Ryan Bennett: Remembering a True MMA Pioneer
If you are a "post TUF" fan of mixed martial arts—in other words, began following the sport once it hit mainstream acceptance—you most likely missed out on a number of early MMA figures that had profound impacts on the sport.
When it comes to people who made their mark on the sport outside the cage, perhaps none worked harder and influenced the sport journalisticly like Ryan Bennett.
One of the first professional broadcasters to dive into MMA purely out of love for the sport and not just in search of a paycheck, Bennett was the pre-Zuffa play-by-play voice for live WEC events and a post-fight interviewer for UFCs 33-40. He also co-founded MMAweekly.com, one of the most reputable online MMA news sources and the site that featured his popular daily radio program with veteran fighter Frank Trigg.
Sunday marked the the three-year anniversary of Bennett's untimely passing following a horrific car wreck that fortunately did not also claim the lives of his wife and four young children. He had been traveling through his home state of Utah when he over-corrected his drifting SUV, resulting in the rollover that claimed his life at age 36 and stunned the MMA community.
A charming and affable person both on the mic and off, Bennett's thorough knowledge of MMA made him a drastic upgrade from other MMA announcers that had no knowledge of the sport's history and couldn't tell a straight armlock from a kimura. His passion was evident daily on the radio show he hosted with Trigg, as the two often interviewed a who's who of MMA royalty and actively engaged their audience.
Ultimately, it was his professionalism that made Bennett such an asset to MMA; while many in the mainstream media were all too quick to dismiss it as spectacle rather than sport, Bennett, a former radio DJ who spent his final years as a sports anchor and reporter for NBC affiliate KSBY in San Luis Obispo, Calif., legitimized numerous MMA broadcasts with his seasoned voice and play-by-play ability.
While his greatest MMA exposure probably came during his post-fight discussions with fighters inside the UFC octagon, the promotion that was impacted most by his work—and tragic passing—was easily WEC.
Back when WEC was an independent promotion based out of Central California, Bennett teamed up with another UFC alum, Jeff Blatnik, and together they formed one of the better commentary duos in all of MMA, calling the action as many of today's current stars paid their dues fighting for WEC.
It was at one of these events, WEC 9: Cold Blooded in January 2004, that I met Bennett personally and quickly knew that the outgoing, friendly character he played on TV and radio was the same guy off the set.
I was fortunate to know one of the cageside judges for that show, and he set myself and another friend up with seats next to him, right in front of the action.
The most memorable part of the night was probably when TUF veteran John Polakowski made his debut against Olaf Alfonso—on six hour's notice because the hard brawling Alfonso's opponents kept dropping out—and the two proceeded to beat each other senseless for 15 minutes while those of us sitting cageside had to use the table aprons for cover as their blood rained upon us.
But I also won't forget my encounter with Bennett prior to the start of the action, and the helpful disposition he had when I introduced myself as a recent journalism graduate that was interested in reporting on MMA.
Without the slightest hint of arrogance or indifference, he briefly discussed the business with me before giving me the card of MMA Weekly's editor, and his strong encouragement gave me every indication that an application on my part would be respectfully considered.
As it turned out, I put my MMA writing aspirations on hold back then, but I knew there would be no better indoctrination into the online MMA world than under his guidance.
To this day, I miss throwing the headphones on at work and listening to Bennett and Trigg banter back-and-forth daily over my favorite sport, and I am far from the only one that misses his overall presence in MMA.
Former UFC World Light Heavyweight Champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson was one of the many MMA figures to express condolences and share memories of Bennett on MMA Weekly shortly after his passing.
"He was the only guy that I would get up early in the morning to do interviews with for (a) radio show," Jackson said. "I'd get up early for Ryan Bennett any day."
Tito Ortiz wasn't short on praise for him either, calling Bennett "one of the Top Five people responsible for building MMA."
The boss himself, Dana White, didn't hold back when describing the impact Bennett had made.
"This is a huge loss for the MMA community," he told MMA Weekly. "Ryan Bennett was one of the staunchest supporters of the sport over the years, and more importantly, he was a good man and someone who truly loved his family."
Indeed, the sport has had its share of tragedies in its short history, with Tapout founder Charles "Mask" Lewis' passing being the latest non-fighter death to rock the MMA world.
Mixed martial arts has also grown tremendously since Bennett's passing, with its popularity skyrocketing and its mainstream presence finally providing the payoff for so many people that helped it expand from near extinction less than a decade ago.
One can't help but imagine Bennett looking down these days, his constant smile fixed upon what has become of the sport he invested so much time and energy into.
Of course, since he wouldn't bother to assume credit for the impact he had on MMA, it's up to us to make sure it's not soon forgotten.
For more information on Ryan and his story, visit RyanBennett.org
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