When the UFC landed on Fox and FX, the goal was for a whole new group of fans to learn and find out exactly what mixed martial arts was all about.
While that goal is still being achieved with every show broadcast on the network, some of the actors and actresses that are part of the Fox family are also starting to become UFC fans along the way.
One of those actors is ‘Sons of Anarchy’ star Theo Rossi, who first ran across the sport of MMA years ago when he was still making his way into the Hollywood scene.
Long before the days of Dana White and the Fertitta brothers, Rossi first encountered the UFC while working at a bar in Los Angeles. Unbeknownst to him at the time, years later the sport would come back around and become his new obsession.
“I boxed most of my life so I’ve always been training with boxing, I just always used it as a way to work out and then it eventually led to sparring, and I really, really got into it. I’m super competitive, so then what happened was it was kind of this natural move where UFC started gaining popularity, and obviously I have stories that go back to when I first moved to L.A. in October 99', I worked in this bar/restaurant, I was bartending, I was waitering,” Rossi told MMAWeekly Radio.
“While I was working there these guys came in, the guys that came in were Tank Abbott, Frank Shamrock, Ken Shamrock, and I believe it was Kimo (Leopoldo), and they all came in they had some kind of event. They came into this bar and literally I was their waiter at their table, and they were drinking and eating steaks, and this was a bar that was super rowdy. Drunk people everywhere, it was just one of those bars and the bouncers were saying ‘if these guys get in a fight, I am not jumping in’. Tank was like looking around for a fight, and I was just hanging around with them and I really knew nothing about it at the time. I didn’t know much about it.”
As time went by and Rossi spent more time in and around the bar scene in Los Angeles, he noticed a startling trend – the local pubs and clubs were showing a lot more mixed martial arts than boxing.
“So I started watching it, I started taking in little events here and there. I was still this boxing purist so it was really hard for me kind of really pay attention to it. Then, I would always keep my eyes open and my cousins own one of the biggest sports bars in Los Angeles, so the bars would always be packed for UFC fights and I found it really odd cause I was always in there,” explained Rossi.
Then in late 2011, the deal between the UFC and Fox was announced, and Rossi soon found himself on the list of actors set to walk the red carpet during the promotion’s first event on the network.
Rossi plays ‘Juice’ on ‘Sons of Anarchy’, the No. 1 rated drama on FX, and along with several of his cast mates they attended the UFC on Fox 1 card with Cain Velasquez taking on Junior dos Santos. When the night was over, like so many people before him, Rossi was hooked.
Rossi also had the chance to meet and greet UFC President Dana White and co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta, and much like his boss and Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter, their personalities all clicked right away.
“Then when FX and Fox kind of made the deal, I really started paying attention as in becoming more of a student of it. I was lucky enough to meet Dana (White) and Lorenzo (Fertitta) and it was like an instant connection, they’re just like the two coolest people, down to earth, everything I look for in this chaotic business,” said Rossi.
“The most real, you would never know what they do, you would never know anything about them business wise hanging out with them, they’re just two normal guys. Basically, I started, like I do with everything, studying up and getting more and more involved.”
After the initial UFC on Fox event, Rossi was invited out to Las Vegas to stop by the Ultimate Fighter set as filming on last season took place. The Sons of Anarchy star met with coaches Urijah Faber and Dominick Cruz, and he quickly found two new friends.
As time passed, Rossi became a mainstay at all of the UFC events and now almost any time you turn on a pay-per-view, you’ll see the Sons of Anarchy star sitting at or near the front row.
“I would say I’m kind of addicted,” said Rossi. “We have the fights on in the craft service trailer, we watch the fights, I would watch fights between takes, I’m pretty addicted. Mainly because, I enjoy it so much. I enjoy the fact that people lose, I enjoy the fact that it changes, I enjoy what Dana and Lorenzo have done, I enjoy the company.”
Rossi says the crossover appeal between the popular FX outlaw biker drama and the UFC is a natural. He’s still blown away every time he walks into an arena and the UFC fans recognize him from his work on TV, and there’s no doubt the Sons of Anarchy crowd is a perfect fit for the fight world.
“It’s pretty surreal. Like I told Dana, I think UFC and MMA and Sons of Anarchy, motorcycles, Harley-Davidson, whatever and the military are like a perfect fit. That’s our wheelhouse. Those four. It was shocking to me just walking into the TUF house, or MGM or whatever arena it is to see the reaction for the show, that’s our people right there,” Rossi stated.
“I love that. Just like at (San Diego) Comic-Con and I said it there and I’ll say it again, our fans are the most die hard fans, UFC fans are the most die hard fans, MMA fans are the most die hard fans, comic book fans are the most die hard fans. We’re in our fifth season and I’ve never met a fan who has told me ‘yeah I’ve seen one or two, and I really didn’t love it’. I’ve either had people go ‘I love the show, I’ve seen every single episode, I could sketch your diaper on a pad, I know every single thing about it, I love it’ or ‘I haven’t seen it yet, but I heard it’s fantastic’. Those are the two reactions I get. When I walk into that arena, just the reaction is incredible and it’s just the perfect fit.”
As Sons of Anarchy gets ready to kick off its fifth season on Tuesday night, Rossi will be excited to see how fans greet his latest work on television, but assuredly on Friday night he’ll be tuning into the new Ultimate Fighter and then UFC 152 next weekend.
One day, Rossi hopes his two passions might even meet.
No, Rossi isn’t planning a trip to the Octagon any time soon, but he might invite one of the UFC’s top stars to guest star alongside him on Sons of Anarchy. He thinks someone like UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos or Alistair Overeem would do great on the biker show – maybe even a fight would break out.
“Maybe because it’s on TV,” Rossi joked. “I beat them up.”
To hear the entire 30 plus minute interview with Theo Rossi including a preview of season 5 of Sons of Anarchy, check out his episode of MMAWeekly Radio