The connection doesn’t even seem real, let alone likely.
How does the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the mixed martial arts juggernaut that is the face of the fastest growing sport in the world, have ties to Gonzaga University, a small Jesuit school known for its overachieving basketball team and its incredible ability to be mispronounced by nearly everyone outside of Spokane?
Yet here is Nick Brown, a 2013 Gonzaga grad with a bachelor’s degree in sport management and a minor in broadcasting, working for the Las Vegas-based fight company. He was hired there by a Zag who already worked for the UFC. And his fiancée – yep, you guessed it, another Gonzaga alum – also works there.
Making it all even more surreal is that Brown grew up in Las Vegas, finding his way to Gonzaga for college, then back to Las Vegas for one of the great jobs in all of sports media. Even he admits it all sounds a little strange.
But it’s the way he tells the story that makes it perfect for the week when his beloved Bulldogs come to his hometown for the West Coast Conference Tournament.
“I went to a Lutheran high school even though I was Catholic, so I wanted to choose a school that was more in line with my personal beliefs,” Brown explained last week. “In the end, it came down to Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, but I was not about to go to a second-rate basketball school.
“Gonzaga blew me away on my first tour, and the rest is history.”
OK, so even if that’s not exactly how it happened, we all can agree that makes the story better, so we’re going with it.
Brown is currently a video producer for the UFC. He started freelancing with the company in 2013, immediately after he graduated from Gonzaga, and was hired full-time in early 2014. He’s in charge of producing all of the video content for the UFC’s different social media channels.
It all started during his senior year in Spokane. Anthony Petosa – a 2004 GU grad who spent 12 years with the UFC, including eventually being the company’s vice president of video production and programming – was a guest speaker at one of Brown’s broadcast classes.
The two talked and immediately hit it off. Petosa told him that if he didn’t have anything lined up after graduation, to reach out to him. With the UFC about to launch a new streaming video service, the timing couldn’t have been better for either.
“I worked for Anthony for about four years, and he was always there for me,” Brown said. “He would often sit with me to watch the clips I had edited to give me tips and ask me questions that would get me thinking about new ways to tell stories.
“It felt very much like an extension of what I had at Gonzaga. Even though I was working full-time in a paid job, I still had a way to continue learning from someone I really respected in this field.”
This wasn’t even the biggest change in Brown’s life.
Brown’s family moved from Oakland to Las Vegas when he was 10. With the exception of the NFL’s Raiders, there couldn’t be two cities that felt more different.
Well, unless you’re comparing Las Vegas to Spokane.
Yet, Spokane was exactly what a recent high school grad raised in a town known more for the nation’s biggest parties than a place for higher learning needed. Though he admits those weren’t the reasons he wanted to go to college someplace else.
Like most of us, he just wanted to get away from home for a while. But in the name of learning … preferably somewhere very different than the Mojave Desert.
People who live in Las Vegas often say “it’s a dry heat.” That’s you how tolerate a summer day that might get close to 120 degrees.
As an 18-year-old wanting to leave town for college, why not go someplace where it snows? That’s about as different as you can get from Las Vegas, and that was Brown’s plan. Still, that first winter in Spokane was a huge shock.
“You can’t really walk through deep snow in a pair of Nikes, even though I tried,” he said with a laugh.
That wasn’t the biggest difference for him, though.
Las Vegas is known as a transient sort of town. When you live there, even for a long time, you’re often still surprised when you meet someone who was born and raised there.
“Las Vegas really is a melting pot,” Brown explained. “Most people really are transplants from someplace else. But that wasn’t the case in Spokane. At first, it was almost shocking. Then it became one of my favorite parts of Spokane.
“Spokane has its own culture and a sense of place. It was refreshing to see a city filled with people who had been there for so long, and valued their city over other cities. It was unique.”
Especially in the neighborhoods that surrounded the Gonzaga campus.
“Feeling all of those around you really rally around Gonzaga, especially during basketball season, was incredible to see,” Brown said. “It was so great to be in a city with such spirit.”
It’s one thing to have an appreciation for college basketball. MMA is something completely different.
Brown began seeing UFC fights on TV while in high school. Fight night has always been a part of the culture of Las Vegas, dating to the world’s biggest boxing matches. UFC has become the new-millennium version of that.
Working in the fight business, Brown sees that up close in a way few get to experience.
“Fight week is madness,” he said. “From Monday until the night of the fight, you’re at a full sprint. And because of the nature of our business, things can change at any time.
“Fighters can get injured, someone can miss weight, an entire fight might drop off, but as the old adage goes, the show must go on. So you have to adapt and make everything work. You figure things out and work together to make sure it’s still going to be great.”
That’s a lesson Brown said he actually learned at Gonzaga.
“When you leave Gonzaga, you know that you are not done learning things,” he said. “You really understand that life and learning is an ever-evolving process. You’re always looking for personal growth, and growth in your community and growing your relationships with other people.
“Gonzaga taught me the importance of branching out … and that being able to adapt and change are what make you a complete person. That’s such a valuable understanding to have as you enter life, and that’s one of the biggest things Gonzaga gave me.”
Well, that and the first-rate basketball team that still visits his hometown every March.
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