Bret ‘Hollywood’ Freeman
The world of MMA is dominated by fighters, some good, some bad, some new and some seasoned. But there are so many people other than fighters who make the industry and Live Events what they are. I love interviewing and covering the fighters but I also like to talk to the other people who are just as important and in this article I get to know Bret Freeman, Europe’s premier ring announcer and the man they call ‘Hollywood’, and find out about his life before he became an MC and also what a typical ‘fight night’ day is like for him.
I have spoken to Bret on numerous occasions but I finally met him for the first time on Saturday at Cage Rage 23. It was mid-afternoon and relatively quiet at London’s The Troxy as it was many hours before the doors opened to the public for what turned out to be a terrific night of fights with no less than fourteen on the card.
After I wandered around a bit we managed to find half an hour to sit and have a chat and it was during this time that I found out about the man behind the sparkles. Bret doesn’t look or sound any different in ‘real life’ than he does on the television, still very youthful in appearance and with the same distinctive American accent.
Bret was born in Southern California and attended a High School that specialised in wrestling. Most schools in America include wrestling in their programme of sporting events but this school was more into it than most so Bret feels that wrestling found him rather than the other way around. It was during these years that he was first introduced to it and spent his time training in the art.
His last year of school saw him move away from wrestling and enter the phase of life that a lot of youths go through. He admits openly to going completely off the rails for a time and lost track by getting involved in drinking and the whole party lifestyle. Most people go through a phase in their life where they experiment but Bret says for him it was a way of life for a time and he embraced the lifestyle.
Although Bret did start college, he found himself homeless after he was kicked out of the family home by his Step Father. He is not entirely sure of the reasons, even to this day but says his partying is the likely culprit. Now homeless, Bret spent a lot of time sleeping on friend’s couches and even spent a few nights sleeping in his car.
It was on a typical night out that Bret and a friend met a group of lads who they offered ‘pot’ to. The guys had to turn down the offer as they were Marines and told Bret that in that profession they are drug tested regularly. This seemed to click a switch in Bret’s head and the very next day himself and his friend decided to join the Marine Corps. He had just turned eighteen and it was en route to the recruiting station to enlist that he changed his mind and decided to try for the Air Force. When explaining to the Air Force recruiter that he wanted to join up there and then, they explained that they drug test new recruits and wanted to know the last time Bret had taken an illegal substance. As this was literally a few hours prior to his arrival, the Air Force told him he was better off trying for the Navy.
So back in the car and Bret and his friend headed to the Naval Recruiter. The Navy had a delayed entry programme which gave Bret some time to clean up his act. The next step was to take an exam, a test that Bret passed with a high score. His friend didn’t pass as high but Bret stuck with him and they entered the delayed entry programme under another incentive called ‘The Buddy Programme’. This guaranteed that Bret and his friend would be together through basic training and onto their first duty station. During this time, they started an exercise and vitamins routine to basically get their body’s back into shape and clean up their act.
It was whilst on the programme that Bret and his friend fell out in quite a spectacular fashion and the very next day, Bret decided to go to the entry station to do what he wanted to do rather than wait around for his friend. He took the entry test, had a medical and passed without any problems and told them he was ready to head out for duty straight away.
In his personal life he had met up with an old high school girlfriend and had been dating her for about a month. Bret was very interested in the Airman Apprentice Programme but to do this he had to undergo eight weeks of basic training. He spent his time on the Crack Rifle Display Team and spent four weeks learning about the different roles the Navy had to offer. He spent a lot of time with an already qualified Air Traffic Controller and it was learning through him that made Bret want to become an Air Traffic Controller himself but he learned that to accomplish this, he had to work in a squadron for two years which he did in California.
On completion of his two years Bret was shipped off to work aboard the USS Enterprise. The ship was already deployed on a world cruise so Bret spent weeks trying to catch up to the boat. It was during the Philippines riots and when all hell was breaking loose and there was more trouble in the middle east with Gadhafi so Bret would fly from one place to another to board the boat, only to be told that the ship had changed course and he would have to go somewhere else. In total he spent six weeks chasing the ship!
Whilst we are talking, various people come over and say hello to Bret and it is evident he is a well-liked figure within the MMA industry. He has time for everyone and makes sure he catches up and asks after everyone who comes by.
Whilst in the Navy, Bret’s girlfriend fell pregnant and they got married and had their daughter. They moved to a Naval Base in Tennessee where Bret was training, then back to another base in northern California, but after four and a half years they divorced.
Whilst managing an airport, Bret was having a difficult time, he was recently divorced and his Mum sadly got cancer and passed away at the young age of 46, a time that he says was very difficult and sad for him. Two years later he met his second wife and remarried. His wife had two boys aged six and two from a previous relationship who lived with them and Bret also had his daughter stay off and on, although she lived with her Mum full time.
A friend from the Navy was very much into Kung Fu and although he taught it, he was also interested in the philosophy of sport and the mind. Bret started to train with him but because of the recent death of his mother, he also used to talk to him about life and eastern philosophy. With his wife being very religious he would discuss these things with her as well. It was during this time that Bret himself became an active member of the Church. Although he was still in the Navy at this point, Bret became a Teen Minister for his local Church and went on to become in charge of the Teen Ministry.
When he finally left the Navy after a thirteen year career, he was in Mississippi and his intention was to pursue ministry full time. Sadly there was a large rift within the Church which caused a major upset and at this time Bret gave up on organised religion. It helped him through tough times in his life and he still has his own beliefs but he is no longer an active member.
But during these early years Bret not only joined the Navy but became an FA Licensed Air Traffic Controller and also a Fully Licensed Southern Baptist Preacher. A man with more than one string to his bow!
After leaving the church he moved back to Pennsylvania, he was unsure what he wanted to do with his life but eventually answered an advert in the paper for a role running a Shipping Department. He got the job and worked it for six to eight weeks before being called in to see the management. He was asked to move into Sales and run the New York territory which he readily agreed to. His first task in his new position was to go to New York and fire the whole department which he did but still finds it amusing (in a non-callous way) that the guy from shipping had to go in and fire people way over him in the industry he was relatively new to.
For two years Bret spent his weekdays living in a hotel room and built a great business selling publishing services to the magazine industry until the company sold the division and he then had to find another job which he did very quickly. He found himself working for a company that was launching new software that basically helped companies organise and publish their information. At the time this sort of software was very new to the market and Bret took it on without any experience but worked successfully for eight and a half years doing this.
This role involved him doing lots of presentations, something Bret has always found he has a natural talent at but he was eventually headhunted to a new company where he found himself running a Global Services Organisation for the largest software company in Japan. It was in this role that he met the love of his life and his now wife Julia.
Bret used to travel quite extensively for his job and it was on a visit to Vancouver, Canada for a Sales Strategy meeting that he met Julia. He then had a business trip where he was in the UK for eight days and it was during this time that Bret and Julia not only got to know each other and fell in love but decided they wanted to be together and get married. They have now been together for five years and married for three but it was a tough time trying to get Bret into the UK full time.
He eventually moved to the UK on a work visa and was working within the IT industry. He then obtained an indefinite leave to remain and early in 2011 he became a British Citizen which gives him dual nationality. Whilst living in a leafy village just west of London, he started to think about wrestling and martial arts again. Whilst out one day he came across a rugby field with a hut in the middle of it. The sign outside said Unity Martial Arts so after doing some research Bret decided to go along to the sessions.
He had always been a fan of the UFC whilst living in America and having a wrestling background, he was keen to get back into it. When he went to a session he was surprised to find some pretty famous names training at this little place in the middle of nowhere: Ze Marcello, Denniston Sutherland and David Lee. It was here that Ze invited him to start sparring and at the same time he started to watch Cage Rage on the television and began to like the idea of being an MC.
Bret also started to manage a few guys within the industry and through this he started to become a face in the crowd and when David Lee asked him to MC a Kayo event on the Active Channel, Bret jumped at the chance. He then went on to do commentary on Bushido and BAMMA2 and then had another go at being an MC on Bushido. Ian Freeman, the MC at the time for Cage Rage was busy and Bret carried out his third ‘gig’ as an MC for Dave O’Donnell, standing in for Ian.
It literally went from there; he carried on working and found himself getting more and more involved and was soon working with shows all over the country. I asked Bret if he feels nervous when he is going into the cage to present the fighters but he says he never gets nervous, he absolutely thrives on having the mic in his hand, the live crowd reaction and really enjoys it. He says he just wants to introduce each and every fighter the same way he would want to be introduced if he was the one about to fight.
Of late Bret has a lot of things he is working on and is promoting himself everywhere. He doesn’t want to blend into the background and just be another face; he wants to make a big splash. And he is certainly of celebrity status within the MMA industry, being televised on various programmes in over eighty countries in the world. In fact there is hardly a day that goes by where you won’t find Bret on someone’s television somewhere in the world either talking about MMA, in his role as MC or even on Big Brothers Bit on the Side. This is only the start. Watch this space because Hollywood will be popping up in even more places in the not too distant future but as the following photo shows he has always had Hollywood in him.
Anyone who has ever seen Bret in his role as MC will know, that he not only has the voice with a great vocal range but also the outfits to match the Hollywood personality. He never dresses down and will always be seen wearing Jeffery West shoes, custom tailored Sir Tom Baker jackets, handmade ties and ornate cuff links. Bret’s flamboyant style is what earned him the nickname Hollywood and is one of the things that sets him apart from every other MC in the business. Bret has also legally trademarked his ‘It’s Go Time’ catchphrase which is now exclusively his. So any of you who want to use it to introduce something – that’s fine, as long as you seek permission and pay Bret the royalties first!
Nowadays Bret works around the world on different events and by the end of this year alone will have notched up somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40 live events. He says he feeds off the crowd and the atmosphere and takes his role seriously enough to use a vocal coach to help him. Julia is a great critic for Bret because she tells him what was good and what could have been better and supports him 100% in his chosen career. She really is his number one fan.
Although Bret is heavily involved in the MMA industry, he also tries to take work outside of it and is very active outside of MMA. He has been the Master of Ceremonies at beauty pageants, weddings, charity auctions and will be hosting a fashion show in November in aid of the Katie Piper Foundation. But not forgetting his own background in martial arts Bret trains regularly and also took part in a charity fight recently against Andy Gear. As is the obvious norm with Bret, he took it very seriously and trained for twenty five hours a week and had a mental coach to help him. He said he felt nervous up until he reached the dressing room where he then went into the zone mentally remembering everything he had been taught.
On the night, the fight ended up a draw after going the distance but Bret was overwhelmed with the amount of calls he received from all the top level fighters that he usually introduces. He says the phone rang off the hook into the early hours and he couldn’t believe all of the messages of support and ‘well done’s’ from the very guys that he himself regards as MMA heroes.
My interview with Bret had to come to a close as he had to prepare for the night ahead. But I was there in the capacity of ‘stalker’ so my day was not yet over. I followed Bret around trying to get a feel for what it is like to be Bret ‘Hollywood’ Freeman on fight night.
At around 4pm it was time for a technical rehearsal, this involved all presenters to the cage to rehearse their presenting. This gives the tech guys the chance to check all the lighting and the sound and it was comical watching them all working hard but still having fun. Bret’s rehearsal included taking his first position and practising an introduction of the fighters and also practising the winner’s presentation.
After this, Bret gets changed out of his civvies and into his Hollywood attire. Maybe you think he is now ready to go and just waits around for the action to begin. But it is so much more involved than that. Bret likes to write his own fight cards and this involves checking with the Floor Manager as to what side the fighters are going to be in the cage, red or blue, which fighter will come out first and timings for entrances. He uses his fight card sheet to take down names and basic statistics but also likes to ensure that he has the correct fight nicknames that the fighters like to use.
This involved a trip upstairs into the rooms where the guys were relaxing and training to check with some of them, exactly what they wanted to be introduced as. We then head back downstairs and outside to speak to the TV crew who have all information about the fighters on screen ready to load at the appropriate part.
The thing is, if Bret is reading out names, weights, heights etc. he has to be matching with the screen shot that is telling the audience the same thing or else the whole thing would look totally unprofessional. This is why it isn’t as easy as just picking up a card and reading, Bret writes it himself, checks the facts himself and can then confidently go into the cage knowing he has done all he can to ensure a good evening as an MC.
Time was now pushing on and with a card of fourteen fights; the night was starting at half past six on the dot. At this point there was only so much stalking and following that I could do, I couldn’t be in the cage with Bret so I watched from cage side as Bret introduced his first fight of the night. This was a pretty quick fight ending with a stoppage. So it was then back to Bret to announce the winner.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner. Referee Danielle Curzon calls a stop to this fight at four minutes 36 seconds of the very first round, declaring your winner by Tapout from a Guillotine Choke Florian Calin”.
And so the night went on with Bret in and out of the cage announcing the fighters and winners. I managed to catch up with him in the interval between the undercard and the main card. We wandered around trying to find someone who looked sparkly and basically worthy of the Hollywood A List award of £50 for best dressed person (another side project that Bret has been working on). There wasn’t a lot of sparkle around on Saturday but eventually Bret found someone who was thrilled to be awarded for such an enviable competition.
Remember girls and indeed boys that whenever Hollywood is around, you need to be dressed for the best and you may just be the next winner to go away £50 richer and most importantly, a member of the exclusive Hollywood A List!
The main event was long awaited – John ‘The One’ Maguire defending his belt against the number one contender, Peter Irving. It had been a hyped up fight with both doing publicity and training hard. Peter looked quite scary coming into the ring with manic eyes. John however looked composed and at home. He looked like a winner before the fight had even started.
But what I and the crowd were waiting for was the announcement that it was the main event. The crowd were ready for the fight and then amid the lights and the left over smoke from the fighter’s entrances, Bret’s voice could be heard. Above everything else, the theatre seemed to quieten and at last……….
“IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT’S GO TIME”
……..rang out around the theatre. The crowd literally went crazy and people were on their feet. Bret had once again mastered the master of ceremonies role. He gave the people what they wanted, the adrenaline buzz, the hype and the words that gets it all started. There really is no feeling quite like it.
And with John going on to win his fight by Unanimous Decision, after a very entertaining three rounds and a Kimura like nothing I have ever seen executed by John, the fight was over. John ‘The One’ Maguire retained his Cage Rage Welterweight Championship belt and The Troxy was literally jumping for joy.
The day and indeed night went extremely fast and I was surprised to find it was time for me to catch my taxi home.
I learned a lot about Bret Freeman the young teenage tearaway, through to the Naval man and on to the Hollywood gem he now is. I learned how he fell in love with his wife Julia immediately and how he spends time preparing for a show. But ultimately, I learned that Bret ‘Hollywood’ Freeman, whatever he is doing, does now and always will shine and sparkle like a diamond both with his attire but most importantly with his personality.