Interview with UFC Photographer – Nick ‘The Tooth’ Gullo

Nick ‘The Tooth’ Gullo –  not only does this guy have a law degree and an MBA, he is also journalist, UFC Photographer and best buddies with UFC president Dana White. Nick’s new book ‘Into The Cage‘ is a celebration of MMA and its athletes, giving us an unprecedented tour into the world of UFC. The book features 196 photos, the history of mixed martial arts, the life of a fight team and gives an inside look into the lives and careers of some of the UFC’s most celebrated fighters.

As someone with years of involvement with the UFC, Nick presents compelling insight into the world’s fastest growing sport. Man of Many were lucky enough to interview Nick and here’s what he had to say:

As a respected photographer and journalist, what is it that you love about the art of telling stories?
I’ve always been fascinated with the big questions, like: What the hell are we doing here? and, Why are there a trillion stars in the sky? For me, the closest I get to the truth are through the very personal stories of others. Photography just provides another angle.

What was the first ever camera you ever owned?
An analog Nikon FM. I still own the same model. In the U.S. you can pick them up second-hand for $50 to $75. I shoot b/w film all the time. It’s great to shoot with no idea what you’re getting. It’s the middle finger to my need for instant gratification.

When did you discover your passion for photography?
I was in New Orleans going to college, when I met my wife. She had a darkroom in the house and was always shooting photos. I was writing day and night and I found that stepping outside with a camera proved a great way to clear my head.

You are good buddies with UFC President Dana White, how & when did this friendship start?
We both grew up in Las Vegas. It was a small town then. I was always in trouble at school, so we had that in common. Nothing major, we were typical teenagers—hanging out, drinking beer, trying to meet girls. We had nothing, expected nothing, and there’s something special about the bonds you forge during those early years. There’s nothing we can’t say to each other. I don’t care if he’s a billionaire, and he doesn’t care if I don’t have a front tooth 🙂

If you were a UFC fighter, what would your entrance song be?
Nirvana’s ‘Scentless Apprentice’  I’ve never heard a real punk walkout song. That would blow people’s minds.  I played in a band during college, and I met Kurt when they were traveling through Vegas. I think it was 1990, before they were big. Cool dude. I never thought the UFC would grow so big, and I never thought Nirvana would sell more than a few thousand albums, so it’s a perfect marriage of my two major miscalculations.  Oh, and I was offered Twitter stock in exchange for hanging my photos in the Twitter offices, and I declined. Crazy story.

What was the most memorable bout you’ve witnessed in the octagon?
I’ve seen so many fights… I think like a great story, a great fight surprises you. When you’re expecting an epic battle, those fights don’t always live up to the hype. But the sleepers, especially the sleepers with high stakes, just shock you.   When Chris Weidman knocked out Anderson Silva I was blown away—but I knew Weidman was unreal on the ground, and I was sure that ground pressure would force Silva to fight outside of his comfort zone. So that wasn’t a complete shock.   But for me, I’ll never forget, I was cage-side for Jon Jones vs Vitor Belfort. Jones is one of the greatest, and Belfort accepted the fight on short notice, so Vitor was a 13:1 underdog. Like everyone, I was expecting a quick bout. But when Vitor grabbed that arm-bar, and arched back as Jones lifted him from the canvas—I was three feet away and you could see the tendons nearly snapping. It was the most exhilarating moment. And just shows that at any given time, any fighter can lose. No one is invincible.

Who has been the most interesting fighter you’ve ever met?
Fighters are just people, so when you delve deep enough you find the typical contradictions and shortcomings. I’m a firm believer that we love others for their flaws. No one likes the facade of a perfect person. As long as you own up to your mistakes, that’s what makes us human. Professional athletes, especially elite athletes, are ultra competitive. And that attitude usually spills through all aspects of their life. Whether training, video games or ping pong—they gotta win. Couple that with the constant pressures of fans and media, and there’s usually a high wall to climb. That’s why I’d have to go with Urijah Faber. He’s held the belt, fought the best, and is swarmed by fans wherever he goes. Yet he’s still cool as shit. I’ve trained with him, partied with him, (I detailed some of that in the book) and I can call him right now and he’ll pick up by the third ring. You don’t find that very often.

What’s the story behind “the Tooth”?
The Tooth, hah. I’m sworn to secrecy. Only Dana White knows the real story.

Do you think we’ll ever see MMA in the Olympics?
I don’t know. Personally, I think the Olympics are so corrupt I’d worry about the compromises needed to get the sport accepted. I train jiu jitsu five days a week (assuming there’s no surf—if the surf is firing I’m out in the water!) and I’d first like to see jiu jitsu in the Olympics. Jiu jitsu is known as ‘the gentle art’, and it’s the soul of MMA in the sense that there’s no striking and it’s a very disciplined martial art that the whole family can, and should train.  As Kelly Slater said: “I advise all parents to put their kids in Jiu-Jitsu classes before any other sport.” Anyway, I think the best way to spread the gospel of MMA is through jiu jitsu, because not everyone can train MMA, but everyone can put on a gi and roll.

If Anderson Silva fought Jon Jones at light-heavyweight, who do you think would win?
In martial arts there’s a saying that a great small man will beat a lesser big man. I agree with that, but there’s a caveat when both fighters are great.  In this case, I think Jones and Silva are evenly matched—Anderson is nearly wizard-like on his feet, while Jones is devastating on the ground. But physically Jones dwarfs Silva. Jones is really a heavyweight who hasn’t grown into his body. His wingspan is like an NBA basketball player. So I’d have to give the nod to Jones.

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