Who knew that good old Route 8 would lead right into thousands of ear drums, living rooms and bedrooms. Brian “Soup” Campbell sure didn’t.
For more than a decade, Campbell traversed large chunks of the 68-mile highway that starts in Bridgeport and ends in Massachusetts bisecting the western side of Connecticut. He got to know the Mix-Master (that famed engineering gem (just go with it) that is part of the lengthy cruise in Waterbury), said hello to Thomaston and always had the Naugatuck River as a companion.
Nowhere did he see CBS, ESPN or Showtime. ESPN is in Bristol, but not exactly on the Route 8 line. CBS and Showtime are not on the route. CVS, yes, and the only show time you’ll find is at venues like the Palace Theatre in Waterbury, Thomaston Opera House or the Warner Theatre in Torrington.
Campbell’s Route 8 runs were born out of a sports writing career that started with the Naugatuck Daily News in 1995 and included stops at the Waterbury Republican and Torrington Register Citizen. But a funny thing happened on the way to a permanent career in community journalism. The 42-year-old found a different highway.
In 2005 I was working as a shipping manager at small parts factory and wondering whether I should go back to school or do something else,” said Campbell. “I got lucky and got a foot in the door at ESPN. I was 27 and working second and third shift as a question and answer tester for a mobile phone they were launching. “
The foot in the door led to a body in front of the camera and Campbell is now a nation-wide writer and on-air talent, a face you see working for CBS Sports who owns Showtime. His highway now takes him to Las Vegas or any other city that is hosting MMA action or a big boxing match. He does a Podcast every Monday, Wednesday and Friday called Mortal Kombat covering boxing, UFC and Bellator events. At one point Campbell did a stint covering the WWE (he has interviewed the Undertaker).
Campbell has hit the big-time, a location a long way away from the Route 8 corridor. But it has been a grind to get to the big events and the nice suits. It continues to be a grind.
“It’s insane, you have to be lucky and have good timing,” said Campbell. “As recently as 10 years ago I could never have imagined anything like this happening. I never had a 20-point plan. I just wanted a career to feed my kids. It’s hard work, perseverance, being in the right place at the right time with the right mentor. You have to live it and love it. You get to a point where you ask, can I get there and is it worth it. I just have an undying passion.”
Part of Campbell’s grind was moving from the written to the on-air camera. He spent eight years doing in his words, “grunt work”, doing nights. The pay wasn’t great but he was convinced he had made it. Then he started watching people on camera and always one with a personality that encourages engagement figured he could be an on-air guy.
“A friend at ESPN, John Konanik was doing MMA for ESPN and urged me to get into it because I loved boxing so much, “said Campbell. “He said you love boxing more than anyone and wanted me to interview Bernard Hopkins (middleweight and lightweight champion). I spent a lot of time at it; I didn’t know how to do it.”
Campbell was also going through a difficult time at home with his now 12-year-old twins Christopher and Isaac who were born four and a half months premature and fighting for survival, occupying the bulk of his time and attention. Both are healthy and thriving now and dad’s pride and joy along with his wife Jennifer.
Appetite wetted, Campbell met the boxing editor at ESPN.com and began writing stories for free. In 2013 he got a suit at a thrift store and earned a spot as a studio host for the weekly `Making Rounds’ show and was sent to fights.
“It was not glamorous,” laughs Campbell. “I was eligible for the food pantry. I thought about doing something else. I was wearing suits I bought for $4. In 2015 I was still a back-up editor at ESPN.
People began to notice and Campbell’s big break came when CBS signed Campbell (2017) to be its main guy for boxing, mixed martial arts and wrestling. The on-air consistent exposure took off in 2018 with help from the medical field.
“Something was holding me back on camera. I was still trying to be who I thought I should be instead of the real me,” said Campbell. “I took the idea of mental health seriously and felt like I was fighting anxiety and depression for a long time and went for some help and was prescribed medication. It took off from there. It changed my level of comfortability on camera. I stopped caring what people thought and stopped stressing.
Campbell caught his on-air wind doing Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) series Face to Face on Fox Nation beginning in 2018. Two prominent fighters faced off without the gloves on with Campbell as the moderator trying to stir things up and then referee as needed. The series lasted 24 episodes and if you look up the episodes, you’ll see Campbell in his element.
“I went from struggling to get out of my own way to I don’t care what people think,” said Campbell.
Campbell now knows what it is like to be recognized.
“Look, I still pick my nose in public but when I’m in Vegas it’s you’re the guy on TV and you get mobbed,” he said.
It’s a long way from the Route 8 run but the recognition and nice salary are not a permanent comfort level for Campbell. There are still places he wants to go, still uncertainty. There is still the grind.
Campbell’s ultimate goal is to call live events. He is still looking for the venue and opportunity.
“I’ve had a couple of cups of coffee at calling live events and that is my end game, I want to call fights,” says Campbell. “Any part of a live event is like a drug. I love framing events and I haven’t felt that since covering big time Naugatuck Valley League football. I want to attach my sill set and talent to sporting events and bring it to people.”
And the kicker – “I still don’t know how to get there.”
Campbell is still looking for that opportunity in a very competitive industry. In the meantime, he’s working out of his house during the pandemic after earning platinum status on American Air Lines in 2019. At one point a year ago, he was in four different cities for different companies in the same week.
Campbell has made it big. But there is more of the road he wants to travel. He’s a long way from Route 8 and continues to grind it out to new destinations. Big smile, big talent, big time. With more to come. Look for him or turn on the TV he’ll find you.