Apr 21, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Jon Jones (left) fights Rashad Evans in the main event and light heavyweight title bout during UFC 145 at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Paul Abell-US PRESSWIRE
Spencer Hall goes to UFC 145 and finds few Affliction shirts, one somewhat intact Rashad Evans, and sports' most interactive crowd at work.
1. It's a very Georgia crowd for UFC 145. If you are the non-initiated, and I am, you expect the stormtroopers of the UFC crowd of your nightmares: fitted hats, the graphic TAPOUT or AFFLICTION t-shirt, the baggy jeans, odd chains, and carefully chosen kicks of the stock photo UFC fan. Instead, this crowd showed up in golf shirts, whatever pants came out of the dryer, and the middle-aged man's discount girdle, the black shirt.
2. The crowd is pure UFC in this respect: they are a living, breathing entity with thoughts, opinions, and a desire not for blood, but for action, events, and things to happen. They are their own social media, hitting the "dislike" button when boos rain down on a stultifying prelim match, and hitting the like button feverishly when Stephen Thompson's head starts spouting blood from a Matt Brown elbow.
3. There is no delay between a fight and its evaluation: every critique is instant, vocal and specific. What should you have done in that fight, son? The crowd was yelling "KNEES" when you were in the clinch, and you didn't listen, and that's why you get the half-clap, sir. Next time, listen to them. Apply patellas to the forehead. Perhaps then, and only then, you will get the full ovation.
4. On that blood: it is the part of any fighting sport that queases out the non-fighting sport fan, and the part MMA fans openly applaud. There is a segment of the crowd under the spell of pure bloodlust, sure, but blood is one more thing to overcome, and the most visually appalling. The greatest addiction of UFC fans -- and the quickest onramp to their hearts -- is persevering, surviving, and triumphing despite the cartoon injuries suffered in the ring.
5. The Thompson vs. Brown fight is the case study in this dynamic. A car crash of a fight already, sloppy and slamming into guard rails from the start, the bout turned full eight-car pileup when Matt Brown's elbow dropped Thompson in the second. A gory comma on Thompson's head spouted blood, but Thompson recovered, putting Brown in a horrendous triangle attempt, and for an instant had Brown in the worst position of imaginable: bound in a horrible hold, closing in on a choke, burying his opponent's head in his sweaty, reeking ass, and then pounding him in the skull with his fists. For the record, Brown then roared back and won the decision, streaked with the blood of his opponent and utterly gassed from the effort.
5. A recalibration: This may sound like the worst position to be in during a UFC fight, and it is until you remember all the other ones.
6. Mac Danzig--that's not his given name, mind you--walks backstage to talk to the media after his victory. Danzig is like many UFC fighters in that he is way quirkier than you might think. He is a vegan. He is an accomplished photographer, according to the photogs on duty that night. He is also the guy I saw meet Efrain Escudero's leg with his own during the fight, his ankle clacking to a stop against Escudero's shin with a sound of bone, flesh, and force all popping in the air like the world's most nauseating party favor being cracked in the air. Danzig is cheerful, smiling, and while answering questions has his foot in a bucket of ice. He has to be helped up, and it quickly becomes apparent why: his ankle has another ankle on it, a swelling of angry meat the size of lacrosse ball. Danzig won, by the way.
7. You might think Sabretooth-style sideburns would add five to ten pounds of punching power, and at least cushion the shock of a flying knee to the side of the head. You would be wrong, because Chad Griggs tested this for you and reports that they did nothing. That the knee was attached to a flying 6'7", 250 pound man did not help his results, but we may have a countervailing force in Browne's superb, hand-hammered Polynesian tats. Like tattoos in jailhouse Cyrillic letters, they may have had Griggs' Civil War sideburns beat from the start.
8. There's more debate among this predominantly male crowd than you might think. Style matters, especially in tats. Brock Lesnar may be a nearly unstoppable killing machine, but MMA fans still can't get over the phallic symbol (complete with anatomically accurate details) of a sword inked onto Lesnar's bulletproof torso. (Quote from a cameraperson: "It's a sword, sure. But that's a dick, too.")
9. Browne's laboriously-done Polynesian tats are praised, both because they're a tribute to his ancestry, but also because the hand-hammering technique must have hurt like hell. Pain counts, but so does attitude: Eddie Yagin's goth-lettered "ICY" across the back matched his hood-as-hell standup style: fearless, uncomplicated, and the equivalent of a pit bull rushing towards an open gate with teeth bared and the governor set in the OFF position.
10. If you hear the crowd at a UFC fight going insane on pay-per-view prior to a single kick or punch, it is because UFC knows a few universal truths. They know anything set to "Baba O'Riley" by the Who is moving. They know that where words fail, montages pick up the slack. They also know that if you set fight footage to the aforementioned Who song, a crowd of thousands will inhale it through their eyes like so much visual cocaine, and then ride the high into the actual violence of the evening. The UFC pre-main card highlight reel is sports' great untelevised drug, and needs to be regulated and kept from the general public at all costs. That many garbage cans going through store windows at once would be expensive and disruptive to the economy in general.
11. Note: you could set darts, billiards, golf, or baseball to "Baba O'Riley" and make it seem like high drama. The song is an emotional steroid of incalculable power.
12. Bruce Buffer is the official announcer of UFC events, and may not have a choice in the matter by genetics. Like the UFC, Buffer is the half-brother of boxing who now may be more famous than his older half-sibling. Like the UFC, Buffer invented his own job and ran with it, and like many UFC fighters, Buffer has odd sidelines and talents. (Buffer is a superb poker player, and has a poker room at the Luxor named after him.) He has signature moves like a UFC fighter, and like the UFC is deeply concerned about protecting the brand. Like the UFC, he may have surpassed his half-brother in fame and financial success, as well.
13. He also does very little work for a large sum of money. In this respect he is nothing like a UFC fighter, but is totally someone whose career you could emulate. He has one of the best jobs in the world. You should get on the Bruce Buffer track immediately, and stop that hard thing you're doing now.
14. You know the part where UFC fighters pound someone out, and therefore make the referee stop the fight? Here's how that happens, and why you have to do it. Eddie Yagin is a short, pugnacious fighter from Hawai'i whose principal strategy involves standing up and seeing how well-attached your skull is to your neck. In his fight against Mark Hominick, he tees off and upper-cuts Hominick, who by the end of the first round is weeping blood from both eyes. (It's the look every goth kid really wants, but doesn't want to sacrifice enough to get. And Eddie Yagin will give it to you for FREE, kids!)
15. This is why you finish a fight in UFC. You finish the fight because despite Yagin throwing a thousand punches in a round and landing a good chunk of them, Hominick recovers and pounds Yagin's nose into a topographical map of Martinique. He survives because unlike you in a backyard boxing match, the stress-testing applied to the chin, head, and nose of the fighters here is thorough and peer-reviewed pounding. For you, there's "conscious" and "knocked out." For UFC fighters, there are layers and degrees, a whole spectrum of consciousness. They've been through all of them, and panic at none.
16. Ben Rothwell, a bearded Wisconsinite who you imagine works out with nothing but reclaimed 300-pound logs he pulls himself from local lakes, catches Brendan Schaub with a swat of his paw in the first. It is breathtaking, ursine violence. Schaub is out, but snapping his fists at thin air, or having a force-induced hallucination where he is a cat, and swatting at a thousand toys all dangling at once. Or maybe he's just fiddling with the controls, trying to figure out how not to crash the plane clearly already smoking on the ground. That's the difference with UFC fighters: I always imagine them coming to and not asking, "What the hell was that?," but "HOW the hell was that?"
17. Don't ever wear Rory Macdonald as a backpack. He punches, chokes, and makes experienced fighters like Che Mills look like they spent eight rounds in the ring after their fights, especially when Mills gives up his back and lets Macdonald ride like a furious ape on his back for most of their bout. MacDonald TKO'd Mills halfway into the second. Worst. Piggyback ride. Ever.
18. Rashad Evans did have a victory on Saturday night. He lost the fight, but he did accomplish several things. He frustrated one of UFC's two immaculate titans, Jon "Bones" Jones, into a five round decision. This is not to be underestimated: Jones is a whirling, leaping, impossibly long fighter who resembles less a human, and more Dhalsim from Street Fighter. (The comparison is a common one on MMA boards, and entirely accurate.)
19. He also walked out of the ring, though not without his battle scars. A lump the size of a bar of soap rose on his forehead from Jones' elbow strikes. Evans said he saw them coming, and knew they were coming, and had anticipated the strategy, but there he was still, gigantic lump on his forehead. That is what fighting someone with the impossible reach, speed, and creativity of Jones does. The reach sets up the invulnerable distance, the speed eliminates your defense, and the creativity obliterates your anticipation and ability to adjust.
20. Evans short-circuited that, and for his obstruction deserved an ovation. Evans is one of the better fighters of his time, and the best he could do was act as a speed bump to the cyclone he endured in Atlanta last Saturday night. As for Jones, a fourth attribute became apparent in the post-fight press conference: his uncanny wisdom when it came to self-introspection. He knew Evans had frustrated him, and that he was slightly off, and that part of this may have stemmed from their soured mentor/mentee relationship. He knew, too, that winning a fight on an off night was part of the aging and maturation process. He was going to have those, and would have to press forward nonetheless.
21. Jones was talking less than 20 minutes after the fight, and he'd already processed all of it long before anyone else did, and more eloquently and succinctly than anyone assembled would. Jones is 24, and does plenty of thoughtless, careless things 24 year olds do. (Especially those with money.) His fight-brain, however, is a full decade older and wiser than it should be. That Jones has both the wiring and hardware at this age is utterly terrifying.
22. Dana White is talking, and talking, and still talking. Dana White, the Lord Protector of the UFC, will continue to talk until nearly three in the morning, and always without pads, guards, or gloves protecting anyone from the path of his conversation. He drops "f---in'" into answers with casual frequency. He willingly takes the bait and chews on his antipathy towards Fedor Emilianenko's management for three long, vitriolic minutes. He mentions past spats with reporters and mentions them by name, especially if they are the ones talking to him. It's virtuoso's work, but with White there is no off switch, and no other mode.
23. The prevailing attitude is all White's, but the still-embryonic press corps of the UFC sort of requires it. They still have papers imploring reporters not to ask fighters for autographs on the tables in the media room. The international media, numb to the funereal conventions of American sports media, openly hector White about when he'll come to Puerto Rico, or South Korea, or wherever they're from that UFC clearly needs to recognize by degree of love. The Puerto Rican reporter offers White a pound of Puerto Rican coffee as a gift at the end of his question. White politely accepts while mentioning that he doesn't drink coffee.
24. Media note: The Brazilian reporters in particular are "feral" media for UFC. One opened a presser with a Japanese fighter by asking if they needed to wear cups at all in the ring. Another prominent Brazilian TV presenter's rambling non-question was essentially a long description of how unbelievably sexy his co-host was. I am going to any and all future Brazilian media events from now on, and implore the University of Missouri journalism program to adopt their standards to make all American sports events more festive and offensive.
25. White will talk forever, but a quiet conversation to my right is the one that sticks with me. The UFC has now broken the seal on mainstream television with FOX. They are rushing hard into China and Korea, working on Brazil, struggling to open up Mexico, and rapidly sinking the tentacles of Zuffa, LLC (UFC's parent company) into prime international markets.
26. The Bud Light suits to my right keep whispering, though. They lean on the wall watching attentively. One of them holds an aluminum can of Bud Light, gesturing towards another. "Like this? The label should show, yes? That's how he should hold it in the shot?" The bottle will be held at a certain angle; the brand will be presented accordingly. The suits continue to whisper their press conference. Dana White gets no rest. He flies to Brazil immediately afterwards, where Bud Light is pronounced "BOOD LIGHT", and where their logo adorns the mats UFC athletes will one day bleed onto for pay-per-view dollars.