You’ll remember Kerri Kasem from her post fight interviews at UFC 50 and 51, as well as Ultimate Knockouts 3. She’s back hosting the new Ultimate Ultimate Knockouts DVD.
You host “Ultimate Ultimate Knockouts”, but your favorite endings for fights are submissions?
Yes, yes. I really wanted to do the “Ultimate Submissions”, but knockouts are the big things.
You’ve trained a little BJJ, what is your background in that?
I trained at Beverley Hills Jiu-Jitsu with Marcus Vinicius, and I actually trained there a while to really understand the ground game so I knew what I was talking about when I was interviewing.
Do you get UFC fans recognizing you?
Yeah actually I do and I get a lot of mail from myspace.
Is there any moment that stands out while you doing post fight interviews?
When Shamrock and Tito when after each other and I wanted to be in the middle of them and they grabbed me out of the cage. You remember that?
That was when Tito defeated Vitor and started calling out Chuck Liddell and Ken Sham
rock, and both of them rushed into the Octagon?
Exactly. That was really interesting.
Who was the most interesting fighter you met?
They’re all very interesting. I really like Frank Trigg.
Any other interesting or fun moments that comes to mind from working at the UFC?
I just really like being around the energy of the fights and being in the centre of it was amazing. Te feeling with being with the fighters, and the energy of the entire event was…it was kind of like being on stage at a rock concert, the energy was incredible.
UFC Interviewer Kerri Kasem Has a Successful Career, Loves the Mixed Martial Arts and Isn’t Afraid to Roll!
Back in the 1990s, the Ultimate Fighting Championship was a boys’ club of sorts. Men would fill the stands while other men waged war on each other in the octagon and then got interviewed afterward by men with mikes.
But this is 2005, nearly 12 years after the UFC was launched, and it’s a different world out there. The event is no longer “no holds barred”; it’s now “mixed martial arts.” What was touted as the most brutal show on earth is now promoted as a hybrid sport populated by world-class athletes. And when it comes to spectators, the women are rivaling the men in number.
Fortunately for fans, there’s one more area in which the times have changed: Women are taking up the sport and carving out a place for themselves in the industry. Leading the pack is Kerri Kasem.
Kasem, the daughter of radio legend Casey Kasem, can trace the moment she fell in love with MMA back to November 22, 2002 when she was watching the highly anticipated battle between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock at the UFC 40: Vendetta. It was the first live event she’d ever been to, and the bug bit. “That was it; I was done,” she says. “I said to myself, ‘I’m working for them.’ At that time, they already had Lisa Dergan, but I said, ‘That’s the job I want.’
“The guy I was with at the time asked, ‘How are you going to do that?’ I just said, ‘Watch me.’ ”
The go-getter opened a dialog with the UFC’s publicist and began attending all the events. Person by person, she introduced herself to the hierarchy of professionals who keep America’s premier MMA show running until she got to head honcho Dana White, president of the UFC. “I waited for Dana for two hours at an after-party and finally walked up to him and said, ‘You’re going to hire me,’ ” Kasem remembers.
She mailed her résumé and some photos to the UFC’s headquarters in Las Vegas and waited. Then serendipity smiled: She was doing a guest appearance on a radio program called Loveline, and UFC matchmaker Joe Silva happened to be listening. He heard her raving about the UFC 40, and that was all it took. The next day, he recommended her to White, arguing that her talent and media contacts could give the UFC a publicity boost.
After going hot and heavy on the persistence, Kasem landed the job of her dreams: hosting a DVD production titled Ultimate Knockouts 3. Most fans deemed it a worthy performance, and she used it as a segue into the octagon.
Plenty of Bread on the Table
When Kerri Kasem set her sights on landing a job with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, she didn’t do it out of necessity. The California native was already juggling two syndicated radio shows (All Comedy Radio and Racing Rocks) and a morning radio program with Danny Bonaduce, as well as an E! channel series titled Coming Attractions. On top of all that, she’d completed two seasons of her relationship talk show, called The Rub, for SI TV.
No, her involvement with the UFC didn’t stem from any desire to add credits to her already-overflowing résumé or dollars to her bank account. Instead, it emanated from an authentic affection for the sport of mixed martial arts. “I do it because I love it and I’m passionate about it,” the former bungee-jumping instructor says.
First Live Assignment
Kasem made her on-screen debut at the UFC 50 on October 22, 2004. Her passion for the sport surfaced as soon as she began interviewing the fighters after their bouts. She exhibited a cheerful demeanor and a solid knowledge base, peppering the athletes with a weapon her predecessors seldom used: a string of intelligent questions. When middleweight Rich Franklin submitted Jorge Rivera, she opened fire: “So much of the fight happened in the clinch. Were you ready for that? … I have a question about the armbar: Did you expect to get him in that? … Do you feel stronger fighting at 185 pounds?”
In the world of MMA broadcasting, Kasem built a name for herself as something of an anomaly: a woman with a passion for the sport and an ever-increasing knowledge of its rules and techniques. Those qualities were lacking in the ladies who came before her. Leann Tweeden conducted several interviews at the UFC 37.5, and Lisa Dergan did a short but similar stint for the UFC 41 and 42, but neither sparked the way Kasem does.
She offers a simple explanation: “They were decent hosts and beautiful girls, but they weren’t really passionate about the sport, and they didn’t care to learn it. But I’m into jujutsu, I’m talking to everybody, I’m asking questions, I’m watching tape. I want to be good, and I want the fans to like me. I want them to say, ‘She does know what she’s talking about.’ ”
Many UFC insiders, including White, co-owner Lorenzo Fertita and play-by-play broadcaster Mike Goldberg, laud her for her work. Kind words are even pouring in from the ranks: Among others, welterweight Frank Trigg complemented Kasem for her on-the-air interrogation of him after his recent victory. “I was just so excited to be in the ring with this guy that had just won the fight, and I was interested in what he had to say,” she says. “The questions that I came up with were things I wanted to know, so I was excited to get to ask them myself.”
Kasem credits Silva with helping her stay up to date on the action inside and outside the octagon. The two chat daily during the three weeks that lead up to an event, occasionally spending hours on the phone discussing the strategies and tactics of the fighters on the card. He also sends a tape of each athlete to Kasem, and she reviews them all prior to the start of the bouts.
The grappling component of MMA action enthralls Kasem. “My ex-boyfriend was into jujutsu, and we went to small tournaments everywhere,” she says, “I thought, This is awesome!”
She later signed up at Beverly Hills Jiu-Jitsu Club, where she still trains under Marcus Vinicius. To round out her skills in no-gi grappling, she studies submission fighting with Eddie Bravo, the only American to tap out a Gracie—Royler, in case you’re wondering.
Because of her love for the ground game, it’s no surprise that some of Kasem’s favorite fighters are submission artists like Genki Sudo and Rumina Sato. “It’s a chess game on the ground,” she says. “A lot of people don’t see it that way because they don’t know what they’re looking for. Anything that ends in a submission, I’m excited about.”
Another fight factor that appeals to Kasem is the respect the competitors show each other after their bouts. Even the biggest grudge matches the sport produces are followed by handshakes and hugs when the fists stop flying. “Most of the time, once they’re done fighting, they say good things about their opponents,” she says. It’s all about honor, she adds
You Can’t Please All the People All the Time
After being so close to the action in the octagon and getting to know the top fighters, Kerri Kasem has developed the ultimate in admiration for their devotion to their careers. “I respect what they do so much,” she says. “They put everything they have into the sport.”
Mixed-martial arts fighters have an authenticity that appeals to fans, she says. In fact, she’d rather converse with them than with the showbiz types she’s used to hanging with. “I don’t care about chatting with Hollywood actors,” she says. “These fighters are the real deal.”
Not all fans, however, are enamored with Kerri Kasem, Octagon Interviewer. On several MMA forums on the Internet, a few have been posting comments in an attempt to discredit her.
Kasem’s response was, to say the least, unique. While filming a UFC TV commercial, she had trainer Marc Laimon choke her unconscious to prove her devotion to the combat sport. Before he applied his choke hold, Kasem quipped, “This is for all the UFC fans that hate me as the post-fight interviewer.”
When she woke up, she started giggling.
As MMA becomes more popular in North America and the UFC builds some mainstream contacts in the media world—like it’s doing on Spike TV with The Ultimate Fighter and on Fox Sports Network with special showings of its bouts, Kasem is optimistic about the sport’s future.
“I hope it takes the place of boxing,” she says. “I think in the next 10 years, it will. Boxing to me is boring, but the UFC has everything—stand-up, ground, punching and kicking. It rocks!”