Reed Harris was once known as the "face" of the WEC, the Dana White of the lighter-weight organization, so to speak.
Of course, once the UFC and the WEC merged, Reed's old job became redundant. Since the merger, Harris has faded into the background - but don't think that the longtime fight promoter hasn't been keeping busy.
"Dana White and I have been friends for a lot of years now, even prior to [Zuffa] buying the WEC. We worked together on a lot of things - if Dana needed a fighter, he'd give me a call. So we have a long working relationship that goes back many years. And it continues to this day."
Reed Harris is calm and easygoing, a calm centre of jokes and laughs amid the chaotic storm of UFC Fan Expo. As he explains, his responsibilities have only increased since handing over the WEC.
"When we merged, [Zuffa] promoted me to Vice-President of Community Relations. I'm in charge of all the outside activities that our fighters are involved in." Harris explains. It's a job that has grown exponentially as the sport has exploded in popularity.
"Three or four years ago, it was hard for us to even schedule appearances for fighters. Not because of the fighters themselves, but because people didn't know who they were, and the retailers didn't feel comfortable having an 'Ultimate Fighter' come in."
"Now it's completely different. Now we get requests literally daily. Way more then we could ever possibly accommodate. So the position was created to accommodate the demand on our fighters. It's great on the one hand, but it's also a ton of work."
As the man in charge of shepherding fighters outside the cage, Harris's job is not just about maximizing fighters appearances, but tailoring them to make sure the sport is sending the right message.
"Just last night, I went with Chuck [Liddell] to dinner with a 'Make A Wish' kid and his parents. He literally went from the moment he woke up, coming to Fan Expo, doing his seminar, signing autographs, then rushed out the door and to this dinner."
"And you know what? It was great. That's the sort of thing you're really grateful to be involved in. You could tell we just made this kid feel really good. And that energy effected Chuck as well. It's that kind of thing that makes me thankful I can do this job, meet these people, and make these sort of things happen."
As part of his job, Harris acts as a conduit of sorts, conveying fighter's concerns to Dana White and the senior management of the UFC.
"Some fans don't realize it, but you know the media perception that Dana [White] runs the whole company himself? That's not a perception, that's the truth! He has more things on his plate every single day than fans and even fighters realize. He works harder then anybody in the company by a country mile!"
"So fighters can come to me, because not only do I have a great relationship with them, but I have a great relationship with many managers as well. So fighters can come to me with an issue, and I can go to Dana - Dana's door is always open to me, which is great - and we work together to resolve that issue."
So, what does the unofficial ombudsman of the UFC think of the notion of a "fighter's union", which has been making the rounds in MMA circles with mixed reaction?
"Proper bargaining is already in place now [without a union]. Proper healthcare is already in place now. Those things already exist without a fighter's union." Harris explains.
"I've been in a lot of negotiations with fighters in my career, and let me tell you, fighters have leverage. They have bargaining power. There's a lot going on in terms of what we do for the fighters that people don't know about."
"Let me give you an example. When I used to run the WEC, people, media would complain about the level of pay for my fighters. Let me ask you a question: did any fighter ever leave my organization because of a pay issue? The answer is no. Not even one. This company takes care of its fighters in ways that go way beyond how many zero's are on the paycheck."
"I doubt a fighter's union will ever happen personally."
Finally, I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't ask the former WEC steward how he thinks his crop of lightweight fighters will fare in the UFC -especially Ben Henderson, former WEC champion.
To Harris, such comparisons are pretty much moot at this point.
"Listen, when that cage door closes, it doesn't matter if you were a WEC fighter or not. You're a UFC fighter now. We have guys who used to fight for King of the Cage, for MFC, for the IFL. Once they're here, they're here. You sink or swim on your own merits."
"As far as Ben goes, I've always liked him not just cause he's a great fighter, but because he's a great person as well. Just a real solid, stand-up kind of guy. I think he's got a long career ahead of him."
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