For longtime combat sports fans, Sean Wheelock is a familiar name. The co-author of Is This Legal?: The Inside Story of The First UFC From the Man Who Created It, alongside UFC founder Art Davie, has been a fixture of combat sports commentary teams around the world for much of the past decade. Most notably, Wheelock was the play-by-play man for most of Bellator’s early history, working the booth alongside Jimmy Smith. Before moving to MMA, he cut his teeth calling world cup soccer for FOX and ESPN.
All of which is to say that when word broke of his latest commentary project, people were understandably surprised. Cam-girl & live sex chat website ImLive recently announced, via press release, that they had brought Wheelock on to do running play-by-play of their web shows, targeting blind users looking for descriptive commentary to enhance their sensual experience. This announcement came following news back in April that famed NFL & MLB announcer Joe Buck had turned down a “million dollar” offer from the company.
Wheelock was kind enough to sit down with Bloody Elbow and give some insight as to exactly what his work for the cam-site entails, and how he ended up doing what he was quick to clarify was not a ‘passion project.’
“No, I think I have two passions in life,” Wheelock laughed. “One is my family, and two is fight sports. But I’ll tell you, I was really flattered, maybe this is a flattery project.
“So the backstory on this, I’ll be completely honest, I was totally unaware of ImLive—I had never heard of the website. That might sound disingenuous, but it’s true, I hadn’t. Then I saw all the coverage on the Joe Buck offer, and I thought that was intriguing… And then about a week later, when I see that Joe Buck has passed, I get a message on social media. And it turned out to be the vice president at ImLive… And he said, ‘Oh, I’m a big fight fan, know who you are. Let’s talk.’ So we set up a Zoom call, we started talking and we hit it off and started getting the process going.
“And one thing I said early on, and I mean this in all candor, is I wasn’t going to be disrespectful to women,” Wheelock continued. “I said, ‘I’m not going to use foul language, that’s not my style.’ I said, ‘I’m going to call this completely straightforward. If you’re looking for a guy who’s going to make fun of people, or use profanity’—and again, I know there are people who might think that’s strange. But look, we all have our lines, we all have our limits, and things like that. I’m uncomfortable saying that. What, I’m most uncomfortable with is ever coming across as disrespectful. And I think you know me from fighting, never have I said a negative thing about a fighter. I’ve never judged an appearance or an ability. Because, at the end of the day, everyone is trying to do their best.
“So, they responded to that extremely well—that I’m not going to be disrespectful, I’m not going to try to be funny. And I’m going to say it straight up, I’m going to use anatomically correct terms—I’m not using slang, I’m not using vulgarity. That’s just who I am. If people find it inconsistent, that’s their choice, god bless them.”
And while Wheelock was quick to say that he’s been very happy with and comfortable with the atmosphere of ImLive, a big part of what pushed him to take this gig had to do with timing. What had been a full calendar of events over the summer was suddenly gone amid the COVID-19 pandemic. If it hadn’t been for sports organizations around the world shutting their doors, he may not have even had time to consider a proposal like this one.
“The timing was fantastic on this,” Wheelock admitted. “And I don’t want to say it’s about the money, although they made me a very lucrative offer and that’s great. And for every gig I do, I’m considering money. That’s certainly a factor, it would be disingenuous to say otherwise. But, the timing was great too. Because typically I’m booking about 35-38 fight shows a year. For whatever reason, the planets aligned, and I just had an incredibly stacked run. I just did a show in Dublin, in Ireland. I did a Muay Thai show in Dublin the first week in March. Second week in March we had bare knuckle in Wichita, KS. That show got cancelled, that was the start of COVID—and really everything started to fall. The NBA had cancelled that week, then the NHL, then the NCAA started to fall on that.
“But, I think between the first week in March and the last week in August I had something like one week off. So, I don’t know that I would have had the time for this project. So, the timing worked out beautifully, the fact that they made me a very nice offer, they were very respectful, and they understood what I was and what I wasn’t willing to do. The way that I said I saw this seemed to be what they wanted. And I liked that a lot.”
As to what exactly his commentary gig entails—what kind of shows he’ll be working on, what kind of actors he’ll be performing alongside? The truth sounds as though the scope will be rather limited—considering the breadth of variety in the porno industry. Wheelock made it clear that he’ll be providing what’s essentially play-by-play and description for one-woman cam-shows only.
“It’s funny, I think this is being spun that I’m far cooler than I am in this gig,” Wheelock explained. “Somehow, being an MMA commentator, people have promoted me to black belt or that I’m a professional fighter. None of that’s true. I’m a really mediocre purple belt. Never a professional, or even an ammy fighter. Same thing on this. The reality is that I’m doing on one-woman webcam sessions. These aren’t private chats, these are one-woman webcam sessions. I know a lot of the media coverage has said that I’m doing descriptive commentary on pornographic films—that sounds like an awesome gig, but nobody asked me to do that.
“These are webcam sessions. It’s one woman. They’re about 8-10 minutes long. Again, I’m not narrating or doing guide commentary, or voicing over pornographic films or pornographic videos or anything like that,” he continued. “These are all women who are there of their own volition, they’re over 18, they’re professional sex workers, and that’s what they’re doing. And my gig, as it’s been explained to me and how I’ve seen it, is that I’m giving descriptive commentary. I’m essentially describing—and I’m not just talking about what’s happening with the woman. I’m trying to say what she’s wearing, I’m talking about the setting, the location. It kinda takes me back to when I was a radio commentator doing soccer, before I was a TV commentator. So, I’m being as descriptive as possible in that, while, again, never using profanity, never using vulgarities. I’m not being lewd, I’m not being lascivious, because those are just not lines I was going to cross. I’m really pleased that the ImLive people were, like, ‘Nope, that’s not what we want you to do.’”
The industry may not be one that Wheelock is passionate about keeping up with or one that bleeds over into any other part of his day-to-day life, however, Wheelock says that it may very well be a long term gig for his future. Especially considering that his wife is fully on board with it.
“Yeah, it’s very interesting, isn’t it? And again, I didn’t go looking for it, it came to me. And I get pitched pretty interesting things—this is one of the more interesting things that I’ve been pitched. But, I’ll tell you, we’ve already started talking about a long term arrangement,” Wheelock said when asked if this was just a short-term thing. “I don’t know that I would do this for other companies, because I think I’ve really found a home with ImLive. They get me and I get what they’re doing, and I’m really comfortable with the material and everything like that. And I think it’s an extremely respectful company, and I like the way that it’s modeled. And again, this is someone who, before the Joe Buck story, had never heard of this company.
“So we’re already talking on a long term deal. They’ve been very very generous on terms and financials and I’d love to keep it going with them. It’s something that I enjoy, it’s a challenge as a broadcaster. My wife, by the way, finds this hysterically funny. She’s from England, she just finds this endlessly funny. That was the one person I consulted with. I said, ‘What do you think, babe?’ She was like, ‘Yeah, why wouldn’t you? What are they paying you again? Yeah, of course. C’mon, what are you gonna do? No one else is gonna pay our mortgage.’”
The big thing for Wheelock is clearly that he wants to keep his work for the company very professional and straightforward. He spoke several times about the potential for a company like ImLive to bring in someone with a history of being more performative, comedic, or shocking in their work. Styles very unlike his own. After doing some test runs, he’s settled into what he hopes will deliver a radio broadcast-like experience.
“I see the humor in it on this,” Wheelock said, “but if people have downloaded—or if actual blind users have to it for what it’s intended for? You can see that I’m not goofing around. And you know me as a fight commentator, and I might say something pretty dry, but I’m not trying to have a laugh a minute. I’m calling what’s going on in a fight. And it’s the same philosophy on that.
“Early on when we were talking, I was talking with the vice president of ImLive – the one who recruited me – and I said, ‘Do you want this more like radio, or television?’ And he said, ‘I’m not sure.’ And I said, ‘Well, let me give you an example. When I was a soccer commentator – I worked for ESPN, I worked for FOX, I did the world cup in 2006, in Germany – I did about 80% television and about 20% radio.
“When I was a television commentator on soccer, I prided myself on saying fewer words than any other commentator in American soccer,” he explained. “When I was doing radio, I prided myself on saying more words than any other commentator in American soccer. So it’s two totally different disciplines. So, we did some demo videos, we did some tests. It took a while for me to figure out exactly where I wanted to be. And we kind of settled on a radio call. Because, again, that’s the target audience; these are sight-impaired people, these are blind people. So they need the description. They need to know the setting, they need to know the paint on the walls. As pedantic as that sounds, that’s the job.”
Eventually, Wheelock feels the important thing about his work with ImLive is his ability to show respect, especially to the performers. Ultimately, he says his clean cut, and reserved public image is likely a large part of what drew the company to him, and what he will continue to bring in his work in the future. Even if that work is a little more taboo than people might have expected.
“There are no bad tweets out there, there’s no incriminating texts, there are no photos,” Wheelock said of his public image. “No one has a story saying ‘Sean did this inappropriately,’ or ‘did this.’ Knock on wood, I’ve never been arrested. And I think maybe, and I’m speculating, maybe that’s some of the appeal to ImLive—is that this does seem like something that I probably wouldn’t do.
“Someone that’s more of a comedian or shock jock or someone with that persona maybe seems like a more obvious choice. But, the fact that you get a guy like me? And people can tell you – on the road – that I show up to the venue, I might have one Jack Daniels afterwards, and it’s usually with the referees, and then I’m going to my room. And then I’m up at 3 AM to take the first flight home to Kansas City. So, I think there’s probably something in that, is that I’m not the obvious choice for this. Just because of my public persona; that people who know me know that I’m a family man. I live a really, really quiet life.
A federal court in Los Angeles on Friday dismissed a lawsuit by Uber Technologies Inc. (NYSE: UBER), Postmates Inc. and two drivers that claimed California’s AB 5 law was unconstitutional, according to court records. However, the plaintiffs have until Oct. 9 to file an amended complaint on some portions of the claim.
“The court’s order granted us permission to amend our complaint,” Uber said in a comment to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. “The enactment of even newer bills granting several additional exemptions to AB 5 makes it crystal clear — now more than ever — that this law is irrational and unconstitutional, and we look forward to presenting those arguments to the court.”
The suit against AB 5 — the California state law that aims to get tough on independent contractor misclassification — had been filed in December. It included two drivers as plaintiffs, Lydia Olson and Miguel Perez. Olson had argued that by working through Uber as a driver she had the flexibility to care for her ailing husband. Perez, a former truck driver, argued working for Postmates allowed him to earn more and spend more time with his family.
The lawsuit is Lydia Olson, et al, v. State of California, et al., and is separate from another AB 5 lawsuit filed against Uber and Lyft Inc. (NASDAQ: LYFT) by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. A California judge ruled the companies must stop classifying drivers as independent contractors but another court ruling allowed the companies to continue operating with independent contractors as they appeal the lawsuit.
Uber, Lyft and others are also backing a California ballot measure that brings the questions to the state’s voters over whether drivers should be independent contractors. If voters approve the measure, it would override AB 5.
State lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that could mean sweeping changes for more than a million freelance and independent workers across a wide range of California industries.
Uber and Lyft dispute that the new law will turn their drivers into employees who earn benefits and have vowed to fight the law if the changes go into effect.
Members of the state assembly followed the senate’s lead and overwhelmingly passed AB5 after fierce negotiating and the addition of many amendments that will exclude a variety of workers from the new protections.
“Something is wrong with the way we have allowed these companies to operate and the people who pay are you and me,” said Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez.
Doctors, graphic designers and artists are some of the professions that are not covered by the deal.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has promised to sign the bill.
Uber believes that its current treatment of drivers was already in compliance with state rules, the company’s attorney Tony West told reporters on Wednesday. West said Uber will also pass the stricter test that governs who’s a contractor and who’s an employee.
Yet, he said he’s disappointed that legislators and Newsom rejected a compromise pushed by Uber and Lyft that included benefits and a $21-per-hour rate for drivers.
“We’re not arguing for the status quo,” said West. “Our proposal avoid the potential harm of forcing drivers to become employees whether they want to be employees or not.”
He added that “the vast majority” of drivers do not want to be reclassified as employees.
West says Uber will try to negotiate a deal in Sacramento. If that fails and the courts find their drivers are employees under the new law, the rideshare companies will go to the ballot box next year to try to overturn it.