I’ve had the pleasure to interview multi-skilled creator, Layla Anna-Lee this week. This woman has been an integral voice for women’s sports presenting and the sound behind many major sporting events. You’ll regularly find her in the build-up of UFC events through UFC Europe; she narrated the 2012 Olympic Games opening Ceremony alongside creating content at the FIFA World Cup. Layla opens up about how she’s made her own opportunities, how content creation diversifies across different sports and provides authentic insights into a presenter’s life.
Question 1: Layla, it’s fantastic to have you on Ash’s Sports Talk. Let’s start this off by understanding how your sports career began?
My father was never into Football, but my mother… it’s in her blood. My mother is Brazilian, and as you know, Football is akin to a religion in Brazil. I grew up watching my mother’s passion projected at the tv screen loudly for every game. She’s the stereotypical Brazilian football fan Emotional, dramatic, loud. I remember watching her crying and screaming at the TV and wanting to be part of this passion! My whole family in Brazil are much the same. We’re a big family of football and BJJ lovers and practitioners. Pretty much all my male cousins play either Football or fight!
Question 2: When did you realise you wanted to be a presenter/creator?
Presenting came at a strange time for me. It definitely wasn’t something I was going towards. I had never dreamed of being a presenter, but I had trained as a dancer and actress. I went to a theatre school, and truly I wanted to dance but also I left home very young and was adamant that I would find my own way. Presenting paid, handsomely, far more than musicals and parts in TV shows, so I started edging more towards presenting. My first gig was a poker show that I enjoyed so much and paid so well that I realised this was a space where I could make my own way and feel secure.
Question 3: You’ve presented in multiple sports. Football, boxing, MMA and more. Have you found your approach to creating content change depending on each sport? Plus, which sport have you enjoyed presenting the most?
After working in poker, I moved into mountain biking and BMX I had many friends who raced and always used to hang at dirt tracks, so it felt natural to create content there. I spotted a real gap in the market, and timing was perfect for me. BMX was just starting to get the media recognition it deserved, and I was at the forefront. But doors only really opened for me after I narrated the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony under Danny Boyle’s instruction. That was an unbelievable event and led to me to have so many opportunities I could begin to choose precisely the route I wanted to take, and football was my immediate choice.
Creating content around each sport HAS to change it has to be unique and forward-thinking and totally inspired by the sport, however, the English Premier League being the single most lucrative sports brand in the world sets a precedent of what is done right and when we create success in the EPL we know we can reflect that and repeat that in other sports. That’s exactly what I’m doing in MMA. Where MMA is still a niche sport, there is a lot from the football world that I want to take over to MMA. My new show’ 5 Reasons Why’ on UFC Fight Pass, for instance, is precisely that. A World Cup show I’ve had success with builds on fighters’ stories and personalities in a tongue in cheek way and invites a new audience to love MMA.
Question 4: Is there a difference with how you interact with the athletes?
Of course. There’s a difference with how I interact with every person because they’re all such unique individuals. The stereotype of a footballer or a fighter is really quite false. They’re all individuals. However, they are in very different worlds, and there are some very strict regulations around footballers. Almost every football gig I work on I have to sign several Non Disclosure contracts, and there are various meetings with agents and managers before the event. In MMA I’ve never even seen an NDA nor have I met a fighter’s manager. They are worlds apart!
Question 5: Are there social topics that you feel resonate with one sport more than another?
Yes. Dealing with fame and crisis management is something that stands at the forefront of the football lifestyle. MMA still isn’t comparable to that world; however, the elite mindset and desire to become a champion is identical across the board. I see remarkable similarities in the personal beliefs and mindset of Neymar Jr, for example, as I do in Cage Warriors fighter and top prospect Ian Garry.
Question 6: I’m aware you’ve recently launched a new podcast called ‘Voice Notes’. It would be great to hear more about it, and what inspired you to establish the show?
I sat on a flight to Hungary, frustrated at listening to yet another ‘same old same old’ podcast. Podcasting is bow an incredibly saturated market, and in sports entertainment, we’ve found ourselves surrounded by two men on a microphone talking about ‘life sports and everything’. I got bored. There was nothing with a hook, nothing with a genuine new feel. I decided on that flight that I would not step off the plane without finding a new way. A new sound. A new feel. A truly different approach. And after scrubbing a million notes and brainstorming, I hit a real bingo moment. Voice Notes. A truly groundbreaking and creative podcast.
Voice Notes is the only podcast where you can eavesdrop on my private UFC WhatsApp group of fighters, celebrities, and friends. We watch the fights live and chat over Voice Notes, and we laugh…. a lot. It really is refreshing, easy listening, fast-paced, short and give you a unique take on the fights. From pro fighters mouths, we hear genuine reactions and learn so much from a deeply personal space. It’s not just for UFC fans!
Question 7: With any successful sports career, there comes an array of challenges. Would you mind sharing some of the adversities you’ve experienced in sport?
I don’t think it would come as any surprise that my most significant challenges are still simply sexism. It is disguised in many forms. Getting guests for my podcast in itself is proving to be more frustrating than I first imagined. I emailed someone to pitch my podcast, and I’ll get responses like, “sure I’ll be on your podcast if you…”. I’m sure Rogan doesn’t have to deal with that! It disappoints me because my podcast loses out on what could have been a great guest, who for sure will feature in a guys podcast and leaves me having to work twice or three times as harder than my male counterparts to even get a guest without making perverted promises. For the record, I pay all my guests too. This is something I feel is pivotal in the sport. In Football, we all get paid, every time and very reasonable. In MMA the wealth is not shared anywhere near as reasonably. So many fighters are doing a million gigs for big brands for free. If your podcast is sponsored or you make any money from your promo, you should absolutely pay your guests!
Question 8: Layla, reflecting on this discussion and your career, what is your killer piece of advice for someone wanting to work in sport?
Be audacious & attention is currency.
Outstanding, what a fantastic interview with Layla. Her journey really has stemmed from hard work, challenging the status quo and not taking no for an answer. It’s evident she’s had many struggles that have set her back throughout her career. However, I can’t think of many presenters or creators that have made such a name for themselves across the sports industry as she has.