For the better part of the past 20 years, Rich Chou has been one of the top matchmakers in all of combat sports.
Working with promotions such as Rumble on the Rock, Elite XC and Strikeforce made him uniquely qualified to become one of the chief architects of the fights being made at Bellator MMA. In his role as vice president of talent relations, Chou not only put together the fights fans wanted to see but he was also responsible for scouting and adding new fighters to the roster as well as pursuing high-profile free agents.
He also routinely traveled with the company while also dealing with all manner of issues with fighters on the roster including injuries, contract negotiations and much more.
But more recently with his children reaching an age where they were starting to participate in extracurricular activities at school, he began to realize that spending weeks upon weeks away from home wasn’t the best way he wanted to be a father.
“I was looking to slow down and change my lifestyle up a little bit,” Chou told MMA Fighting. “I think the grind on the road and the promotional game at the level that Bellator’s at, it’s pretty rough. A lot of days and nights away from the family, just on the road, just a really grueling grind. I knew that in a couple years that I would probably have to transition out.
“I want to spend time with my family and my kids are really young, they are entering into the age where my son is playing sports. They are really starting to grow up and I wasn’t going to miss that. I’m not going to miss that. That’s kind of what got me thinking a little while ago. I want to be home more. I want to be around more. I want to be present and around my family more.”
Of course, matchmaking the top fighters in the world sounds like a dream job for any MMA fan but Chou knows a lot more went into his job than just putting together matchups.
“I think that gets lost on a lot of fans. They just see the end result or there’s a fight they want to see,” Chou explained. “They just don’t understand how difficult it is to put together but I’ve always said putting fights together, that’s the easy part, just creating a matchup in the war room. You put up a fight that just makes sense on so many levels. It makes sense from a rankings standpoint, stylistically it makes sense, I’ve always felt like that is easy.
“It was easy to identify what a good fight would be but the difficulty is actually putting the fight together for all those various reasons, all the different things that can prevent you from getting that fight signed. There are so many steps and so many things that can go wrong. Injuries, contract disputes, just all the things that are so unexpected and that is what you have to deal with. That is the job.”
According to Chou, he began formulating a game plan that would eventually lead him away from his role as matchmaker at Bellator but he hadn’t put a hard date on his exit.
The other issue was finding a new career that would keep him just as enthusiastic as the work he had been doing with the ViacomCBS-owned promotion in recent years. He obviously wanted to stay involved with martial arts if possible, which once again narrowed down the potential landing spots for him.
“I felt it was just time to mix things up,” Chou said. “I felt like I needed a new challenge and I felt like I wanted to learn some new things. I have these thoughts in my head. I wasn’t actively looking for things. I just thought when the time comes, it will be time to transition out.
“Out of nowhere, Wimp-2-Warrior comes into my life, Nick Langton and John Kavanaugh, all these guys appear and kind of accelerated that time in my head.”
Wimp-2-Warrior is a fitness program where participants spend 20 weeks working with top coaches and training partners in some of the biggest and best gyms across mixed martial arts, learning everything from strength and conditioning to striking and grappling techniques with the end goal being an amateur bout.
For Chou, the program spoke to him on a deeper level because it really gets back to the roots of martial arts and the passion the average person can find when discovering the sport.
“It’s a company that’s for martial artists, by martial artists,” Chou said. “I think that passion for martial arts was core for me. The dedication that everyone has in this company to martial arts and just to getting people training, that’s contagious and inspiring. The company itself, who the people are and what they stand for are huge. The fact that the company is headed in the direction of innovation, technology, that also really appeals to me as well. That touches on when I said I wanted to take on new challenges, that checks that box.
“Just the chance to learn new things. I’ve been in the fight business on the promotional side for almost 20 years. From the grassroots level to the elite level where Bellator is. I felt good with everything I accomplished and Wimp-2-Warrior offered me an exciting challenge with a goal that’s just noble and inspiring.”
As the new VP in the United States, Chou will be driving a new initiative to grow partnerships with gyms across the country, which goes beyond just getting people to sign up for the Wimp-2-Warrior program.
“Really what we do at the end of the day, we help gyms, these amazing learning centers, we help them grow,” Chou explained. “We support them. We’re not trying to take over a gym, change their identity, change their name, none of that. We’re here to provide an amazing program that will really help introduce the average person to martial arts.
“On top of that, what is going to be happening here in the near future is this pivot and really building off of this strong program. We’re going to add business solutions that will help gyms operate better. I’m talking about better business practices to help them become more sustainable, better businesses. Bottom line just helping gyms make more money and be more successful.”
In Chou’s opinion, for all the success that promotions and fighters have found in the sport of MMA, many of the gyms haven’t been able as sustainable with the current business model and he hopes to change that in his new role.
“I think what’s happened overall is we’ve seen the growth of the industry on the promotional level,” Chou said. “With the UFC going public, Bellator backed by ViacomCBS, PFL securing really solid funding, same with ONE Championship, Combate is a player in this whole thing, so we’ve seen the promotions rise up and really establish themselves. We’ve seen fighters following that trend. Fighters are more visible now. There’s a strong case that they should be paid more but nonetheless, fighters are getting paid more than they ever have. The industry is booming is my point.
“However, there’s one factor in this equation that’s being left out and that’s the gyms and the academies. These amazing learning centers that are the heart and soul of this whole thing. This is where it all starts. It’s a sector that’s relatively unsophisticated and underserved and we’re here to help with that.”
As he moves into his new role at Wimp-2-Warrior, Chou was forced to leave his old friends behind at Bellator MMA, which he admits was a heartbreaking discussion to initiate.
While it wasn’t easy, Chou knows that he’s still going to be involved with the sport just in a different way that he hopes will impact a whole new sector of people interested in mixed martial arts as well as the gyms where they’ll be training.
“It did come as a surprise to many, many people,” Chou said. “That conversation with Scott [Coker] was a tough one but Scott’s always had my back. He cares about me first and foremost and he knew that this was a great opportunity. In fact, Scott and I are still collaborating and working together. I’m not in there everyday but I do continue to consult for Bellator and work with Scott. I’m really enjoying that.
“But this is a big move for me. I threw a lot of people off but the way I see it, I’m still in the industry. I’m still in a position to work with these great gyms and these fighters and the goal is still the same. The dream is still the same. I just have a different path now. Ultimately, I still love martial arts. I still love the fight business. I’m just supporting it in a different way now.”