Before he gained internet fame as the centerpiece of the infamous #JonJones vs. #DanielCormier press conference brawl at the MGM Grand, former UFC VP of Public Relations Dave Sholler traveled the world as a PR manager for the #WEC.
A longtime Zuffa mainstay, Sholler traded in his cageside credential following #UFC205 for an executive position with the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers. And while his days are now more Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, than #ConorMcGregor and #NateDiaz, Sholler is quick to take a moment to celebrate Urijah Faber ahead of his pending retirement.
The pair spent years traveling the globe to promote MMA, Zuffa, the WEC, and, of course, the UFC.
“For me, Urijah was the first example I had, relative to mixed martial arts, of an athlete that I could see going and carrying a sport to the mainstream,” comments Sholler. “He just has this presence and this aura about him ... I think it’s why he’s been so incredibly successful.”
From 2008-2010, Sholler and Faber worked closely on media tours for the WEC. And while he witnessed the UFC grow from “struggling to sell 150,000 pay per views,” to a four-billion dollar sale with multiple million-selling fight cards in 2016 alone, Sholler recalls Faber’s early premonitions for the future of mixed martial arts.
“When [Urijah’s] gym really started to get going, Team Alpha Male, he had told me about these three up-and-coming fighters that he had: Joseph Benavidez, Chad Mendes, and TJ Dillashaw;” recalls Sholler. “He commented on how they were all gonna end up fighting for a title if not winning the title, and I’ll be damned, his magic eight-ball was pretty correct … Urijah Faber’s one of those guys, if he touches it, it has a high likelihood of turning into gold.”
Following the dissolution of the WEC after 2010, Sholler and Faber made the transition to the UFC. The growth of the promotion to include the featherweight, bantamweight, and flyweight divisions was a big step to pushing mixed martial arts onto network television, paving the way for a new crop of start athletes.
According to Sholler, Faber was a big part of that mainstream media success.
“[Urijah] was the pioneer of the lighter weight classes. I came on in the end of 2008 and then worked all of 2009, 2010 for the WEC before it merged into the UFC and Urijah was big time then,” comments Sholler. “We were talking about Urijah doing really big media. He was obviously involved with the campaign with Pepsi through No Fear and Amp Energy. He had the deal with K-Swiss. He was just an incredible ambassador for the sport.”
That bond formed during their WEC days helped Sholler and Faber develop a phenomenal rapport. The only difficulties arose when Faber was matched against fellow WEC alumnus, Dominick Cruz.
“Fighting Dominick Cruz was always a tough one for me personally because those were two guys that I really traveled this world with promoting the WEC,” adds Sholler. “I tried to obviously stay neutral and root for the WEC in the end in there.”
With his 76ers in the middle of a week-long homestand, and off on December 17, Sholler will likely be watching the Faber’s final fight on the UFC Sacramento card on FOX. And while Sholler admits that when it comes to Faber, he’s “never been worried about life after fighting,” he understands that after Saturday, the UFC and mixed martial arts will lose one of its most beloved and charismatic frontmen.
“Urijah set the bar,” explains Sholler. “When you’re talking about professionalism, when you talk about guys just being true genuine professionals, just talk about Urijah Faber. There’s just no other way around it. He understood the value of media, and he understood it at a time in the sport where, let’s be frank … he helped us break down a lot of barriers, and he took pride in that role as an ambassador.”
Notable WEC Alumni in the UFC:
- Urijah Faber
- Dominick Cruz
- Demetrious Johnson
- Anthony Pettis
- Chad Mendes
- Joseph Benavidez
- Cub Swanson
- Ricardo Lamas
- Renan Barao
- Takeya Mizugaki
- Dustin Poirier