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Strikeforce Matchmaker Rich Chou on How Fights Get Made

StrikeforceStrikeforce is less than two weeks away from promoting one of the biggest MMA shows of the year, when Fedor Emelianenko takes on Brett Rogers on CBS Nov. 7. But while fans are focusing on Fedor vs. Rogers, Strikeforce's new matchmaker, Rich Chou, said in an interview with FanHouse that his job is as much about making sure Strikeforce can put on scores of good undercard fights each year as it is about major main events.

Chou also talked about how Strikeforce goes about finding new fighters, and who he thinks the promotion's top prospects are. The full interview is below.

Michael David Smith: What is the job of matchmaker? Is it as simple as deciding, "This guy will fight this guy"?
Rich Chou: It's a little more complicated than that -- it's looking at the bigger picture of making every match a step toward a bigger goal. It's getting matches that have good storylines -- we're in the sports and the entertainment business and I think storylines are important.

Is it your job to decide who fights who, or is it Scott Coker or CBS or Showtime or the fighters themselves?
We have a world-class roster of guys who will fight anyone you put in front of them. I'm part of a team with Bob Cook and Scott Coker and we put together the fights, along with our partners at Showtime.

I thought you were hired to replace Bob Cook -- is he still involved in Strikeforce's matchmaking?
Yes, he's still part of the team. Bob is a talent consultant, but the bottom line is he's part of the team, and no matter what your title is, we just have a lot of people who view themselves as part of the team.

How much of your job is finding new fighters?
That's the most difficult part of the job and the most important part: Finding that next generation of fighters. Finding a guy who can start in the Challengers Series, grow and develop into a champion. I think Brett Rogers is a good example. When I was with EliteXC and we signed Brett no one knew who he was, and now he's worked his way up to where he's fighting Fedor on CBS. Sometimes signing the top free agents out there is what works, but what we're really trying to do is develop talent. Finding talented fighters who put on exciting fights is the key.

How do you find those young fighters?
YouTube has been a huge tool for us. We can get bios and records and letters from managers, but we've got to see them fight. If possible we like to see them live, and see if they represent the sport well. I think between Bob, Scott and me, our network in the fight community is pretty vast. We know trainers and managers all over the world, and we hear about all the top prospects. Many of the top prospects gravitate to the big camps, and those camps contact us.

Name for me a guy you consider to be one of Strikeforce's top prospects.
Tyron Woodley. We saw footage of him, we knew his wrestling pedigree was really solid, we gave him a shot and we found him to be the real deal. Those are the types of guys we're looking for: Young guys with the potential to be the best in the world.

You're going to do 20 shows in 2010?
At least 20.

So that's 200 fights or so that you'll be making next year.
Yeah, we're going to be looking for a lot of guys. We have a pretty full roster at the moment but we're looking at building up our roster. And there are certain guys you'll see fighting several times next year. Tyron is a good example: He just fought for us on Sept. 25, and he'll be back for us in Kansas City on Nov. 20.

Is it realistic to ask fighters to fight on just two months' notice and fight four, five, six times a year?
Well, six times is a lot -- we definitely don't want to make the mistake of burning a guy out -- but three is the standard and we have guys who would like to fight four or five times a year, and as long as they're not hurt I think we can do that.

Signing the 47-year-old Herschel Walker seems like it's the opposite of developing young, up-and-coming talent. Where does he fit in with Strikeforce?
Herschel will be arriving in San Jose shortly and do a training camp at AKA and we'll see how he does. He won't get any preferential treatment. Bob won't play favorites.

Where is Strikeforce in its negotiations with Dan Henderson?
I know Scott and Dan talked but that's about it.

But is Dan on the verge of signing with Strikeforce?
Dan is a great fighter and I think it's a no-brainer that any promotion would like to have Dan on the roster, but all that's happened so far is he and Scott had coffee.

The fights everyone would like to talk about are the title fights, but are those the big part of your job?
The bigger part of the job is figuring out how to have a deep, talented roster and make sure the fights at the bottom of the card are building toward something. Take the heavyweight division: It doesn't take a genius to figure out that any combination of the top guys on our roster -- Fedor, Brett Rogers, Alistair Overem, Fabricio Werdum -- is going to produce fights that fans will want to see. But what I have to spend a lot of time on is finding good fights with younger, undiscovered talent.

As a matchmaker, what is your opinion of tournaments?
I was involved with a great tournament of welterweights with Rumble on the Rock in 2006. That had about the best field of welterweights in the world at the time: Anderson Silva, Frank Trigg, Jake Shields, Carlos Condit, Renato "Charuto" Verissimo, Dave Menne, Yushin Okami, they were all in that tournament. It was exciting. I loved that tournament, I loved watching the Pride tournament, and I think they're a lot of fun. Sometimes a tournament doesn't give the fans the match-up they want in the finals, but that's part of the drama. That happened with our tournament, when Yushin Okami beat Anderson Silva by disqualification -- the last time Anderson Silva didn't win a fight.

And Jake Shields ultimately won that tournament.
Yeah, and he had to fight 30 hard minutes, against Okami and Condit, on the same day, to win it. I think a tournament is a great way to turn someone into a star -- that really solidified Jake, winning that tournament. We're talking about doing a female tournament: Showtime has always been a leader in women's MMA and that's something we could do to continue that. Women's MMA is a fairly new sport and a tournament would be a great way to see who some of the top fighters are.

When do you think we'll see Gina Carano again?
I'm not sure. Gina is pursuing acting, but when she's ready after that we'll put her back in there. I'd think maybe middle of next year. I think she's going to come back strong after losing to Cyborg.

Which other fighters are you excited about matching up soon?
King Mo and Jacare are going to be fighting soon in the Strikeforce cage. Vitor "Shaolin" Ribeiro will be making his Strikeforce debut soon. Andre Galvao is a guy we have who's just a phenomenal talent, and he's going to make his Strikeforce debut soon. He lost a split decision to Jason High in the Dream welterweight Grand Prix, and he's just a phenomenal talent. He's still green, but he's going to be really good.

We've also got some guys we're working on who I'm not able to divulge. But I'm very excited about a lot of the guys we're picking up. That's the fun part -- the fantasy MMA part. And in the fight game, everybody is an expert and thinks they can do your job better than you can. It's fun talking to fans because they're constantly suggesting fights to me. I just get excited thinking about these guys.

Will you be able to put together fights with fighters in other promotions?
Scott has a great relationship with Dream, dating back to years ago when they were working together on K-1, and we will work with them. MMA is the purest form of competition, and we'd love to work something out where we're putting our guys up against guys from other promotions. We're working with M-1, we're working with Dream, and we're putting together some great fights. We're committed to putting on great fights. I've always had this philosophy that we just want to put on fights that make fans say, "Wow. Holy s**t. That was awesome."

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