Training Day: 30+ students intern with professional MMA organization

Training Day: 30+ students intern with professional MMA organization


Hours before the first bell dings, dozens of Rowan University students arrive at 2300 Arena in South Philadelphia for training, but none of them are on the fight card.

Yet their experience this night will be impactful, nonetheless. Participating students in this early spring program will train in all communication aspects of the first live mixed martial arts (MMA) event of the season for Cage Fury Fighting Championships (CFFC), a feeder organization for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the premier MMA promoter in America.

Rowan this year partnered with CFFC, and the partnership is already bearing fruit as students gain hands-on, eyes-on production and communication experience working live, professional sporting events.

“Cage Fury is essentially like Triple-A baseball to the major leagues, with the majors being UFC,” said Neil Hartman, an Emmy Award-winning former sportscaster who helps oversee Rowan’s Sports Communication & Media (Sports CaM) program in the Ric Edelman College of Communication & Creative Arts.

Hartman brokered the partnership with CFFC after arranging similar internship programs with the Wilmington Blue Rocks, a minor league baseball team, and the Delaware Blue Coats, an affiliate of the Philadelphia 76ers, and 30 or more Rowan students intern each semester with those organizations as well.

Though most Rowan undergraduate programs require or strongly encourage internships, Hartman said it is vital in sports media to complete one or more to build experience and make connections ahead of graduation.

“I can’t overstate how important these internships are,” Hartman said. “Depending on a student’s interest and what they hope to do professionally, there are a wide range of positions available including public relations, sports management, advertising, graphic design and production.”

The agreement between Rowan and CFFC calls for about 30 internship opportunities for students in the popular Sports CaM major each season. On this first event since the partnership began in early March, 37 students are on hand to work cameras, monitor the action ringside and from a production truck outside, and perform a host of other duties necessary for the live broadcast on the UFC's FIGHT PASS program.

Most significantly, Hartman said, the skills students build through this experience are valued in any sports media career.

“MMA is just like any other professional sport, with the same organizational structure,” he said. “What’s great about MMA is it’s a new age sport that resonates with our students.”


Mutually beneficial partnership

In addition to providing hands-on work experience for dozens of students each semester, Haddonfield-based CFFC donated more than $250,000 to support the Sports CaM program over the next five years, funding that will help pay for student internships with other companies, travel stipends, supplemental training and more.

Hartman said CFFC is also scouting space on Rowan Boulevard, a central location just off campus where it seeks to build a “media hub.”

“The idea is to secure enough office space to add a studio and training area for athletes,” Hartman said. “Among the many benefits, it would allow our students to conduct interviews with the competitors in the studio.”

CFFC Managing Partner and CEO Robert Haydak said the sport, which is only about 30 years old, is immensely popular with fans in the 18-34 age group, especially among college students.

“It’s fairly young, but quickly becoming mainstream,” Haydak said.

A former NCAA Division I wrestler himself, Haydak said his company will hold a wide range of events this year including 13 MMA competitions, four grappling shows (jiujitsu/submission wrestling) and up to 10 Division I wrestling meets.

“I partnered with Rowan to bring in young minds so they can get experience but also for me to hear from them,” he said. “The feedback from students, who are most interested in these sports, is priceless.”


Learning from doing

Students, who arrived before 4 p.m. for the 7 p.m. MMA event March 31, work behind the scenes with a wide range of professionals including sound and lighting specialists, broadcasters , athlete managers and Haydak himself. And, while they won’t be in the ring, they’ll fully support the production behind it.

Freshman Kerri Letizia of Old Bridge, a Radio, Television & Film and Sports CaM double major, will be stationed inside the broadcast truck during the event but was purposefully hands-on there and elsewhere in the arena in the hours leading up to it.

“I’m doing whatever needs to be done, from setting up tables to work around the cage,” said Letizia, who admittedly wasn’t a big fan of the sport until her friend, an MMA amateur fighter, introduced her to it.

Come fight time, she said, “I’ll see how the truck is run. I’ll take a lot of notes and see how CFFC puts on a production.”

For junior Sports CaM major Seth Fisher of Mystic, Conn., event duties will be all digital.

“I’m tracking the results of each fight, formatting them, and they’ll go up onto the CFFC website,” Fisher said.

While the students’ duties can change at every event, on this night junior Sports CaM major Malachi Tinsley of Willingboro will work directly with the athletes. Among his duties, Tinsley will check that all licenses and medical tests are up to date before fighters get near the ring.

“I’m networking and getting to know people,” Tinsley said of his first internship experience.

An aspiring professional camera operator, Tinsley said viewers might be surprised by the personalities of some of the fighters.

“These guys are tough, truly warriors,” he said. “But when you meet them, they’re often so pleasant. It’s a humble sport.”

A short while later the bell dings. And it’s on.