Watson keeps UFC running smoothly

BY Peter Schrager • June 21, 2012

Since a chance meeting with Dana White at the weigh-in of the Zab Judah-Kostya Tszyu boxing match in 2001, UFC site coordinator Burt Watson has missed just two UFC events in 12 years.

"One was because of my daughter's wedding," said the 63-year-old Watson from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on a busy Tuesday morning. "The other was because of my son's wedding. Those are pretty much the only two things in this life that could keep me away, baby. My kids would have disowned me if I'd missed their weddings. And even on those two weekends, it was tough not being with the UFC, baby."

Watson will be missing the third UFC event of his career this Friday night, and it has nothing to do with wedding bells or passed hors d'oeuvres.

"I can't be two places at once," explains Watson. "We've got a great team up in Atlantic City coordinating UFC on FX 4. We're down here in Brazil doing UFC 147. We're all talking every day. It'll all be smooth, but yeah, it kills me not being there, baby."

Ah, if only there was teleportation. Watson would be in New Jersey after midnight on Friday, and in Brazil for breakfast on Saturday. Alas, it's not possible. Fortunately, there's a process in place, and even without Watson — a man who has been described as everything from "the ultimate babysitter" to "the master of logistics" — two events in one weekend is manageable. One of Watson's many hats at the UFC is to make sure all goes according to plan. In Atlantic City. In Brazil. Anywhere. Everywhere.

"We have a saying at the UFC," says Watson. "And that saying is 'Trust the system.' It's tried and true. It's 10 years in the making. We've gotten to the point now where the system and the process is so solid that we can place different camps, different venues and different personalities into it and just keep on rolling."

Though, there are still hiccups. There are always hiccups.

"Of course, we have our cluster moments. Can I say that? I'd use another word if this weren't an interview for FOX Sports," laughs Watson. "Cluster something else."

Those hiccups include a litany of things the casual UFC fan would never notice. Toss in the international aspect of this weekend and it gets even trickier. Watson's Tuesday morning in Brazil was filled with conference calls, meetings with different fighters' camps and a site visit.

Monday? Well, he spent Monday looking for a sauna. No, that's not accurate. A "backup sauna."

"The hotel's got a beautiful one, but I've always got to be thinking 'What if?' What if the hotel sauna breaks? What if the fighters don't like it? So, as part of the process, we always need one sauna, and then an alternative sauna," explains Watson. "We got in Monday and I went through my usual checklist. I asked about a second sauna and the guys here looked at me with blank faces. 'We need a second sauna,' I said. It was a little difficult because of the language barriers, but with the help of an interpreter, we got a car and we got on the road and we found a second sauna that'll be workable. We most likely won't need it, but for my own peace of mind, I had to know that there was a reliable second sauna on site. It's things like that which keep me up at night."

Things like that.

Or buses.

Twenty minutes before the weigh-in for the UFC on FX Demetrious Johnson-Ian McCall bout on June 8, Watson had over 100 people — fighters, fighters' camps, media, UFC officials — ready to hop on two 54-passenger buses over to the arena. There was no time to spare. The UFC has everything down to the minute, and if you lose a minute, people notice.

"So we get outside and I look in the parking lot, and there are no buses to be found," says Watson, the exasperation and stress of the moment still detectable in his voice. "I stayed calm, I pulled out my phone and I asked the drivers where they were. It turns out that they were parked at a different DoubleTree Hotel 25 minutes away."

Crisis-mode? Not quite. Watson, as smooth as one could possibly be with a mob of 100 anxious people behind him, found a line of taxi cabs, a pair of cars and a large van in the parking lot.

"I got the fighters and one other person, each, in two different taxi cabs. They headed over first. I got everyone else into the vans and cars and called for more. We all had to be there by 2:30 pm. The fighters got to the weigh-in on time. Everybody — every last person — was in their seats and ready to go by 2:45."

Watson lets out a sigh of relief.

"I was the last one in the weigh-in and just sat in the back and took a big deep breath," he recalls. "Let's just say I had a good 'work discussion' with the guy responsible for dropping that ball. He won't be dropping any balls like that again. It's all good, though, baby. Hiccups happen. The show has to go on."

This weekend, there will be two very distinct shows going on, almost simultaneously. In Atlantic City, there will be a loaded undercard, including hometown favorite Dan Miller going at it with Ricardo Funch, and a main event featuring Gray Maynard and Clay Guida. Less than 24 hours later, Brazilian legend and national hero Wanderlei Silva goes up against Rich Franklin in Brazil. Jersey Shore meet Rio. Not a problem, insists Watson.

"Communication is the key, baby," Watson said. "We're all talking. We're all working. We're trusting the process. Because, you know what? If something's wrong, if something's out of whack, the UFC fans will notice. They'll recognize it. They always do."

With 44 fighters, their teams and thousands upon thousands of fans involved in two different cities, it's easy to assume this weekend's two UFC events could make for a logistical nightmare.

But Watson insists it's all good.

"You've just got to trust the system, baby. It'll all be great. Trust me on that."

As long as there's a backup sauna ready in Brazil, I have all the confidence in the world.

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