“MMA Matthew” Gaither strives to give Florida the combat sports coverage it deserves

Florida journalist Matthew Gaither’s dedication to covering mixed martial arts came about as organically and honestly as possible. The 29-year-old Tampa resident always had a natural penchant for the written word, however his focus tightened when he returned to the Sunshine State in 2008 and discovered that he lived across the street from a verifiable MMA star: the late former UFC, XFC and Fight Time Promotions fighter, Corey Hill, who rose to national renown on the back of his stint on the fifth season of The Ultimate Fighter.

They became friends and Hill invited him to his next fight at UFC Fight Night 16: Fight for the Troops 1. Hill unfortunately ended up losing as a result of a grizzly, career-altering injury, but his perseverance, heart and determination to return to competition inspired Gaither, who saw in the sport a window through which to view the human condition. Four years of fervent research and ardent fanfare later, Gaither decided to launch his MMA writing career. And the rest, as they say, is history. Working under the nom de plume “MMA Matthew,” Gaither currently is the host of Cage Zombies Radio for MMAmadhouse.com, hosts video interviews on his YouTube channel and regularly blogs on his own website. In 2014, the Florida MMA community saw fit to honor him and MMAmadhouse.com’s efforts at the 2013 Florida MMA Awards.

TuffGnarl.com: It’s easy to tell that you have a genuine love for the sport of mixed martial arts and dedicate a significant portion of your time to writing, reporting and broadcasting about it.  I know that, in part, your love for the sport came as a result of your friendship with the late fighter Corey Hill, who lived across the street from you. Was a night-and-day thing, where you instantly became a fan, or was it more gradual?
Matthew Gaither: I had followed MMA briefly prior to meeting Corey in 2008. I would watch Bellator and Strikeforce somewhat regularly and catch UFC PPVs with friends occasionally. I knew the big names in the sport, but never really looked below the surface of the sport. Meeting Corey made a real connection with me between what I saw on television and the real thing.

In addition to writing for MMAmadhouse.com and on your own WordPress page, you also have a regular internet radio show, Cage Zombies Radio. How did the show develop and what sets it apart from other MMA shows and podcasts?
Well shortly after joining MMAmadhouse, the owner, Carl Mortensen, asked me if I would be interested in doing a weekly radio show. The website had a few shows already established but they wanted to get a new one going with some of the younger member of MMAmadhouse. I was hesitant at first and doubted whether it was for me but I gave it a shot. They teamed me up with Caitlin Dieni, a young team member from Oregon, and Cage Fire Radio was born. We did that for a while before Carl approached me about moving to a new show he wanted to do with new MMAmadhouse member, Jason London. Jason lives in Cape Coral, so Carl wanted to create a Florida connection. That show was called Full Guard Fight Radio. We had a great deal of fun doing it and did some of the coolest interviews I’ve done thus far; Jeff Monson, Hector Lombard, and Cat Zingano to name a few.

After about a year of doing that Carl came to me yet again and asked if I would be interested in moving to a show with Spencer Kirksey, a young team member from Ohio. I was more than excited having been a fan of Spencer’s work and appreciation for the sport. Cage Zombies Radio was born. CZR has been the most fun I’ve had since following/covering the sport. We are largely an interview based show. If there is something the makes us different from the others, then it is our foundation of covering ALL of MMA. Any given night we could be talking about anything from a local show up the street to the crazy awesomeness of One FC or reminiscing about the great Pride days. There are tons of great MMA shows out there with so much great content. But they are all so over saturated with the UFC’s product. I get it though. But there is such a large and vast world out there of MMA that it needs to be talked about too, and that is what we’re about. 

Gaither with the undisputed MMAmadhouse.com belt. | Photo courtesy of Matthew Gaither

Gaither with the undisputed MMAmadhouse.com belt. | Photo: MrPaparazzi.com

It’s been a couple months since you posted a new video on your YouTube page, which is packed with local and international fighter interviews. Why the hiatus?
Calling me out huh? Well there have been some personal family things going on and the full time college student thing is a time thief. I am usually on my Youtube page daily and I do have some new interviews to get posted. It is definitely something I am very passionate about and I kick myself in the ass about it all the time. Don’t worry, many more great interviews are coming.

What are some regulatory changes you’d like to see made both at a local and international level? Are there any issues in South Florida regarding how fights are overseen and how fighters are treated that you think need fixing? What about at the UFC level?
Locally, I think amateur MMA in FL has some ground to make up to catch up with some of the other states. The Florida State Boxing Commission wants amateur fighters to have five fights to prepare them for being a professional fighter, yet they stick them in shin guards and outlaw elbows? Elbows on the ground I can understand, but if they can’t learn how to use those as an amateur then they are in trouble when they get to the pros. And the shin guards are simply ridiculous. As far as the larger scale of MMA, BRING BACK SOCCER KICKS! One FC allows them and it is great. Incorporate them into the rules and be done with it already.

“Rowdy” Ronda Rousey has brought more eyes to MMA than perhaps any athlete in the sport’s history, but there has been some doubt as to whether or not being a Ronda Rousey fan translates into being an overall MMA fan. While it’s undeniable that her popularity is good for the sport, the question is how good it is for the sport in the long-term. What are your thoughts on the matter?
I was opposed to her for a long time. I foolishly picked against her in many fights. Those days are over. She is the most polarizing fighter in the world and for good reason. She has earned every bit of fame and notoriety that has come here way. She is a phenomenal representation of the sport for those who may only be watching it because of her. I don’t think it matters whether they are MMA fans, UFC fans, or simply Ronda Rousey fans; she is bringing outsiders into the sport. She is in Hardee’s commercials and all over ESPN and Ellen.

You don’t ever hear about her getting into any legal trouble. She trains and fights and does exactly what a professional fighter should be doing. If there has to be someone in MMA right now that is the image of the sport for those who aren’t fans, then I can’t think of someone better than her at this point. When the most coverage that MMA is getting is from domestic violence stories or performance enhancing drug (PED) users, or whatever it may be; then MMA can use any great figure it can get. And that is Ronda Rousey for now. Not too shabby if you ask me. 

Gaither with living MMA legend Renzo Gracie. | Phtoto courtesy of Matthew Gaither

Gaither with living MMA legend Renzo Gracie. | Phtoto courtesy of Matthew Gaither

As one of the most impassioned fans of local MMA, you have a unique purview into some up-and-coming talent from down here in the Sunshine State. Can you give us a scoop and list a few of some fighters to keep an eye on—and why we should watch them?
It would be tough to just name a few. I have gotten to watch so many, and I mean SO many, great young fighters from around Florida. To just name a few would be close to impossible. What I can do is tell you about some of the schools/teams I’ve seen on a regular basis deliver top prospects and present themselves in professional manners. D’Angelo MMA, Gracie Tampa, Pete White Boxing, The Armory Daytona, Team Darkside-Defiant Warrior, Riot MMA, World Class Martial Arts, Tough As Nails MMA and I could keep going all day. We have some great talent in this state. I have seen these gyms and many more present great young fighters that above all else bring professionalism to the cage whether ammy or pro. That is what goes the farthest distance with me. If you can’t act like a pro as an amateur, then how are you going to act like a pro as a pro? Sounds silly, but it is important.

Covering such an eventful sport isn’t easy, but to do so we have to stay abreast of everything going on from week to week, which can be a little overwhelming at times. What is does your weekly intake of MMA consist of in terms of podcasts, news articles, books, movies, fights, etc.?
Well I love MMA for so many reasons. I take in a lot of MMA, whether it be through watching fights or reading about them. I have CZR, which is my bread and butter, but I also do The MMA Matthew Show through Bulls Radio at USF. I am blogging on a semi-regular basis. I haven’t been writing as much as I would like to on account of school and such. To be honest, I really don’t listen to any other podcasts or radio shows. It’s pretty much all flooded with UFC content and I can just open up a browser and read that. I’m a nostalgic person so I love watching old stuff. And I maintain a pretty steady dosage of Gracie intake. I’ll watch them all day.

“MMA Matthew” interviewing World Series of Fighting lightweight champ Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje following is win over former UFC contender Melvin Guillard.

What other interests do you pursue when you’re not covering the sport?
Family is most important to me. I spend a lot of time with family. Next to that is football; I love football like family.  I’m an avid sports fan and watch tons of it.

Do you have any advice for people who want to write about MMA, or just write in general?
Well I’m not sure what to say here. For me it just came naturally. I loved to write and I loved sports and MMA so I just put them together and went from there. What came from that was something pretty cool and I guess it’s why we’re having this conversation. As far as covering MMA, be willing to make yourself uncomfortable and just put yourself out there. I have met great people and made great relationships and that is al from just taking chances. Fighters can be intimidating but it is only on the surface. 99.9% of them are awesome, same with promoters. Just get out there. And start a Twitter, that thing is key to networking.

Any parting words?
I would just like to say thank you to Carl and Skippy at MMAmadhouse. I want to say thank you to Luke at Intimidation Clothing for standing by me for a long time. And I want to give a huge shout out to NoJudgesNeeded.com, the best sponsor and MMA clothing and gear out there. Use code MMAMatthew for 15% off your entire order. #SupportLocalMMA

Matthew Gaither is currently a year away from earning his degree in mass communications at the University of South Florida. Look for him cageside at a South Florida event near you, including this Friday at Combat Night 50 at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee, FL. For more information, follow him on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, and check out his work on MMAMadhouse.com and his personal blog.

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Jesse Scheckner

A freelance MMA, entertainment and business journo born, raised and residing in Miami, FL, Jesse Scheckner is a former semi-serious musician, cinephile and recovering ne’er-do-well who still believes Mickey Rourke’s finest performance in film has yet to come. He is TuffGnarl.com's editor-in-chief, a feature staff writer for MMASucka.com and the 2014 MMA Media Correspondent winner at the Florida MMA Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner to talk about the stuff he writes about with him.

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