Undefeated welterweight Ben Fodor has been in the MMA game for almost 10 years. Based out of Seattle, the 26-year-old younger brother of former UFC and Strikeforce veteran Caros Fodor made his amateur MMA debut in 2006 at the age of 18, winning his fight and kicking off a tremendously successful four-year stretch on the amateur level. After making a successful pro debut in 2010, Fodor took a three-year hiatus from competition before coming back and picking up right where he left off, winning five fights in less than two years and raising his professional record to 5-0-1 to become one of the top unsigned fighters in the Northwest.
That last paragraph just gave several legitimate reasons why Fodor is deserving of the opportunity to fight for one of the major organizations in the sport — and he’s getting that opportunity after inking a deal with World Series of Fighting recently — but it doesn’t give the biggest reason why the WSOF and pretty much every other MMA organization made a play at Fodor last month. The biggest reason, of course, is Fodor’s other personality: Phoenix Jones.
Phoenix Jones is a real-life superhero who walks the streets of Seattle at night and does his best to keep those streets safe. First making headlines in January 2011, Jones has been fighting crime for roughly four years now, and has become the poster boy for an entire collection of costumed citizens that defend the streets of Seattle at night. He’s reportedly stopped car thefts, broken up street fights and even survived a stabbing, with his costume taking the damage for him. As a result, Jones — and to some extent, Fodor — has become a local celebrity in the Seattle area. More recently, he saw his popularity rise to a national level following a short special that aired on ESPN.
The ESPN special on Jones did far more for Fodor the MMA fighter than Fodor the crime fighter. While it’s extremely likely that Fodor was on the radar of most of the major MMA organizations — his undefeated record is intriguing to promoters as it is, even without his Phoenix Jones persona — the ESPN report gained enough attention that Fodor became the hottest free agent in the sport overnight. Like most pro fighters working somewhere outside of the major organizations, the checks were small enough that Fodor was fighting more for career advancement and the love of the sport than for the money, and he recently said he was close to walking away from the sport on an appearance on The MMA Hour. He revealed that he was broke before ESPN saved his career.
Shortly after the ESPN special aired, Fodor posted a picture on his Twitter account stating “I LITERALLY HAVE CONTRACTS FROM EVERY FIGHT ORGANIZATION I CAN THINK OF IN MY HANDS RIGHT NOW.”
It shouldn’t have been surprising that Fodor would be bombarded by promotions trying to get in on the Phoenix Jones hype, especially in MMA, where every major news story is put under a giant magnifying glass. But when the news finally broke that the WSOF had picked up Fodor on a deal the next day, some fight fans weren’t as supportive of the crime-fighting welterweight as many would have expected. His critics called the signing a publicity stunt and made claims that Fodor didn’t deserve the hype and hadn’t paid his dues.
No one is going to pretend that Fodor’s signing, coming just days after his ESPN segment aired, is a coincidence. The fact that he’s Phoenix Jones probably gave Fodor a bit more leverage in contract negotiations than most guys signing their first major deal. But let’s not act like Phoenix Jones is the only reason that Fodor is in this situation. Fodor’s undefeated resume speaks for itself at this point, and we’ve seen far less experienced fighters with worse win-loss records competing in not only the WSOF, but in the UFC and Bellator as well. If Fodor was 0-5 instead of 5-0, there’s no way that the WSOF and everyone else would have come calling. The ESPN special may have accelerated the process of Fodor getting signed, but it seems like it was an eventuality that Fodor would have ended up fighting on a bigger stage.
Did Fodor cash in on his Phoenix Jones persona and get where he wanted to be professionally? Of course he did, and any fighter in that situation would do the same thing. You could say that the WSOF signed Fodor for Phoenix Jones, and the fact that Fodor actually has talent is a bonus. However, the WSOF could argue the exact opposite and it would be tough to dispute.
Just because he wears a mask in his free time, it doesn’t mean Fodor isn’t solid welterweight prospect that deserves his shot. With or without Phoenix Jones, Fodor was on track to make the big stage before he got signed this weekend. ESPN just did him a favor and sped up the process.