When Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) sealed a monumental network television deal with FOX last year, it was the beginning of a beautiful seven-year, $700 million friendship.
One year into the partnership, the promotion has already staged four events on Fox to go along with four live events on FX, a branch of the major network channel, as well as events on Fuel TV, delivering solid ratings for the promotion and the network, too.
The deal allowed the UFC and mixed martial arts (MMA) to gain the long sought after mainstream exposure it so desired. It kicked down the door for new fans who were perhaps unaware of the sport up until seeing a UFC promo while watching a Major League Baseball (MLB) or National Football League (NFL) game on Fox.
Among those fans is Hollywood actor Theo Rossi, one of the stars of mega-hit television series, "Sons of Anarchy." Rossi plays "Juice," a valued member of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original or, SAMCRO, which airs Tuesday nights 10 p.m. ET on FX.
The show follows a tight-knit motorcycle club in the fictional town of Charming, Calif., documenting the trials and tribulations they endure to keep control of their town as they fight off the law, rival club members, Russian and Irish mob bosses, as well as dealing with turmoil within their own ranks.
Through it all, the show is about brotherhood, loyalty and a family that stands by each other through thick and thin and who have each others backs no matter what.
UFC President Dana White, along with Strikeforce women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) coaches Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson, recently took to the red carpet to catch the season premiere in California, signaling their support and great relationship with the show's stars and the network.
Drawing in a record-breaking 5.47 million viewers for the season premiere of its fifth season, "Sons of Anarchy" has proven to be a monster hit for the network with its massive following of loyal fans. According to Rossi, who now says he simply can't get enough MMA, a relationship with Fox and the similarities between "Sons of Anarchy" and the UFC, simply go hand-in-hand.
Rossi took time out of his busy schedule to talk to MMAmania.com and discuss the success of the television show, the UFC and Fox relationship and explains his addiction to the sport of MMA.
In Part One of our interview we discuss his addiction to the sport, how he has turned on some of his co-stars onto MMA, the huge success of "Sons of Anarchy," the UFC and Fox deal and recalls an encounter with a couple of UFC Hall of Famers in a Hollywood saloon-styled bar in the earlier years of the sport.
Adam Guillen Jr. (MMAmania.com): In this past Tuesday's (Oct. 2, 2012) heart-wrenching episode, the club said goodbye to "Opie," in a truly touching episode, and the fans said farewell to a great character, how difficult was it filming those scenes, given the fact that you guys are so close and Ryan Hurst won't be on set filming anymore alongside you?
Theo Rossi: For us, we're so tight. We're such a family on and off the set. Me, my girl, Ryan and his girl are all going to Disneyland in a few weeks, we still hang out and talk all the time. It's definitely different, because we're the crew, the club and were used to being together, but it's a sign of how intense the show is. We're on the other side of the mountain. We've done four intense seasons, and from what I hear, were signed on for seven, possibly eight. We're hoping that it is. We're wrapping up a lot of stuff, and in doing that, we're going to lose a lot of people. It could be me, it could be anybody. That's going to be part of the process because we've all done so many things and there are so many secrets and in the case of Opie, what I love about Opie so much is that he was kind of innocent in everything. All that shit was done to him, he didn't really do anything to anybody. But truly, how could he live in this world anymore? And, he knew that. His character knew that and Kurt (Sutter), he wrote him out like a champ. He immortalized him in that. If you're going to go out in any show or movie, you hope to go out as honorably as he did.
Adam Guillen Jr. (MMAmania.com): Staying on Opie's character, which was an important part to the club and the show, Kurt Sutter, the writer and creator of the show, came out of the gates swinging in Season 5, killing him off in only the third episode, do you ever get nervous that you'll ever get that dreaded script that "Juice's" time has run out?
Theo Rossi: Here's the thing, basically, look at what happened with "Juice" last year. Crazy, crazy things started happening that really took this dude's soul. All he was trying to do was help out and keep everybody safe. In him doing that, all these secrets started coming out. The killing of Miles and the stuff with the cops and the ATF. The only way he would release info is them guaranteeing that they would leave the sons alone and go for the IRA and the Cartel. So, he was trying his best to not lose his family. He tried hanging himself and he couldn't even do that right. That's so "Juice." I don't worry (about being killed off) because I literally trust in every word Kurt writes. He has never done me wrong, he has never done any character wrong. It's all part of the story, the mythology, and the whole thing. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen and I'm just blessed to be on a TV show. Were in our fifth season and our ratings go up every single episode.
Adam Guillen Jr. (MMAmania.com): What is it about "Sons" that attracts people? Aside from all the great writing, acting, action and drama. The show gets people deeply invested in the characters. How is "Sons" able to pull that off, having people root for the "bad guys" so-to-speak?
Theo Rossi: Now, I've thought about this. Why does it work with us? What is it? Besides the amazing writing, which is where it all starts, is with the words, the amazing story telling. Then the amazing acting and great actors and on top of it, a great network in FX who is super behind us and supports us. I think the heart of this is two things: It's a family drama. It's all about family at the end, it's all about brotherhood and family, and everybody in one way or another can relate to that. Whether you got a bad family or a good family, you got a bunch of 'homies' that you hung out with, their your best friends that you love, like whatever it is, you can relate too being tight and being best friends and being super close with your family and dealing with all the trials and tribulations that come with that. Number two, besides the brothers and the family, I would say we put together, in my mind, the greatest cast of character actors. Like, everybody you see on there, even the guest stars who come in, you know them from somewhere. They're known at being really good at what they do. When the first season came out, people were like, "Oh my God, that's the dude from ‘Gladiator,' that's the guy from ‘Hellboy," that's the guy from, "Braveheart," that's the girl from ‘Married with Children." Because we all really do like each other a lot and we are best friends and we got each others back and we hang out, we go on vacations and we do everything together. I think that radiates off the screen and people realize that.
Adam Guillen Jr. (MMAmania.com): You recently made that comment that MMA, specifically the UFC, has become your ‘crack.' When did it all start for you?
Theo Rossi: (Laughs) I've never done crack, but yeah! I've boxed my whole life to stay in shape and I would spar whenever I could. When I moved out to L.A., I immediately got a job bartending in this crazy, like saloon-type bar in Hollywood. Some of the first dudes that came in there, I remember, all of a sudden, Frank Shamrock and Ken Shamrock and Kimo, Tank Abbott, all came in. And, I didn't know anything about the UFC or MMA. All I knew was that the bouncers were like, "If these dudes get in a fight, I am not breaking it up." And I was like, "Oh, alright." Then I started to watch it, it was totally different then, and at the time I was crazy about boxing. Then, boxing made a huge mistake. They stopped making the best guys fight the best guys and it got boring. And, everybody was searching for something else. Like I tell Dana all the time, him, Lorenzo and Frank were the smartest people in the room because they created something in which the best guys are going to fight the best guys. I mean, I still admire Joe Frazier, Mike Tyson, Rocky Marciano, I think they are the toughest guys ever, but what I love about MMA was that you didn't have to just know one style, you had to know different styles to be in a fight. You had to know more, so it was an intelligent man's way of fighting, which I thought back then.
Adam Guillen Jr. (MMAmania.com): What were some of the earlier fights you saw?
Theo Rossi: I used to watch the Rampage and Liddell fights, but not like I do now. Then, FOX and UFC made this deal and then I went to an event and that was it, it was over. Me and a bunch of my Navy Seal buddies went to see Brian Stann fight and that was it. I just remember me wanting to know everything about it. I started going to every single event. I got really involved with The Ultimate Fighter last season. I went and did one or two episodes and I go to Vegas all the time to watch the fights. And when I met Dana, he said he had just finishing watching all four season of "Sons of Anarchy" on his back and forth plane rides from Brazil, when he was dealing with Silva vs Sonnen 2 fight, and he was hooked on the show. Then, we just started hanging like crazy. I go to every single event that I could possibly get to. And I go to the prelims, too. Like, I literally go into the arena and no one is there, I'll be there watching the Facebook fights, I love it and I just respect it so much.
Adam Guillen Jr. (MMAmania.com): With the mega seven-year, $700 million UFC and Fox deal, MMA is now on cable, and has events aired on FX, do you think the relationship is a good match? In your opinion, has it opened the door for many new fans that maybe have never seen an MMA fight, but saw a promo on FX while on commercial break from "Sons of Anarchy" and decided to tune in to the next one and vice versa?
Theo Rossi: Absolutely they've helped each other out! It's really the most natural fit I've ever seen. I have a military charity called "The Boot Campaign," that I am an ambassador for. I go over to Iraq, Kuwait and all of the different bases to visit the military. The reason why we are the number one show requested by the military is because "Sons of Anarchy" and the military are a natural fit because it's all about brotherhood, family and defending your brothers. Then you look at MMA and you see these warriors. They have this thing where they love "Sons of Anarchy," they love the military, most of them ride motorcycles. Fox, to me, listen, I've worked for the company for over five years, let's use FX, John Landgraf is one of my favorite people in this world, the president of FX. He's one of the greatest people I've been around and can call a dear friend. He is so smart. He saw UFC, he saw MMA and he saw what HBO was doing with boxing and he saw that boxing, it didn't matter anymore. Not that it doesn't matter, I don't want to say that, but he saw the future. The future, which we all know, is mixed martial arts. It's the number one sport, definitely in South America, it has to be the number one sport here.
Adam Guillen Jr. (MMAmania.com) I understand you've even hooked some of your co-stars onto MMA, like Kim Coates (Tig) and Charlie Hunnam (Jax), as well.
Theo Rossi: Kim Coates, who plays "Tig," I finally got him to come to an event and at first he was like, "Nah, I'm older, I love boxing and I'm a boxing guy." He went, we sat front row at Chael Sonnen vs. Anderson Silva. The second the first prelim fight ended, he looked at me and said "That's it, I'm' hooked." We were there, Georges St. Pierre was sitting next to us and Randy Couture came up to us and was talking about "Sons." Now, Kim is my road dog when it comes to MMA, He will be like, "What fight's on?" He loves it, he watches all of it. He is just an example of one of a bunch of people who have got introduced to it,and not just by me. Once you're in your in, you just can't get enough of it, it's crazy.
Adam Guillen Jr. (MMAmania.com): Do you train any mixed martial arts at all?
Theo Rossi: I do, I love it. I currently train with Royce Gracie, which there's no better teacher than that. He's become one of my dear friends.
In part two of our conversation with Rossi tomorrow, we discuss the acceptance of MMA and "Sons of Anarchy" in mainstream media, despite some opinions that they both can be too "hardcore" and "violent", the fighters he likes to see perform, as well as which ones he feels can pull of a cameo in "Sons of Anarchy" and which of his co-stars would make it inside the Octagon and much more.