I’ve had a lot of hobbies and interests come and go, but two things that have stayed with me are hardcore and combat sports. I’ve been an MMA, jiu-jitsu and muay thai superfan since UFC 1, trained off and on since the late 90’s and currently do jiu-jitsu 4 or 5 days a week – to make a long story short, I’m a lifer in combat sports. So I have a lot in common with Scott Viscomi, who is the Director of Event Sales & Marketing for Alliance MMA, a hardcore lifer, and fellow business dork – and I’m very happy to finally talk to him after trying to make this happen for a while.
I’m especially stoked on this one because it represents almost exactly what I had in mind when I started this site a couple years ago: documenting those who never lost their fire – their connection to DIY culture – and use that connection as fuel for success in the business world. People who are successful not in spite of their roots in hardcore but BECAUSE OF those roots.
I love Scott’s massive amounts of positive energy, passion and enthusiasm– and he’s living proof that growing up in our world is a world-class education in business!
Scott at work, behind the scenes at a recent CFFC show
Give us your life story in a few sentences: who are you, what is/was your involvement in punk/HC/DIY culture and what is your “real job”?
My name is Scott Viscomi, and I was born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut. My first love was skateboarding, when I was in about 5th grade. Soon after that I was skating with friends and got introduced to Agent Orange or some band like that– someone had an Agent Orange skateboard and I said “Oh man, that’s cool – what’s that?” Someone told me it was a band, so I checked it out and got super into punk rock. Then friends of mine who I skated with – Brian and Glen Maryanksky, Brian was in The Van Pelt and played in Ressurection for a while. Glen took me to my first show, which was in The Anthrax in like 1989 and I think it was Sick Of It All but I honestly can’t quite remember. I was definitely convinced that I was gonna die, but I survived, I was addicted, and I love hardcore to this day.
I was in a band in high school – 92 to 94 – called Level. We played a lot with Jasta 14, I was friends with Jamey Jasta and we were kind of a house band for [legendary CT venue] the Tune Inn back then. We played all over New Jersey, New York, Boston… I loved it, it was great to be in a band as well as a superfan of the scene.
Everybody came through the Tune Inn, so I was able to make friends with my heroes at the time, for example the guys from Strife who are to this day some of my very best friends or Tim from Mouthpiece who did all the shows at Middlesex County College. It was really cool to go from seeing guys on some dubbed VHS tape to then become friends with them. I met Drew from Strife when I was 17 and we’ve been friends ever since.
I still go to shows – I get pissed when I can’t go to a show because I have something else going on, because I’m an adult now. But I still listen to new bands and it’s still an everyday part of my life. I cruise around in a suit a lot these days, but I have hardcore lyrics tattooed on me.
Scott and your boy Jocko — two sets of extremely hairy arms
You’re now the Director of Event Sales & Marketing at Alliance MMA. What is Alliance and how did you end up there?
My entire career, from my DIY roots where I learned how to promote my band, or making skate zines, I was always in marketing, although I didn’t call it that at the time. After college I got into the apparel business – I was in the surf industry for most of my career, then in the fashion business, and I started training martial arts in my early 20s and I wrestled when I was a kid. So when the UFC started coming out, I was training kickboxing and staying really active. So I had a lot of contacts in the MMA space and started working for adidas where I lead the US division of their combat sports business.
I did that for about 3 years, then heard about Alliance through friends – they were about to go public – and I really liked what they were doing because it really reminded me of hardcore and supporting your local scene. Because the mission of Alliance MMA is to find and develop up and coming fight heroes by buying up and supporting regional MMA promotions across the country. It’s a great business model but it’s also noble, and there’s an underground element to it that matches my “core values.”
We’re not positioned against the UFC and competitors, we’re supporting Bellator and the UFC by serving as an elite AAA baseball to them – we’re curating and cultivating professionals and getting them ready with everything from media training and getting your record in great shape and training all over the country. I think what we’re doing is really important to the future of the sport and it’s really nice to be a part of something like that.
Scott singing for his band X LEVEL X, early 90s – looking a bit like prime Vitor, except wearing jorts instead of Bad Boy booty shorts
What did you learn from your time in DIY culture that has helped you in a professional capacity?
I think we could talk about this for days, but one big thing is an open mind, hardworking and outspoken all at the same time. I think what we did was amazing and I can’t think of a better way to grow up than in the hardcore and punk rock scenes. Back when I was a kid, the biggest bands were the metal bands – the hardcore bands would play with them, seeing kids that were into Krishna, straightedge, veganism, hessians, you get used to be in this big mixing pot. And you embrace and see the power of that and it sticks with you for the rest of your life.
Also, marketing– what I realize now is that I was in marketing boot camp and I didn’t know it! I was learning branded, marketing, grassroots interaction and relationship building, everything. I wasn’t out on the streets getting into trouble, I was spending all night at Kinko’s making flyers or figuring out how to do layouts for skate zines. And to this day, that idea of staying up all night and doing something cool and creative that you may not personally benefit from but somebody else would – that’s stuck with me my whole career.
On the flip side of that coin, are there any bad habits or bad ideas that you picked up that have held you back professionally?
Even though I have an MBA and I have a lot of senior-level management experience, I’ve got a switch that flips and I get very outspoken at the wrong times and extremely defiant. Like the Terror song “Defiant,” that’s been me in a board room and wow – I had to put myself in check, because I definitely have a “take this job and shove it, fuck you I’ll do it on my own” thing that comes up sometimes. This belief in yourself to the point that you don’t need anyone else is so burned into my soul that I have to be really careful. The non-comformity thing can go the wrong way in a board room when you’re pissed off if you can’t keep your emotions in check.
Some kettlebell tips from Gavin Van Vlack of Burn via Tiger Muay Thai
I lived in Ohio during the “golden years” of the Midwest MMA scene and went to a lot of those regional shows– it always struck me as VERY similar to the hardcore scene. Can you talk about regional MMA and how it compares to hardcore?
The regional MMA scene is like a thriving local music scene. If we can make an analogy, the 5 or 7 gyms in a tristate area that support a promotion would be the bands. And the fighters along with their the fans and family who will never compete, but you bet your ass they’re gonna show up in the right t-shirt on fight night to support their fighter — those are the core members of the scene. It’s very similar in so many ways to hardcore.
And there is even more direct crossover: every once in a while you’re at the fights and someone like Gavin from Burn is commentating! He’s one of the best – he does commentary for Friday Night Fights at the Broad Street Ballroom in lower Manhattan and he’s a hell of a well-rounded martial artist and has a gym called Physical Culture Collective in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Craig Setari [Sick Of It All, Straight Ahead] is a great boxer, grew up boxing in Gleason’s – he’s a very precise, legit boxer. It used to be that people in hardcore would call me a jock, but now it seems like all the hardcore people are into fitness and taking care of themselves, so it’s great to see that.
And it goes both ways: the MMA kids are getting good at merch now, so the fighters are now actually making money off their merch. The regional fighter doesn’t make a lot of money off their fight purse; instead they’re given X amount of tickets which they sell, so they’re promoting the scene by promoting their fight. And then the smart ones make shirts too. They have their buddy who’s in art school design a shirt for them which again reminds me of hardcore– all these things let me know that I’m not far from home.
Networking is THE most important thing. It’s insurance, it’s assurance… it’s everything you need in your career
Unlike me, you have an MBA (I just pretend). Can you talk about why you chose to get that degree and how it’s been valuable for you?
What made me pursue it is self-doubt and perseverance at the same time. In my late 20s, I was starting to get somewhere in my career. I was getting promoted and I found myself in some heavy duty meetings regarding global strategy, finance, strategic marketing decisions, and I had a voice at the table – but sitting there with people who had 15 or 20 years more experience than I did. And sometimes I knew the answer and it was heard, but more often than not it was ignored.
So I decided to get an MBA so I would get some skills – I didn’t know exactly what I was gonna get out of it, but I figured it would give me a set of tools to help me avoid making mistakes. So I landed on the Pepperdine Executive MBA program, which was focused on global strategy and ethical leadership. It wasn’t focused on finance, it was about understanding what I could do with my career.
And wow, the program blew my mind wide open! I’ve never done acid, but when people describe their mind getting blown by an acid trip, that’s what this degree was for me. They say it gives you “new lenses” on the world, which is kind of a geeky term but dude, it DOES.
Great advice on overcoming shyness from my man Ramit Sethi
You’re a relationships guy and I know you invest a lot of energy into networking and relationship-building. I’m a huge believer in it as well, but it doesn’t come easily to me – any tips for someone who wants to improve his or her networking game?
I’ll say this: it’s hard. But networking is THE most important thing. It’s insurance, it’s assurance… it’s everything you need in your career.
Fear can really jam you up, and if you’re afraid then just start slowly. It’s a skill just like going to the gym or learning a song on guitar. Keep at it and you’ll be playing and singing at the same time, you’ll be getting promoted. But you gotta practice. Start by going to shows and talking to people you’ve never talked to before, just get used to talking to people.
Get control, take a breath, embrace the fear – “this is scary, but I’m gonna do it.” Do something to relax. Take 3 deep breaths and wiggle your toes in your shoes – nobody will know you’re doing it but it’s kind of a funny thing to do, and you’ll laugh at yourself which will help you calm down.
The hardest battle was getting there, so just go for it. You don’t have to have some great opening line. I’m a “Let’s fucking do this” kind of guy, so I just go for it. My opening line is “Hey man, I’m Scott Viscomi” and its served me really well. You don’t have to have some great opening line, just talk to people, try to find some common ground and go from there.
Scott and Mario Sperry, one of my BJJ heroes (far left) – I still use some of the stuff in his vale tudo instructionals from back in the day!
Thanks for taking the time to do this – anything else you want to add?
The importance of remaining who you are. You can always be who you are. I’ve always been a fan of what you’re doing because it’s a place to talk about grownup things among a group of people who are a bunch of animals, crazy people and freaks. I want people to retain that craziness, that unique quality of who we are, because that’s what makes us able to do the things we do.
And I love how people talk to and encourage each other in the PRMBA Facebook group, I think that’s beautiful.