This is a photo of Mike Beltran, noted ref, one who has officiated King of the Cage, Bellator, UFC and Strikeforce. If you are in to MMA, and don’t know who this is — then you aren’t really a fan of the sport.
Some months ago I was asked to shoot a KOTC event in southern Minnesota. I was enthralled by this particular ref because his professionalism stood out. He always bows before entering and exiting the cage. He gave you the feeling the fighters were well cared for in the cage. He made a point of acknowledging the winner of the fight in the direction of the media. A large and imposing figure dressed in black, he had a kindness in his eyes you can’t miss.
And dang it — the beard! What an impressive tool to indicate action for a trigger-happy photographer! Seeing him officiate with such consistency and accuracy, I wanted to capture that somehow. Action just doesn’t ooze out of a ref in photography the way it does the fighters. But Mike had the beard which swayed with his movements, and that I was determined to photograph.
Ok so I failed.
He always did the same actions at the beginning of a fight. “Are you READY? Are YOU ready?” The way he pointed and the expression on his face…I knew I needed to stand in the perfect spot to capture it for it to have any impact. And it had to be behind one of the fighters, yet not in the way of the coaching corners seated there, and not with any canister lights behind him. I spent the evening trying to accomplish this.
So when he pulled out this image last week, in an 8×10 poster to sign for his fans, I was beyond thrilled. It is one thing to have a photo chosen for a promo piece, another when you know you worked your ass off on that particular image — and it got the most recognition.
People ask me if I make much money doing this job. (I can hear MMA photographers everywhere, laughing). I tell them the truth and then tell them, no amount of money will ever feel as good as being appreciated for a piece of art that you put your heart in.