Frank Trigg: American Hustler

Fightland Blog

By Michael Martin

Photos by Willard Ford

Matt Hughes v. Frank Trigg II was recently announced as the first fight to be inducted into the UFC hall of fame. It’s widely known that UFC president Dana White considers this fight one of his all-time favorites—not just in MMA, but all of sport. According to White, the roughly four minutes of that fight “showed everything that is great about the UFC.”

Matt Hughes is already in the UFC Hall of Fame. There have been over 300 UFC events, and even at a very low presumption of five fights per event, you’ve got over 1,500 fights. Why honor this fight above all others as the first pick? It can’t be to recognize Hughes—that’s already happened. This honor requires that we look at the heel of the fight. The first genuine heel (besides Tank Abbot) in MMA. The heel who came before other notable heels like Josh Koscheck, Chael Sonnen, and the current heel du jour, Conor McGregor.

So, who is Frank Trigg?

No word comes to mind more in Frank Trigg’s presence than "hustle".

There was a time when the word "hustle" wasn't pejorative—it was used to describe hard work and the mental fortitude consistent hard work required. It was an intangible quality that was hard to quantify but nonetheless was easily spotted by those who had an eye for it. It's time to reclaim that word from the shadows and give it its due as a badge of honor.

In that spirit, Frank Trigg is the consummate hustler.

In some ways, this was a foreseeable outcome for a boy raised in Rochester, New York with six other brothers. Everyone was physically competitive and achieving on your own was a necessity and encouraged. His family produced a hodgepodge of professional and educational levels. In no particular order, there is an aeronautical engineer, short order cook, naval officer, enlisted airman, used mobile phone salesman and lawyer/government advisor. His father, anticipating boredom in retirement, went on to become a merchant marine at age 65. All were considered good athletes in high school but none thought about doing anything with their talent. Trigg was always encouraged but not excessively. If he was remotely good at anything, however, he was expected to be the best at it. If better training opportunities or good advice were in another county, city or state, he would get into gear and go find it, even at an early age. Picture a 10-year-old walking three miles one way for a kung-fu lesson. That's a young Trigg.

Echoes of this mentality are evident. When asked about his fighting style, he responds in succinct, staccato soundbites: I'm the gas pedal. I go harder than the other guy. He'll want to quit. 100 miles an hour. As fast as you can go. Constant pressure—a berserker kind of style. When a comparison is brought up between that style and that of Wanderlei Silva in Silva's prime, he welcomes it, just making the distinction that they had different tools they brought to achieve their objective. Silva had Muay Thai and BJJ. Trigg had wrestling and boxing.

His approach to self-marketing as an MMA fighter demonstrated that same drive. He had his own brand—'Triggonomics'. It wasn't enough to just have an endorsement or a sponsor's name splayed on your shorts. He promoted himself, too, for the sport was young and those promotions that were around weren't paying much. Trigg credits a summer from his youth, when he was grounded from playing outside as the result of never making it home in time for dinner, as giving him the seeds of self-promotional ideology. Barred from the outdoors, Trigg read voraciously, being particularly fond of biographies. Muhammad Ali was one such figure he read about, and he remembers vividly a part of Ali's story where it talked about Ali coming to the realization that a professional wrestler sitting next to him was dominating the conversation, and deciding at that moment that he needed to promote himself in much the same manner to catch the public's attention. What Ali went on to achieve with that mentality is common knowledge. Trigg saw it as necessary to bring those same attributes to bear, and did so at a time when the average MMA fighter was about as clueless about marketing as Art Jimmerson was about the ground game.

Name an MMA promotion, and it's likely that Trigg has a) fought for it, b) provided commentary for or about it, or c) both of the above. He's famed for, in his PRIDE days, of fighting earlier on a card and returning to provide commentary during the rest of the show. Trigg is MMA's perpetual motion machine. Go ahead. Use that search engine at your fingertips. Type 'Frank Trigg' into the little box and press enter. Hours later, if you listen to every interview, read every article, watch every available clip on YouTube, you'll still only have scratched the surface.

Perhaps Trigg's most famous fights were against Matt Hughes for the UFC Welterweight Championship. The duo met on two occasions, with Hughes emerging victorious both times. As with most combat sports (and sports in general), just because entity A defeats entity B, and entity B defeats entity C, entity A does not automatically beat entity C. To wit, Trigg beat fighter Dennis Hallman twice. Dennis Hallman beat Matt Hughes twice. However, Trigg lost both times to Hughes.

As the cliché goes: “These things happen in MMA.”

Despite this, as an MMA Renaissance man, Frank Trigg sought to do it all. A short list of other achievements:

  • Defeated (with prejudice) MMA notables like Jean Jacques Machado (seen here) and Jason "Mayhem" Miller (seen here).
  • Held championship titles in multiple MMA promotions (Icon Sport and WFA).
  • Delivered color commentary for legendary promotions like Pride FC, Affliction, and Dream.

When Trigg speaks, it's in the no-nonsense, take-it-or-leave-it directness one would expect from a New Yorker. A more circumspect personality, given to nuance, affectations of politeness, or being "nice" will likely find him abrasive. MMA fighters have themselves been so rattled by his direct commentary that they've publicly confronted him. Remember, though, that "niceness" is a strategy—a form of manipulation, a mask of harmlessness and pleasantry. Trigg may paint his toenails, but he certainly doesn't gloss over what he has to say.

Such directness is not without consequence. Famed is his elevator altercation with UFC announcer Bruce Buffer, where Buffer made the error of getting in between Trigg and Dana White, just as Trigg was speaking to the UFC oligarch about getting back into the organization. As the story goes, Trigg's hand flew out and delivered Buffer a blow. This popped off as the elevator doors were closing. For 10 floors, White, White's bodyguard, and UFC commentator Mike Goldberg were wide-eyed witnesses to the surreal spectacle of Trigg and Buffer exchanging blows. When the elevator doors opened, the action stopped, and both Trigg and Buffer (friendly then and friendly now, by the way) stopped. Buffer looked down and his thumb was a wreck. His shirt was stained with blood. After a quick trip to a Vegas ER for some stitching, Buffer has claimed, he was back on the town, ending the night successfully by retiring for the evening with a beautiful woman. Stories like this are the legends of MMA, the oral history- not televised, photographed, packaged, and produced—that will constantly cause fan, fellow fighter, and journalist alike to question the story's veracity. Like the  "Judo" Gene LeBell – Steven Seagal story that ends with LeBell standing over an unconscious (and soiled) Seagal, it remains mysterious, especially in an era where technology has made us all digital voyeurs, constantly chronicling even our most mundane moments.

Another legendary story has Trigg being confronted by Lorenzo Fertitta, casino owner, entrepreneur, and co-owner of the UFC, at the wedding of a mutual friend of both. Trigg was working for PRIDE, the UFC's main rival at the time. In that role, it was not uncommon for Trigg to be instructed by PRIDE management to talk some trash about the UFC as he hyped PRIDE's own product. Trigg describes Fertitta in respectful tones even while recounting this story—Fertitta spends tons of time in the gym, apparently, and has a very physically commanding presence. As Fertitta walked towards him at the wedding, Trigg describes how the crowd parted “like the Red Sea”. Fertitta directly called Trigg out on the trash talk. Trigg explained back that it was all part of his job—he had a mortgage and PRIDE was writing the paychecks. Fertitta understood. Today, by Trigg's account, all animosity between he and the UFC brass is gone, and they regularly greet each other as they invariably cross paths in the MMA world.

“Infamous” would more aptly describe the domestic violence accusations against Trigg, his reported arrest for the same, and the subsequent shunning Trigg describes. Trigg went on Ariel Helwani's "MMA Hour" in early 2012, soon after the story broke, to provide what has been his consistent answer since- there's a court order to remain silent about the incident. He can't talk about it. He understands why his employer at the time, HD Net Fights, terminated their association with him. It's bad business to have a reported domestic abuser as the public face of your organization. Trigg maintains that he has no problem talking about the incident personally—in fact, when asked, he said that the court order preventing his discussion of the incident expires in 2016, and that he would certainly be willing to discuss it then. In conversation, Trigg voices some exasperation with the court of public opinion. “I’d just like it if people were able to hang around me and see what I am really like before making comments on the internet”, he says.

An allegation like this has been the death-knell of many public personalities. Trigg, however, has taken upon the task of rebuilding himself with the same near-manic hustle that is his hallmark.

2013 comes. Urijah Faber, captain and poster-boy for Team Alpha Male and one of the most recognizable personalities in MMA, describes his admiration for Frank's fighting and commentary as they work together on a project. 2014 has Trigg hosting regular interviews on a show called "Toe to Toe with Trigg" at mmaoddsbreaker.com, interviewing popular fighter after popular fighter. Randy Couture. Gilbert Melendez. Michele (The Karate Hottie) Watterson of Invicta FC and now UFC fame. Johnny Hendricks. Travis Browne.

2014 is also the first time he's part of an MMA group visiting troops overseas, joining famed cutman Jacob "Stitch" Duran, Tim Kennedy, Marcus Davis, and Cole "The Apache Kid" Escovedo. Trigg led the training portion of their visits and plans on doing it again, should the opportunity present itself.

Currently, Trigg coaches at Strong Sports Gym in downtown LA, alongside fellow former UFC fighters Mac Danzig and Vladimir Matyushenko. He's actively involved in work as a stuntman and has one movie in post-production and another currently being filmed. His interview show is going strong, with Dominick Cruz and Dan “Hendo” Henderson as recent guests. He stays involved and active in all aspects of social media, recently taking advantage of the "Hang w/" live streaming application, regularly speaking his mind on issues both inside and outside the cage.

Trigg muses: “Every morning when I wake up, I think ‘How can I win today?’ I’m still very competitive in everything I do.”

Still hustling.

Connect with Frank on Twitter, Facebook, or visit his website at http://www.franktrigg.com/


Check out these related stories:

Real American Wrestling: The Rise and Fall of the RAW Team

Contemporary vs. Traditional: Willard Ford’s Strong Sports Gym

Tune Into the UFC Hall of Fame Conference Call