Lip Service Inc.
UFC's new interrogator Kerri Kasem
© Marc Wickert www.knucklepit.com
photos © Benchwarmer
UFC’s new pre- and post-fight interviewer approaches an MMA event in much the same way Sherlock Holmes approached a crime: She does her homework.
A former Kempo Karate practitioner, Kerri Kasem now practises Jiu Jitsu – not to defend herself, but to have a wider knowledge of the grappling techniques employed in the Octagon. It’s all part of being a total professional for Kasem, and she regarded taking up Jiu Jitsu as a natural prerequisite for her role as a member of the UFC team.
Born in Hollywood, California, Kerri is the daughter of famous radio personality Casey Kasem, and is host of Ultimate Knockouts 3. But many UFC fans may best remember Kerri’s debut at UFC 50: War of ’04, when she interviewed fighters after their bouts on pay-per-view screens throughout the world.
For the stunningly attractive Kasem, working at UFC is a dream come true, but it took a lot of knuckle work to land the job. "I had a boyfriend a couple of years ago who was very into Jiu Jitsu – a brown belt – and he started taking me around to small tournaments. Then we went to a UFC event, and I was hooked. That was it. I told him I was going to work for UFC.
"It took me almost a year to get a job with them. I saw Dana White at MGM, and I said, ‘Can you come over here and talk?’ He must have thought, ‘Who is that crazy girl?’ And he said, ‘I’ll be right back.’ It was the night Randy Couture had his eye cut in the Vitor Belfort fight, and Dana had to go to the hospital with Randy.
"I waited about 20 minutes and thought, ‘Hmm. He will eventually have to show up at the after-fight party.’ So I went there, and after two hours Dana arrived at the party. I walked up to him like, ‘You’re going to hire me. Here’s my number; here’s my stuff.’ I sent him everything. And we started to become friends and talked and talked. Eight months later, he hired me."
Prior to Kasem’s official employment at UFC, she had been invited to attend a number of promotions with their fighters, and she kept asking when were they going to hire her. Eventually Kerri noticed Dana was frequently using black-label Chap Sticks.
"He’s addicted to Chap Sticks. He got me tickets to a UFC fight, and I wanted to send him a ‘thank-you’. So what I did was, I got him a year’s supply of Chap Sticks, and he hired me."
Kerri, who is also host of E! Channel’s Coming Attractions show, which airs every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, looks back on her debut at UFC 50 with fond memories. But the fight that most stands out in her mind from War of ’04 is the opening bout between Travis Lutter and Marvin Eastman.
"When Marvin got knocked out by Travis, I couldn’t believe it. That did it, because Marvin was knocked out cold for a very long time. That, to me, stands out, because Eastman is a stand-up guy, and Lutter is a ground fighter. I’m thinking, Travis is going to take him down and maybe tap him out. But to knock him out, to me that’s so unexpected. It’s awesome. So when I went up and interviewed him, I was really excited. And like, ‘What is a black belt in Jiu Jitsu doing knocking out a Thai boxer?’
"I like the fact that a lot of the fights ended up on the ground, and that you saw triangles, arm-bars, figure-fours…I love my ground stuff. But the thing that stood out in my mind was the Marvin Eastman fight."
Kerri says she was surprised by the code of ethics UFC fighters live by, an unofficial system that is rarely practised in other codes of combat. "So many of them have college degrees, and in boxing, they generally don’t have an honour system. And they rarely have respect for each other.
"In martial arts they have an honour system, and they have respect for each other. They’ll say, ‘This guy is my mentor, I’m so honoured to step in the ring with him.’ And after the fight, they’ll hug each other. You don’t find that with boxing or a lot of other sports."
Kerri, the Ultimate Knockouts 3, and its two predecessors, are like UFC’s greatest hits, aren’t they?
"Yes. I think they are. And especially if you’re a boxing fan, and you’ve come from the knockouts, and you like the stand-up; this is all knockouts. So even boxing fans will like this. You don’t have to be an MMA fan. That’s why Ultimate Knockouts sell so well. They’re some of the most incredible knockouts you could see. It’s so much better than boxing, and so much more fun."
What else appeals to you about UFC?
"You have to be so well rounded. If you’re not well rounded, you’re going to get your arse kicked. It’s not like boxing where you just have to know boxing, or if you just have to know judo. You have to know stand-up, and takedowns, and you have to know your ground game. You have to train in boxing, Muay thai, judo, wrestling…You have to know certain aspects of all of them. I find that’s a real sport. You’re not just using your hands. You’re using your whole body. And when you hit the ground, it’s a chess match."
Kerri, is there anything you’d like to add to this article?
"I have to tell you who my favourite person in all of UFC is: Joe Silva. He has helped me more than anybody. I didn’t want to look like another girl who didn’t know what she was talking about. I spent a whole month before that fight, every day, on the phone to him. We were going over all the fighters, all the moves…That guy took the time out for me, and honestly, I owe all the knowledge I gained for that fight to Joe."
For more on Kerri:www.kerrikasem.com
For more on UFC 51:www.ufc.tv
To order DVDs of UFC 49: Unfinished Business and Ultimate Knockouts 3:www.ufc.tv