The Big Show
A live MMA event is brilliant. The closer you are to the action, the better. If you’re lucky enough to snag a press-pass
snags, you can’t get any closer to the action other than being in the cage. This adds an extra dimension to writing
about the event.
Having never been to a UFC event, the offer of a press pass was too good to pass up. I figured at the very least it was
an opportunity to get to experience the biggest MMA show on earth in a ring-side seat.
I booked the hotel and flights before getting the official nod. Even though my UFC contact told me I was a shoe in for
the pass, the Hotmail login took a pounding; constantly in and out to check if the official word had come. I’ll never
doubt her again.
We are LIVE!!!
I didn’t have to wait long for my first star struck moment. When I got to the Hilton Metropole in Birmingham , the
first person I bumped into in the lobby was Michihiro Omigawa, the Japanese bantamweight who beat Jason
‘Shotgun’ Young the following night. He was just strolling around with his wife and kids, obviously suffering from jet-
lag. It was 07.30 in the AM.
Fail to prepare…
After blagging a breakfast I sat around the hotel lobby and watched the fighters and their entourages drift through
the hotel. I had thought before travelling that at some point I might have a really embarrassing “you clearly don’t
know what you’re doing” experience with someone UFC related. I did! The only consolation was it came early in the
weekend. Bottom line, Roy Keane was right; if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail…maybe even epic fail. Ross Pearson
is an absolute gentleman. He would have been quite entitled to tell me to p*** **f. After descending upon him
while he was enjoying a quiet latte, it was clear the answers he was giving me were to the questions I should have
asked as opposed to the ones I did ask! I bumped into him an hour later and apologised for subjecting him to
amateur hour. Lesson learned, I hit the internet hard to research anyone I clocked walking around.
In the afternoon it was in to Birmingham City for the Fight Club interview with Rashad Evans and then the official
weigh-ins. The Rashad interview with Mike Goldberg was entertaining. Rashad is a phenomenal athlete but struggles
in the popularity stakes. Here’s my two cents on the topic.
A UFC weigh-in is a high energy (helped by the blaring metal music) prelude to the fight card the following night.
That’s if you’re an ardent fan. Otherwise it’s a lot of men walking around in their underpants. I like weigh-ins, but not
for the underpants. It is a good way to analyse what shape the fighters are in before they get to the fight; whether
they look comfortable after the cut and how tense the stare-downs are. Chris Leben skulked around the Metropole
looking miserable after what I later found out was a really bad and potentially dangerous weight cut (he has just
been banned for a year following a failed post fight drugs test). So much so, the fight doctor wanted to pull him from
the bout. In contrast, I spoke to Mark Munoz the morning of the weigh-in who was smiling and extremely chatty and
showed no ill effects of his cut.
The guy off the telly
At the weigh-in Gareth A. Davies, the most prominent MMA journalist in Europe and talking head on ESPN’s MMA
Live, sat down beside me. I introduced myself and he was extremely curious about MMA in Ireland. He seemed
genuinely pleased that I had funded the trip myself in order to cover the event. Whatever opinion you have about
Davies, he truly loves the sport. He kept telling me “Look, its just great you’re here”. While I was flattered I knew he
was more pleased that there was another person willing to spread the good word on MMA rather than just meeting
me. Still, I was now on first name basis with the biggest name in press row.
Having not eaten since breakfast I stayed in Birmingham City for something to eat. The Metropole is a nice hotel but
they know how to charge. Having paid over £5 for a tall latte I figured dinner could have been an expensive exercise.
Remember, I paid for this myself!
When I got back to the hotel, the first person I bumped into was my great mate Gareth A. Davies. We had a quick
chat, but I reckoned he’d had enough of me already that day and I didn’t want to appear to clingy. But just being
seen with Gareth may have put some of the fighters in the bar at ease with my presence. I chatted to a few briefly,
giving them all the best for their fights. When I wished John Maguire ‘best of luck’, he joked that I’d just said the
same to his opponent, Justin Edwards. John was sipping a diet coke, accompanied by his coach Robbie Olivier. The 3
of us talked all things MMA for nearly 2 hours. I could not have met two nicer guys. I asked John how he thought he
might win his fight. He had unshakeable confidence in his ground game and figured he’d dominate Edwards with
wrestling. Given the lack of wrestling pedigree in European MMA I said “sure you will” sarcastically in my head but
made sure not to portray that thought in any facial expression. Less than 24 hours later I’d be again sitting beside
Gareth A. Davies telling him “this is how John told me he was going to win”!
I was first in for the breakfast on Saturday morning, looking forward to another day immersed in MMA and the UFC.
The hotel was manic busy with fans and UFC staff all waiting to spring into action. I ended up spending a long time
talking to a lady whose daughter was auditioning for the UK version of “The Voice”, a singing talent show that will
broadcast next year. She had no clue what the UFC was or what MMA stood for. As far as the UFC has taken MMA
there is still a lot of people who are oblivious to the fastest growing sport in the world.