable. How do you manage that?
Sy I'm not being modest. That's my weakest point. I spend first, then figure out how it comes back. A lot of my Muay Thai shows, the amount of money I've lost. I tell people and they say holy shit.
The scary thing my accountant hates is that I keep 99% of the stuff in my head. Then I write it down a week out. My Rebellion cards, I've matched 27 fights, I only started writing it down a week ago, just so I could give it to Combat Sports. I've got a good feel of rit. You've got to balance that. It's happening with the pro shows now, big chunks of money come in. it makes it harder for people like me. I don't have a lot of sponsors, I do it off ticket sales. Those shows come in and they're a bump, there's only so much money coming into the sport for how much people are spending on it. I try to be consistent, not stupid, the way we spend the money.
Brenton Fighter sin contracts, what's your view on that?
Sy I think it makes perfect sense that they exist. There's a guy I use, who makes incredible videos for me. He's done it as a freelancer, now he's a fulltime employee for my promotions company and my two gyms. We make interviews on fighters, we spend a whole week editing. We build up a fighter, they have no contractual tie to me. We build them up and they fight on Rebellion. I've got no guarantee that's ever gonna come back to me. There's guys I've built up fighting on another show on the same night as me. It's not a loyalty thing, there's no obligation to do anything that way. It's happened the reverse way too. It happens.
Contractually it makes sense. People can say what they want about the UFC, if Dana didn't do it the way they do it, we’d still be watching VHS tapes from Sydney.
I struggle to say that they're tied into me. You can contract someone and say he can only fight on BOA, I only do two BOAs a year. Same with Muay Thai, the money's not that good. I can't say for them to just fight for me. Sometimes I can't get them matchups.
There's things I wanna do, I want to give fighter opportunities elsewhere. If a guys a superstar in Melbourne he's always gonna be that.
Brenton You brought up your Outliers promotion, you have Rebellion Muay Thai, Roots, BOA, your two guys, what's Outliers about?
Sy Outliers is the name of the company we are putting above Rebellion, Roots, BOA.
Brenton You're literally Floyd Money Mayweather.
Sy This is random, I can't explain why this book had an effect on me. My favourite book is Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. I read it and for some reason it sent me off the rails. It explains why people end up doing what they do, the circumstances. If I hadn't moved because there was a war in Iran, then I met this person and I met these Thais, I wouldn't have the opportunity to do this thing. All these things that have happened. I also think guys like William, and Tom my videographer, they're outliers, they're not normal dudes.
Brenton You all struggle to find some class here.
Sy They're phenomenal. I get asked if people can come and photograph the show all the time. If you're there, I can control what you see. If you're not there, I'm still gonna control what you see of Rebellion. You're gonna see what Will takes, it's what represents my show.
That's why the Outliers thing happened. I don't know how, I do want to run some different events. I want to get into boxing. The ProAm events. I want to run a big fight festival. Outliers covers that. I like coming up with names.
Brenton More things for LinkedIn. Have you considered going into the MMA world?
Sy People ask me super regularly. Everyone. There's a few things. I stand with the boxing culture, I struggle with the MMA culture.
Mac What is it specifically?
Sy Jiu Jitsu, the guys they love it. Essentially with Muay Thai, I'm dealing with ..
Mac Martial artists.
Sy Yeah, martial artists. MMA kinda different. I find the people wanna see that being in the cage thing. I still like Pride.
Brenton I don't know what it is about Pride. It was incredible, it was just ..
Sy Exactly. It sounds conceited, but I think I could have a shot at doing the greatest Muay Thai show in the world. I could do the greatest Jiu Jitsu show in the world. I don't think I'm ever gonna beat the UFC.
Brenton I'm not making any claim to fame with the Jiu Jitsu. I've competed at some of the biggest shows, like Abu Dhabi. Shout out to Livya who's in the finals soon. I've been on the pilgrimage to go to these shows. BOA 8 is incredible. I believe you can put on these great shows.
Sy I've got a few friends who say it's the best Muay Thai event. I don't feel it's that way. If it was, then I'm done. That's an aspiration it's achievable but might never happen. I'm never gonna be bigger than the UFC, they do it better than anyone. Bellator tries, but they get recycled UFC fighters. My idea of what it should be, it might happen one day, but it's not something I'm interested in. as far as competition and fights, there's more MMA fans than competitors.
Brenton I find they're funny as well. Look at MMA at our gym, we’re producing world champions in BJJ, it's a very different thing. As far as your aspiration, what do you need to take these events to the next level?
Sy One of the big parts is Outliers and Fightsports, we don't want to be single events. We want to be a thing. That being the Vice of fight sports. We do a lot of content on fighters. We want the events to be part of a thing, not the events be the thing. I want people ..
Brenton Like a journey?
Sy Yeah. I said to Tom that I want to have a thing of Rebellion on Netflix, I want people to see the fighters. When it comes to boxing I look forward to the HBO 247 series than the fights. That draws me in. UFC blew up because of the Ultimate Fighter. Tournaments are a perfect example of that. You can come to Rebellion and know nothing about Muay Thai. when we do those eight mans at the end of the year, watch the first round and you have a favourite by the end of it. You see that develop. Same with BOA, you'll come to it, not know who the guys are, by the end of it you have a guy and you're the biggest fan of him. If we can get background content, it makes it interesting. Fighters, they've got all this other stuff going on. We all get into martial arts for some reason. There's a question you want to answer. Once you get that story, and how it comes in with the combat, it's interesting. There's a whole lot to what you guys do, there's so much to this world we have. I think the better we can do every bit of this, the more it will grow for everyone. I don't think you need to be the only promotion in the world. If you're the only strong gym in a city, who are you competing against. We need the whole industry to get more professional. For me to get bigger events, I got to be at a point where I can call a venue and moot spend four years trying to convince them to let me hold an event there. I did BOA at the National Theatre, they wrote a letter saying it was professional.
We need those things growing, you need a culture around it. Not everyone about themselves.
Brenton We talk about it being an entertainment industry., the stories are what fans come along on the journey for. When it comes to a fighter, it's more than getting in the ring the motivations, the triggers, what's the story. Is it the pay check, or the fact you want to be in front of a crowd?
Sy There's different martial arts, a lot of the threads [inaudible 01:25:13] somethings culturally very different. I deal with the Brazilian guys for BOA and drill with Thai guys, it's a different thing. There's a lot of interesting stuff. For me the funniest thing in the world is I talk to Muay Thai guys on messenger, and Jiu Jitsu guys on WhatsApp. It's just weird things.
If you can capture that, we have an interesting industry that's misrepresented by people's outside perception. UFC shows a different side of it, the whole throwing aa trolley through a window. If someone did that fighting for Rebellion and they were selling a thousand tickets, I'd still sack them. We don't need that. It's a different thing. There's so much to it.
Brenton You mentioned something about you needing the competition to foster that competition that drives a better outcome. What are your thoughts on the UFC, should it be a monopoly, do we need more organisations out there helping raise that bar?
Sy It's two sided, I've had this joke with Tom where I tell him I feel like, there should be a dictatorship of four years with Muay Thai. where I can just make sure everything's right.
Mac Start punishing people.
Sy You needed that single minded organisation to grow MMA to what it's become. There's guys that don't know what UFC was. They don't know what Jiu Jitsu was. These guys have grown it, you needed those. Now, it's gonna be hard, you need competition. When you say this guy is the champion of the world, it's like the NBA, you're the basketball champion of an American organisation.
Brenton American football, world series, who are they competing with?
Sy Even here, there's Muay Thai shows that say you're the world champion, or Lion Fight champion. It's not really a world champion. For the UFC, because they contract the fighters, they run the promotion, and they're the sanctioning body, you can say that's a true world champion. I don't think there's anybody better than the UFC champions. For it to open up, you need other events. It's gonna be difficult.
Brenton You have a few things on the horizon, you have the Netflix potential going on.
Sy We don't have anything with Netflix, that's an aspiration.
Mac And a noble one.
Brenton For the Netflix employees listening. What else is on the horizon?
Sy I've got the two gyms, William Street gym, and Box on North which we just started.
Mac Where is that sorry?
Sy North Road, Almond. That's growing slowly. My gym, I still teach 20 hours a week.
Brenton Just because you haven't got enough to do.
Sy Yeah yeah. We've got general people training and a few fighting. Last night we had a guy get screwed over by a ref in a boxing fight. It doesn't matter. Events, BOA, Rebellion, Roots, whatever else comes. The most exciting thing is the stuff we are doing with Tom. when I was at uni I wanted to be a journalist. With his ability to film and story tell and my ability to drive him to the places. We can make some cool stuff. I'd love to get some really good quality in depth, content out about fighters, and grapplers, and boxers, thai boxers and coaches. We are gonna only do Muay Thai stuff, then I said I wanted to go and talk to my old wrestling coach. That dudes been around forever. He's sometimes not the easiest person to get along with. He's got so many stories, there's boxing trainers in Melbourne. There's all these guys with history. We want to get into that, obviously there's time restrictions, we have so many things coming up. That's the other part of what we want to get into. I mentioned we started doing a Muay Thai podcast. We've just recorded three of those, hopefully get them in YouTube.
Brenton What's it called?
Sy We’re probably gonna muck it around, we’re gonna use it as the Rebellion podcast to start with. If there's other fight sports involved too, it will go with the Outliers of combat sort of thing. We were at a fight show, Judd reed is there, my Irish boxer that fought was asking me to send the Kumite thing where they fight 100 rounds. We show up to the changing rooms, Judd Reed is there. He's one of the only non-Japanese that's ever done it. I said he did the kumite, he was the [I really don't know how to spell these words 01:31:35] he was a living student with the founders. He would be interesting. John Will, one of the people that influenced me the most. I'd love to sit and talk with him. There's a lot of people.
Brenton He's one of the dirty dozen. The pioneering Jiu Jitsu legends who popularised Jiu Jitsu in Australia.
Mac He's one of the most referenced guys we've had on this show. We haven't had him on, but we've spoken about him more times than anybody else.
Sy I look back, two sporting people that influenced me were my PE teacher in high school, then John as well. I was 16 when I started doing shoot fighting. I remember the energy difference between when he taught a class and other people did. I realised early on that I was going to be a coach. His style, and his energy, he's got a unique charisma. He's a really phenomenal dude. His history in martial arts is phenomenal.
Brenton Absolutely. I appreciate you coming on. Anything we've missed out?
Sy I think I've talked your ears off. Thank you for doing this.
Mac Absolute pleasure man,
Sy Helping get the word out for BOA, hopefully it will be a lot more regular than once every three years.
Sy We’ll see how this next one goes. But, the plan is to get a couple out in a year. Really try to do some cool stuff.
Brenton How can people get tickets?
Sy Jump on boasuper8.com there's a link there. We open up the ticketing on Tuesday night, all the front row tickets and most the table seating has gone. It's been a good response.
Mac Good sign.
Sy It has been. Please come and support the event, we need those people there. If you want to compete in the open it's on bjjcomp.com Boa Open, it will be a well-run event.
Pat and Anton have been awesome helping organise that. Zebra Matts have helped with the matts and stuff. That whole day, it's gonna be a Jiu Jitsu festival. Jiu Jitsu in the day, then your normal tournament, an Australian open type thing. If you're keen to compete, come in, we’ll make sure it's gonna run, have good food there. May 26th I’ll put up details for the Challenger Series. If there's any super fights you wanna see on the challenger series, inbox the BOA Facebook or Instagram. What am I 17?
Mac There will be a flood of suggestions.
Brenton The first 11 Borat. I've competed against him in the past.
Mac Brenton vs Borat.