As he inducted Marc Ratner into the UFC Hall of Fame last summer, UFC Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Epstein made a salient point.
“One this ceremony is done, Mr. Ratner will be a Jeopardy! question: the only person in the Boxing Hall Of Fame and the UFC Hall of Fame. ‘Who is Marc Ratner?’”
Lorenzo Fertitta, former CEO and co-owner of the UFC, crystallized Ratner’s contributions in his portion of the induction.
“A lot of new fans can take the mainstream nature of the UFC for granted now…Marc had the vision to see MMA for what it really was: a beautiful combat sport with highly trained, disciplined athletes who deserve the regulation and respect of boxing, or any other sport, for that matter.”
Noting Ratner’s quiet, humble and selfless persona, Fertitta added, “This whole induction is probably embarrassing for him right now.”
Mr. Ratner himself echoed those exact sentiments as he sat down to discuss his fantastic new book Ringside: My Life Outside The Ropes And The Octagon.
“Being in these halls of fame, it’s really tough for me there. Like in the Boxing Hall of Fame, when I went to speak, I had to step over Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler, make sure I didn’t step on their shoes; they were all sitting right there when I got up to speak. My first thought is, ‘What am I doing here?’” Then with our UFC Hall of Fame…it’s always about the fighters. We’re the background guys, so that part is hard for me, still. When somebody says, “You’re in the Hall of Fame,” it’s a little bit surreal.
Surreal perhaps, but the glory is not unwarranted. There aren’t any words capable of overstating Ratner’s impact on sports broadly, and combat sports specifically. After a decorated career at the Nevada State Athletic Commission during one of boxing’s golden ages, his status as a respected regulator was positively instrumental in allowing the UFC to evolve from its legality in a handful of states to the international juggernaut it is today.
“The sport of mixed martial arts and the UFC simply do not exist in their current form without Marc Ratner,” said Epstein.
A people person in the greatest sense of the word, you can find Marc Ratner nearly every morning walking the hallways of the UFC headquarters greeting everyone—regardless of their station or tenure--with a smile, a wave and often a conversation. “I don’t like to stay in my office,” he says. “I like to walk around and say hello.” It sounds simple, but it’s practice that has endeared him to everyone in his distinguished career.
"I've known Marc a lot of years, first through boxing and then MMA,” says longtime boxing writer and UFC.com editorial director Thomas Gerbasi. “The thing you always hear is that he's the one person no one has anything bad to say about. And that's true. And so rare. But as great as he is as a human being, you tend to forget that he may be the best regulator we've ever seen in combat sports, and his track record proves it."
From seeing the Beatles, The Rat Pack and Elvis (and more recently, Metallica) to meeting Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali, to being in both locker rooms for the SuperFight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor, there are more things to ask Marc Ratner than anyone would have time for in just one meeting. Luckily for us, he’s compiled many of those tales in Ringside, available now on Amazon. Whether you’re a new fan of MMA or a longtime hardcore, the book is a treasure of both history and insights from one of the great minds ever in combat sports, and it was our great thrill to discuss it with him.
UFC: Everyone who knows you remarks on how humble you are, how you never seek credit for anything. But are you able – every once in a while—to sit back and appreciate that we’re able to enjoy the sport the way we do because of the work you’ve done?
Marc Ratner: When we finally got the approval in New York, we finally got it signed after all that time—eight years—I remember at the weigh-in [for UFC 205 in 2016] I looked around and even the weigh-in was packed. I did feel like a proud father in a way. Then the next night at the fights was the culmination of everything. Conor McGregor and Eddie Alvarez fought a good fight, the crowd was electric…that was a crowning moment.
When we were in the legislature when they voted, that was emotional for me because that made all that work worth it. But what I’ve said over and over is that it was a lot more than me; I just happened to be the face of it.
UFC: You have a quote that describes your ethos as executive director of the NSAC, and it’s one of my favorite lines in the book: “Be invisible…but never absent.” Can you talk a little bit about that?
MR: One of my business tenets was that I never wanted it said that “Ratner was unavailable for comment.” I hate to this day when something happens - especially at the athletic commission - and I read this. So I always made sure, even if I couldn’t answer the question, I would at least call them back. My epitaph on the grave could be “he always called back.”
UFC: You even called the haters back!
MR: That was one of my favorite things! [Laughs]
UFC: How do you reconcile being someone who is so devoted to rules and regulations across numerous sports is also so respected and beloved at the same time?
MR: Just being fair. You have to communicate. I’ve found in life when you have different disputes in officiating - like a confrontation between an official and a coach - there’s three stories: the coach’s story, the official’s story and the real truth. You’ve got to listen to all sides, be fair and hope that’s what they think if the decision goes against them.
UFC: Now that you’re away from it, what do you make of the sport of boxing as it stands today?
MR: In boxing terms, you can knock it down, but it always comes back. It really revolves around the heavyweights and right now we have some good heavyweights with Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder. There’s a certain excitement about it. We found that, too, with heavyweights. There’s something special about heavyweights that can knock you out with one punch.
ORDER: "Ringside: My Life Outside The Ropes And The Octagon" By Marc Ratner
But I think boxing is healthier than it has been. Especially in the lightweight, welterweight, middleweight range, there’s a lot of good fighters now.
The marketing could be better, I believe. The thing we do as a company - The UFC - we try to fight these fighters against each other in their prime. Whereas in boxing, it sometimes takes too long and the magic that should have been there has faded. Maybe Mayweather and Pacquiao was too late. It should have been five years earlier, even though it was still a great fight. That’s really one of the differences I’ve found.
UFC: When the UFC came calling, you write that you could “smell the future.” What is it you were able to see that so many others couldn’t at the time?
MR: My whole thing there was my trust in Lorenzo Fertitta and Dana White. I can look down a street and have an idea, but Lorenzo, he can look around a corner somehow. That was the major thing in me coming here.
UFC: Of all the challenges you had in legitimizing the sport of MMA, which do you recall being the most difficult?
MR: Well, New York because it took so long. And it had nothing to do with MMA, it had to do with unions. The biggest hurdles for us really were going around from state to state and legislature to legislature, dealing with my contemporaries who just looked at it and said, “it’s not a sport.” So you had to educate. You had to show film. You had to talk it over. But it’s funny that when we would go to a state senator, or whatever it was, the staff all knew about the UFC.
So it was a long process, certainly. Mike Mersch was with me most of the time. It was a big, big help having a lawyer who could talk their language.
UFC: You talk about undergoing a “mind shift” when you undertook learning MMA after boxing. How long do you recall it taking until you were really comfortable with it?
MR: I watched a lot of videos and DVDs. What I couldn’t understand, especially in the first couple years, was how the fighter on the bottom sometimes wanted to be there and be able to use jiu-jitsu and win fights from there. I would say maybe three years. It was a while. Back then we weren’t doing fifty events a year.
I learned to appreciate the art of the fighting. There was a science to it; a move and a countermove. Like a chess game.
There was definitely a learning period. Coming from boxing, you can’t hit a guy when he’s down. That took time for me to get used to.
UFC: Of all the stories in your book, what’s the one that you still get asked about the most?
MR: “Fan Man”* and “The Bite Fight.” Even to this day, there’s been nothing like that. And to have it on worldwide television?
You just know that after everything calms down, on Monday after a Saturday it’s going to be wild for me, all the calls to my office.
UFC: You’ve refereed college football, you still supervise high school referees for all sports in the state of Nevada, you run the shot clock for the NBA summer league and UNLV basketball. You do work for the Las Vegas Raiders managing helmet communications…I used to think I was a busy person until I realized all the things you do, both inside and outside of the UFC. What’s your trick for time management?
MR: First of all, I have a passion for high school sports. I was a high school official; over 50 years of officiating. To this moment, every morning I have to do some high school stuff with either athletic administrators or coaches. Once again, it’s about communication, so I set aside a few minutes every morning. I have to make my wife a schedule saying, “I’ve got these UNLV games, these Raider games on Sunday.” We’ve been married over 35 years; she’s used to me doing this stuff. It’s delegating, too. I have a good assistant.
UFC: Do you still love it?
MR: Yeah. I’m still involved in high school sports, UNLV Rebels next week, USA Basketball may have a tournament in DC I’d come to. I’m not 50 anymore, I know where I am in life. But I still have enough energy [knocks on wood] to do all these things.
UFC: Both in your boxing days and now in your UFC career, are you able to enjoy the fight in the moment as a fan while you’re sitting there working, or does the enjoyment come later?
MR: A lot of times I re-watch the fight, because I’m watching in a different way. When you’re listening to the audio, in a way it flavors the way you watch the fight. Sometimes I’m forming opinions on what they’re saying, so I have to watch it again without sound. Because sometimes we have some controversial fights and when I watch I can see how the judges got it right or how they got it wrong.
Even when I’m doing the shot clock for UNLV basketball, they’ll say “Number 22 really had a great game.” I’m watching the ball, making sure the ball hits the rim, so I really don’t know—I just have an idea.
UFC: Either in boxing or MMA, which champion in your opinion did the best job of not being changed by the fame?
MR: In certain ways, like Mayweather when he was “Pretty Boy Floyd,” he realized if he became the heel and became “Money” Floyd, it sold better. Sometimes the personality is different in real life, but if you make people want to see you get beat, or make people want to see you, that’s the key.
I always thought Georges St-Pierre was pretty humble. He seems very real to me. In boxing, Mike Tyson by himself was like a history of boxing; he was really good. But you put the entourages around these guys, and they can’t be themselves.
UFC: What boxer from the past would do just as well today in the modern era?
MR: Skill-wise, there’s no question Sugar Ray Robinson was unbelievable. They were fighting 180 times a career! I think Alexis Arguello would have been fine. There’s a fighter who was killed in a wreck early in his career, Salvador Sanchez. I think Julio César Chávez, Roberto Duran, Hagler, Tommy Hearns, those guys, there’s no question in my mind that in this day and age they would do well. I was very lucky to be involved in boxing in the 80s and 90s with all these big fights.
UFC: Where is the UFC now on the scale of what you imagined it could become?
MR: When I came over, that was May of 2006, we never discussed anything but America. We weren’t someday going to Brazil, someday going to Mexico. That might have been in their minds, but this is 2006. If somebody had told me that many years ago that it would have grown into this, no, I wouldn’t have thought it then. But I think being involved with ESPN has changed everything. When I see the little crawl on the bottom of the screen saying ‘Fight Night’ or the results, that tells me that the sport has really arrived. I deal with a lot of hockey guys or NBA guys or college officials and they all want to talk to me about fights, about MMA. And that’s a big thing.
When I first took the job, I had some people tell me I was crazy. I thought I had the best job in boxing. One of them said, “once you leave, you can’t come back.” But I made the right move. Being on the ground floor of a sport—you can’t say you were on the ground floor of boxing or baseball—but it’s still evolving.
Grab your copy of Ringside: My Life Outside The Ropes And UFC Octagon. Available now exclusively from Amazon.
* “Fan Man” refers to the 1993 fight between Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe where a parachutist attempted to disrupt the bout by landing in the ring. “The Bite Fight” was the 1997 bout between Holyfield and Mike Tyson, in which Tyson bit off a piece of his opponent’s ear. Ratner’s account of both events in Ringside are unlike any that have preceded it.