The all-female strawweight cast of TUF 20 have been in the TUF house and without access to media for three weeks, but Felice Herrig is still making headlines. Or, as Herrig’s manager Brian Butler puts it, “other people use her name to get attention for themselves.”
Herrig is a media star, for sure. She posts a near constant stream of updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—peppering her posts with photos of her still in bed in the morning, with bedhead and a sculpted butt in Ninja Turtles underwear on display, or in the locker room, sweaty in a sports bra after a workout.
I talked to Butler, who leads SuckerPunch Entertainment, a fighter management and marketing company. His fighters love him, so much so that I know he exists only because they talk about him. Herrig mentions him regularly, and since she has been making the news while she is locked in the TUF house, Butler is handling the fallout.
He has a point about the draw of Herrig’s name in a headline. Arial Helwani interviewed the whole TUF 20 cast, and as usual he tried to stir up trouble between fighters, first asking who each woman found most annoying in the cast. Disappointed when fighters like Emily Kagen refused to play along—Kagen said, “I really do believe in an empowered and unified group of women” (and now I love her)—Helwani tried to drag it out of another fighter: “Felice? Are you talking about Felice?”
Helwani made sure to confront Herrig as well, asking Carla Esparza in front of Herrig, “What do you like in this person? Everyone seems to dislike her.” We see Herrig’s response on camera, where her smile seems forced as she gives a lighthearted answer and then says that she recently considered quitting fighting, partly because of the negative comments from other fighters.
Photo via Invicta FC
Butler was angry about the video and assessed Herrig’s response as best he could, since he hasn’t been able to speak to her while she’s in the TUF house. “She tried to play it off, but I could see it in her eyes, her energy just dropped. And it’s not even true. Two of them said they don’t like her, and one of them is someone she’s beaten.”
An article supposedly about Claudia Gadelha picked a few sentences Gadelha said about Herrig and turned them into a headline: Claudia Gadelha doesn’t like Felice Herrig’s style: ‘I don't show my butt in that way.’ Rather than focus on the fact that Gadelha was favored to win the first-ever UFC strawweight bout, a headline about Herrig seemed more of a draw.
Butler had Herrig’s back again, posting on the Suckerpunch Instagram account a photo of Gadelha in a thong bikini, showing her butt in precisely “that way.”
Helwani’s prodding probably contributed to what rumors called a “scuffle” on the first day the women were in the TUF house—between Herrig and an unnamed fighter (probably Heather Clark, with whom Herrig has scuffled in the past). Along with a crafty approach to media, Herrig has a short fuse and a loud mouth (thus the nickname Lil Bulldog)—two things that make her extra appealing to fans and journalists. She has a reputation for a few high-profile pre-fight or post-fight shoving matches. (On the other hand, she’s best friends with Carla Esparza, and they met on the canvas, where Esparza defeated Herrig.)
As a manager, Butler pays attention to every part of a fighter’s career, including getting her fights. But as a guy who started out in marketing, he’s especially good at spotting marketing opportunities, and Herrig is a marketer’s dream.
Despite her detractors, the woman has fans—loyal fans—and that means sponsorships, which help pay the bills between fights. She has almost 39,000 Twitter followers, a fairly large number compared to the other women on TUF 20.
Butler explains, “I managed one female fighter, and then shortly after that I got Felice. I gave them the same sponsors, the same opportunities. One of them took the ball and ran and scored touchdowns, and the other one just kind of dropped it. Felice has this ability to show support for the sponsors that support her. Another fighter might just think ‘I wore the logo on my shorts during the fight, I’m good.’”
With Herrig, Butler finds it easier to find not only fight-day sponsors but sponsors who will pay her monthly, regardless of whether she has a fight. “It’s because she is constantly engaged,” Butler says, “and in subtle ways. She’ll post those bedhead photos regardless, but she also remembers to put on her Fuel socks and get her feet in the shot. She’s smart.”
The bedhead and locker room photos are just two of the many storylines Herrig uses to keep fans interested. She also poses with sock monkeys (and gets them as gifts from fans), gleefully dresses up for Halloween, and posts videos of her trying new workouts that don’t work out so well. The opportunity to get a picture with Felice brings fans to her sponsors’ booths at expos, too.
Photo via Invicta FC
Another storyline is the themes Herrig develops for her weigh-in and fight attire. She comes up with those herself, but Butler consults. “She wanted to do Supergirl for one fight, and she got the weigh-in outfit all ready, and I told her it would be cool if she walked to the scale in a secretary / Clark Kent outfit and then stripped to the Supergirl outfit to step on the scale.”
Butler usually just helps Herrig push her own ideas further. But sometimes he has to pull her back. “Sometimes Felice will go too far and I’ll say no. Then she’ll hashtag #managerkilljoy.” And, ever creative, she’ll find a way to do what she wants anyway and make sure we know it’s not Butler’s fault: #managerkilljoy.
Complaints about Herrig’s approach to marketing usually fall along the lines of “she’s trashy” or “she must not be a good fighter, if she has to show her ass to get attention.” But, Butler argues, competition for sponsors is high. “It’s a different game from when there were six shows a year and a build up to the show. Now there’s a UFC fight once or twice a week, and more with Bellator, World Series of Fighting, Glory, and other promotions.” And she’s a good fighter, with an MMA record of 9-5 and a kickboxing record of 23-5.
I like her—she’s funny online and she’s good in the ring. I’ve written about her before. I hope she doesn’t get kicked out of TUF for unsanctioned fighting, and I hope we get to see more of Herrig as she sees herself, and as her manager and friends (many of whom are fellow fighters, despite the media implication that everyone hates her) see her. However, given the reality show propensity to hype the drama, I assume we’re going to see more of what Helwani already started.
And that’s too bad, both for Herrig and for female fighters in general. I can already tell you that if I hear the word “catfight” used to describe disagreements between professional women in a high-pressure situation that is manipulated to be almost unbearable, I’m going to go full Felice on somebody’s face.
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