Adam Villarreal: Self Made

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Story and Photos by: Barry Laminack

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the Houston MMA scene who hasn’t heard of Adam Villarreal.  The problem is most people think he’s an L.A. guy who comes to Houston; when in fact, it’s the other way around.  Adam has enjoyed a vast amount of success in his short career covering MMA, but success wasn’t just handed to him.  He had to hustle for it.  Whatever you do though, don’t call it luck..  He doesn’t believe in luck.  He states that “luck means you didn’t have any control over what happens. I believe more in the old adage, ‘luck is when preparation and opportunity meet.’“

IMG_6395Born and raised in Yorktown, Texas, his love of writing began at an early age.

“I had a fascination with writing and the manipulation with words to create ideas,” he says about his childhood. “I was on the high school newspaper, and I always said that this is what I wanted to do.  I remember being in Jr. High and wanting to be an English professor. It sounds funny, but then I thought to myself, how many times have you cracked open a newspaper and seen the words wanted: English professor?”

Adam got his big break in writing when he landed a job in sales with Houston based Envy magazine.  It wasn’t a writing position, but he used the job to his advantage.  He says “I’d drop hints like, hey I’m a writer, nudge nudge, but they wanted me to focus on selling ads.  At the time, they had no content and I knew a lot of people in the music industry like at Capitol records, Island def jam, etc.  I told them I could get one of my favorite bands and do a cover and spread, and they liked the idea.  I told them if I get them, I get to write the story.  So that’s pretty much how I weaseled my way into the writing industry. “

It wasn’t long after that he wrote his first MMA piece, “I got in to MMA around the time that the Ultimate Fighter Season 1 came out.”

Feeling that MMA was on the cusp of really taking off and going more mainstream, he decided to write an article on one of the gyms in Houston, Revolution Dojo (at the time, the gym featured guys like Yves Edwards and Tim Credeur).  He admits that  it was awkward when he went to the gym for the first time and that working with Jeff Messina was intimidating. According to Adam, “he’s the nicest guy in the world, but he almost looks inconvenienced when you talk to him.”

He wrote the piece and submitted it to Envy, but they sat on the article for a year.  Then when The Ultimate Fighter really took off and began to get more and more attention, the editors at Envy began to scramble to find somebody to write an article on MMA.  “I’m like, hello, check your inbox from a year ago,” he told them.

About the time the article was finally published, TapouT magazine was finding its identity and was in need of writers.  Adam contacted Bobby Pittman, and he claimed that he could get an interview with Yves Edwards.  They agreed to let him do the interview, and his first piece for TapouT was published.  The piece, titled “New Years Yves”, was about Edward’s comeback in MMA.  The success of the article landed Adam a full time position with TapouT.

“After that piece, they flew me to LA, so now you’ve got this Mexican kid from a small town in Texas trying to find his way in L.A.  They are like, here is your work load, and here are your deadlines. No bullshit.  No mistakes. “

It wasn’t always smooth sailing working for TapouT.

“Back then, I wrote the whole magazine. I was literally doing 20-30 pages of content and interviews every week.  Not only that, but I was also writing for our sister magazine, MMA worldwide.   They always say be careful what you wish for. I was always like OMG; I’ve got to provide content. There is the q&a format, the story format, and how do I not use one too much?’”IMG_6393

It didn’t take long for people in the industry to recognize his talents, and soon Adam would receive a call from Gary Shaw at Elite XC.  They asked him to write the bios for all of the fighters for their first event.  He now found himself talking to guys like KJ Noons and Crazy Horse. It was also around this time that he was lucky enough to get credit for doing Gina Carano’s first interview, later published in TapouT magazine.

“Before I knew it, I started becoming the go to guy for fighters to have their bio done”, he said of his new role. “I started getting calls from fighters and managers, and they would ask me to put together their bio.  The hard part was figuring out how to charge for it.”

Never one to rest on his laurels, he continued to branch out in the world of MMA media.  He had started doing shows for what was then a new station in town, 1560 The Game.  He was told he was in the running to host his own show.  He waited for weeks, but he never got that call.

“Every time I called them, they would never return my call.” He said of the lack of communication.  “Now, to their credit, I did find out they had a non-compete with another radio station. They couldn’t even talk about radio, so here I am getting nervous and maybe even a little offended. I’m like, why don’t they want me?  It’s like calling a chick that you really love, and she won’t give you attention.”

They ended up giving the show to Saul Soliz.   Fast forward several months and Saul has to leave town for several weeks to help Tito Ortiz prepare for a fight.  When asked to fill in, Adam of course jumps at the chance.  It was his first time to ever be in studio, but that didn’t stop him from providing value to the show.

“Within a span of a couple of weeks, I had got them Rich Franklin, Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes and Big John McCarthy.  They were like, we need to figure out how to get you paid!”

IMG_6484Eventually, Saul would return, and Adam would again be relegated to spot guest duty.  He quickly found himself longing to be on the radio more often.  As luck would have it, he got a call from a friend that worked at ESPN 97.5.  Before long, Adam found himself with his own 10 minute segment on “In The Cage”, hosted at the time by Scott “Bam Bam” Sullivan.

Adam would soon find himself in an all too familiar situation when Bam Bam needed to take some time away from the show.

Adam explains, “There was a catch.  They said we’ll give you until august. In August, Scott has the option to come back. Even if the show is doing awesome, if he wants to come back, he gets to come back,.  I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. “

“I did the show. I was working with Julie Takahashi because I didn’t have any experience, and they didn’t want me doing it by myself.  Thank god she was on the show too. My first show was on my birthday too.  On the way to the studio, I called my sister and was like whining and saying things like, I don’t know if I can do it!”

“I finally told myself, look, you want to do radio, this is your chance.”

“Anyway, I did it, and I knocked it out of the park.  But it’s funny, if you listen to my old shows compared to now; I was very monotone and proper.   Now I’m talking crap, and we have sound bites and a lot of fun.  The thing was I always had content. I knew what the fans wanted to hear because I knew what I wanted to hear. “

One formula that Adam has stuck with since he first started appearing on “In The Cage” was giving local fighter (and others involved in Houston MMA) a chance to ride shotgun with him on the show.  He started the trend back when he had his 10 minute segment, and he continues it to this day.

“I try and bring in local guys all the time as a co-host every week. I try and give them a spotlight to shine, and show how great they are. For me to bring in a local fighter to thank his sponsors is big for him.  Then, I like to bring in a national fighter in the second hour.  I hope that one day I can say that somebody who is wearing UFC gold was once in my studio.”IMG_6543

As he has done so many times throughout his career, Adam built on the success of his radio show, and he has branched out into TV. He was a commentator for beatdown.tv.  He has done play by play for several local shows, and he has also appeared on Inside MMA (a feat he labels as his favorite moment in his MMA career).

When asked what the toughest part of his job is, he responded, “keeping it fresh. I’m still learning the medium of Radio now, and I’m always trying to do new stuff with it.  There are so many tools, and I’m still so new, so I’m having fun with that.  In print, there is only so much you can do.  It’s just you and your laptop.  With radio, there is so much more that you can do to dress it up, and now I’m realizing the colors I can use to fill this blank canvas.”

“I would like to thank my parents, my brother and sister, my fiancé Estella, and my daughter for their continued support. Mom I promise when I get this journalism and radio bug out of my system I’ll go back to school! I’d also like to thank my Revolution Dojo family, The Pittman’s at MMA Worldwide HQ, TapouT & ESPN 97.5 for taking a chance on me.  All of you guys make me better and give me a reason to keep doing what I do. “

You can read Adam’s monthly column in TapouT magazine (http://www.tapoutmagazine.com).  Also, be sure and catch his show, “In the Cage”, weekly on ESPN 97.5.  You can listen online at http://espn975.com/.

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