Having been to several major boxing events, I figured a trip to my first UFC was long overdue. So when the big show came to Anaheim for a card featuring heavyweight champion and future Minnesota governor Brock Lesnar, I was in.
I had always rated NASCAR as the top sport you have to see live to truly appreciate. But while I had seen and enjoyed UFC bouts on TV before, one in-person event and I knew: You need at least that one live showing to fully get it.
A wild and at times surreal night began with dinner in the pressroom, where I was joined at my table by former wrestling star Rowdy Roddy Piper and Lou (The Incredible Hulk) Ferrigno. I have to admit, the 12-year-old boy somewhere inside me probably peed his pants just a little.
Before sitting down, I took a stroll around the concourse with the fans to drink in the atmosphere. There was a good mix of people, but definitely plenty of Gorilla Juice Heads, as that great American thinker Nicole Polizzi would opine. Also in the concourse stood a punching bag that measured how hard you could hit, and a pull-up bar with Marines yelling at you to keep going. In other words, if you wanted to have a few cocktails and get in a fight later, UFC provided plenty of opportunity to warm yourself up.
For journalistic purposes only, I also couldn’t help but notice several girls wearing not a lot of clothes, accompanied by men just waiting for you to stare a little too long. Needless to say, the night won the award for most time I have ever spent looking down (non-funeral division).
Once the show began, it was fantastic: action-packed, adrenaline-filled and loud as hell. My loudest live event in recent years was last January’s NFC title game in New Orleans, and this took me back there.
Spoiled by the UFC’s high-energy product, it took exactly 26 seconds into the first fight for the crowd to start booing the lack of action, like a joint anger management and ADHD convention.
But the night did not disappoint. One of the main bouts featured a deaf guy versus Tito Ortiz, a former Apprentice contestant and boyfriend of porn star Jenna Jameson. Somewhere Vince McMahon was watching and wondering, “Damn, why didn’t I think of that?” Now, I’m not going to say Ortiz got pummeled, but he spent as much time on his back in one work night as his... nah, better not.
The main event was fantastic. Lesnar entered to piercing decibel levels, fans rocking to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” as lights turned the arena red. Unfortunately for my fellow Minnesotan, that was the color of his bloodied face minutes later as he got knocked out in the first round.
Even the post-fight backstage scene was incredible. First off, how about this motley crew of celebs hanging around: Sugar Ray Leonard, Hugh Grant, The Undertaker, Jenna Jameson and MC Hammer. E! and VH1 would have been beating each other bloody in the octagon to film that reality show.
Also of note, bombastic UFC president Dana White hosts the post-fight press conferences. The media loves him, and for good reason: he is a fan’s commissioner. And he doesn’t care what people think of what he says. When White and I talked alone later that night and he started talking trash about ESPN and HBO, I asked him if that was off the record. “F--- no, I don’t care,” he said with a laugh.
But it’s all working, and White has big plans to expand UFC’s TV footprint. As a live event, boxing just can’t compete with this, and believe me, I’m the world’s biggest boxing fan. White said Sugar Ray told him, “This is what boxing used to be.” Even UFC ring announcer Bruce Buffer is absolutely heads and tails better than his “Let’s-get-ready-to-rumble” half-brother, Michael.
I know many people think of mixed martial arts as overly violent, and I am not going to argue with that. But if you have the stomach to see two people battling in a ring, the UFC product is simply unmatched right now. And seeing it live will take your appreciation to a new level.
E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @BCBenGrossman
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