HOFFMAN ON HOFFMAN

Ken Hoffman faces off with tough guy ESPN 97.5 host AJ Hoffman

The hilarious Hoffman is also a respected MMA competitor. Courtesy photo

This article originally appeared on CultureMap/Houston.

I like to track down a media personality for 10 Questions — things that regular listeners may not know about the person behind the voice or teleprompter. 

With AJ Hoffman, the outspoken and often outrageous co-host of The Blitz with Fred Faour weekdays from 4-7 pm on ESPN 97.5 FM, it’s all there in hisTwitter bio:

“Sometimes I talk about sports on the radio. Sometimes I fight people in cages for money. Sometimes I drink beer. Sometimes I eat BBQ. Sometimes I do other stuff.”

So let’s dig a little deeper. First off, AJ stands for Arthur Joe — and no, we are not related.

Ken Hoffman: What would possess a somewhat rational human being to enter the octagon for an MMA fight? You're not exactly a desperate kid fighting his way out of the slums.

AJ Hoffman: I have always loved competing. I had watched the sport since I was in junior high. I was interviewing a fighter who was about to make his UFC debut, and his coach suggested I come out and train. The coach is this guy named Jorge 'Macaco' Patino, and he is a legit legend in old-school MMA. I felt like I would be a punk if I said no. 

I started going out and figured it would at least be a fun way to work out. I didn't think I was ever going to actually fight, but I got to the point where I was as good as some of the fighters at the gym. I decided to give it a shot.

KH: What does it feel like to be punched really hard in the face?

AJH: It sucks. I had been punched in the face plenty of times in my life, but getting punched by a drunk guy on Sixth Street doesn't hurt as much as getting punched by a guy who punches people for money. If you get hit hard enough, especially in the nose, it is basically a given that your eyes are going to well up. Then you feel like the other guy thinks you are crying, and it pisses you off.

The toughest thing when you are actually trying to learn to be a fighter is not letting your emotions take over. All that said, I feel like everyone should get punched in the face at least once in their lives.

KH: You have been with ESPN 97.5 from its beginnings in last place to its reign at top of the ratings. How do you explain the station’s success?

AJH: I knew when I got here it was going to be a slow process. We have never had billboards. We have never been on the back of cabs. We are a legit grassroots station that has been built up by guys telling their friends about us and those guys telling their friends. Fred and I are the only guys left from when David Gow bought our station. We have added some really quality guys since then.

I honestly think we have the best lineup in the city now, and we should be at the top for a while. Another factor could be all the old people who listen to 790 AM and 610 AM are dying off at a rapid rate.

KH: Most people hate the sound of their own voice. Do you?

AJH: I don't really think about it. It used to bother me because when I was starting out, I listened to my show back every single day. I would pick apart little things about my pacing or using transition words like ‘um’ or ‘like.’ Now I have a comfort level. I just talk and if someone doesn't like my voice, it won't devastate me emotionally.

The only thing that annoys me is when people say they can't tell my voice from Fred's. Fred says dumb stuff all the time and I don't want to catch any of the blame for his nonsense.

KH: It's called "work" because it's work. I think your best talent is you make your job seem like fun. Is it fun or work for you?

AJH: It isn't hard work, but it is work. I sometimes wish I could go to bed early instead of watching the Astros play a late game at Oakland. I have had jobs that were real work, and I have a healthy appreciation for being able to make a good living while sitting in air conditioning.

I love this job, and don't take it for granted. We take our jobs seriously and put in real work where other people in this market sit down and just ‘have fun.’

KH: Your show is known for going off in wild directions on occasion. Do you plan a show or just let it happen?

AJH: We plan our show every day. However, Fred and I each plan a different show. We don't sit down together and map out what we are going to do like some sort of wacky morning show. I trust him to prep for everything that might come up, and he trusts me to do the same. We also are willing to audible at the line if a certain topic gains traction or is creating interesting conversation.

Sometimes people sit in the studio with us and assume that Fred and I must hate each other because we don't talk between segments. I just prefer everything to be organic. If I tell a joke during a commercial break, I am wasting an authentic laugh —or groan — and basically trading it for a fake one. So a lot of our stuff is off-the-cuff.

KH:  If you didn't host a radio show, what would you be doing for a job?

AJH: I almost left radio a couple of years ago because I got recruited to be a deputy U.S. marshal. At the time, my favorite show on television was Justified, and I thought it would be really awesome to do that kind of work. Then I realized how much more work it would be, and how much of a pay cut I would have. I figured it was best to ride this radio thing out.

KH: Are you a fan of Houston teams? Does it matter?

AJH: I am not a normal sports fan. It could have something to do with me working in this business for 14 years, or it could be because I bet on sports. Either way, I don't have an emotional attachment to any teams. If a team loses, it only bothers me if I bet on them. If a team wins, it only excites me if I bet on them. I also don't root for ‘laundry.’ I loved the Rockets when I was a kid, because I loved Hakeem, Otis Thorpe, and Clyde Drexler. I even liked the Rockets when they had Yao and McGrady. Now, James Harden is their best player, and I don't enjoy watching him at all. I guess if I were a real ‘fan,’ I would adjust and start liking them, but I can't.

I catch grief sometimes for not ‘repping the city,’ but that isn't my job. My job is to give actual opinions on things, and sometimes that opinion isn't that a team is gonna win just  because it’s from Houston.

KH: Who have you met because of your job that excited you the most?

AJH: That is a tough one. I got to meet Minka Kelly when I was in Austin and they were filming Friday Night Lights. She has always been my celebrity crush so that one was tough to control. Dave Chappelle was a pretty good one, too.

Oddly, I like experiences more than meeting celebrities. One time Joe Rogan couldn't host the weigh-ins and open workouts when the UFC was in Houston, and the UFC asked me to fill in for him. That was an unbelievably cool experience, and I couldn't control my excitement.

KH: Have you ever wanted to sucker shot a guest?

AJH: Once. We had a guy on the show who made a list of the most famous Hoffmans. He left me off the list, and put some real estate agent on it. He was a total ass.

KH: (I think he’s talking about me.)

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Bringing NIL deals to high schools will have some challenges. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

Name, image, and likeness, or NIL as it has been known, has been a hotly debated topic. When some states allowed college athletes to start getting paid through NIL deals, others had to follow suit. NIL deals basically allow athletes to get paid from endorsements and the like. They can make appearances, sign autographs, and get endorsements. No longer can schools make a king's ransom off the backs of these athletes without the athletes themselves benefitting from their popularity.

Sponsorships are also allowed, which started some of this years ago when Jeremy Bloom was a pro skier who also played college football at Colorado. Bloom wasn't allowed to have sponsorships, which was a HUGE part of his skiing career, if he wanted to continue to play college football. After fighting a losing battle when the NCAA declared him permanently ineligible, Bloom went on to compete in the 2006 Winter Olympics. He went on to have a couple short stints in the NFL, but his football career never materialized.

When a few states took the NIL law and opened it to high school student athletes, they REALLY opened a can of worms! Other states are now in full scramble mode trying to figure out how can they make this work, do they want to make this work, and wondering if this will open Pandora's Box. Newsflash: Pandora's Box has been open longer than your local grocery store chain. Schools have been paying for play ever since time began. SMU got the dreaded "Death Penalty" in the 80s behind it. Teams have seemingly had wink-wink agreements not to out one another. But high schools? This is a bit much.

AAU, club, and travel sports have had a shady undertone that's been more intense over the last 20 years or so. This is especially true in AAU basketball, where shoe companies and the like have long been "sponsors" of teams. Follow your favorite NBA player's career from high school to the league, then see what shoe company he signs with. I guarantee there's a pipeline in most cases straight from the sponsors of his AAU/high school team to his shoe deal.

Bringing NIL deals to high schools will have some challenges. For example: I heard this past weekend that a prominent high school player has an NIL deal in place with Bentley. What if said school sees a kid at another school, possibly in another state that may not have NIL deals for high schoolers. What's stopping said school from relocating this kid and family by offering them new jobs as well as an NIL deal? Private schools and charter schools aren't regulated like public schools. What's going to stop them from using funds to create a factory of college athletes by offering what other schools can't as far as NIL is concerned?

Here in Texas, football is king. Specifically, high school football. You can go to any town on a Friday night, and the local high school stadium is packed to the brim. If any of you think those towns won't band together to offer kids the best NIL deals they can in order to gain any advantage, you're crazy. States will need to hurry and approve this to stay competitive, but they'll also need to regulate it as best and as fast as they can to prevent a wild west scenario. I can see this getting out of hand quickly, but then some will step in to regulate it as soon as the scales no longer tilt in favor of the rich and powerful.

Texas is an oil rich state. New tech companies are moving here in droves because of the state tax laws. That's why the housing market is looking the way it is now. With the way high school football is like a religion here, imagine if NIL deals are allowed? What's stopping a powerhouse program from becoming invincible and cranking out 10-20 or more top tier D1 athletes from a single graduating class on a single team? We already see it with these human athlete factories masquerading as high schools.

I'm all for student athletes taking advantage of NIL. However, it has to be regulated. Why not have agents get trained and certified like pros do. Then also have them register in each state and pass a state certification, similar to the way lawyers or real estate agents have to. Now everyone is state and/or federally certified to help kids get what they can above board in NIL deals. This could've helped prevent Nick Saban's ignorant comments from last week by bringing much needed law and order to the wild west of NIL deals. Until it happens, we'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, I'll sit and watch the utter CHAOS (in my Khal voice)!

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