Once again, I've brought another lost soul into the MMA fold. My previous convert was a lumberjack. This time it was a lawyer. No matter though, the result was the same. I took a man who had never seen an MMA fight live and used a healthy dose of the UFC to get him utterly addicted. And afterward, he thanked me for it.
This past weekend I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend UFC 158 in Montreal. I've enjoyed sharing my last few trips to live events with all of you on the UG (my two Canadian trips with my brother, Bob, UFC 152 and UFC 154, and my trip to Vegas to bet on the fights with some help from oddsmaker, Joey Oddessa, UFC 156 ). I appreciate you indulging me as I share yet another.
So when my brother, Bob, decided a while back that he'd be sitting this UFC out, so he could keep his mid-March snowmobiling options open, I had another relative, and MMA noob, on deck. The subject is my wife's older brother, Kevin, who lives in up-state New York with his wife and kids, is an attorney, and has always been a traditional sports fan. He grew up playing baseball and basketball and has always rooted for the Yankees, Celtics, and Cowboys. He's been to playoff games and many NCAA men's basketball final fours. But I had assured him well in advance of this weekend that his first UFC event would surpass the intensity of any other sporting event that he had ever witnessed live. I picked him up near Albany on Friday morning, and we were off, headed north into another world.
Kevin had watched the countdown show earlier in the week, and had seen some MMA fights on TV here and there over the years, but otherwise knew very little of the sport. So the three and a half hour drive gave me the opportunity to illuminate Kevin on the 20-year history of the UFC, PRIDE, the Gracie Family, TUF, etc. I also had him watch a twelve-minute video of Joe Lauzon's UFC debut against Jens Pulver, on my IPOD. Why that particular fight? There were two reasons. One, that fight was as awesome a UFC debut as there has ever been, a real life “Rocky” story. And two, we had plans to go to dinner with Joe that night! More on that soon.
The drive was nice and easy, and when I was not busy professing and preaching, I used another of my key ingredients to strengthen the MMA elixir - the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. We listened to most of the recent Justin Wren episode of the JRE, and we were both enrapt with the former UFC and TUF 10 heavyweight's tales of pygmies and recovery from addiction. Before we knew it we were pulling into a parking lot near the Bell Centre.
We walked over to the arena and cut the infinite line of fans queuing for the public viewing of the weigh-ins. It was only two in the afternoon, but these hardy fans would be bearing the freezing temperatures in their GSP bandanas for another couple hours. We were lucky to have our UFC Fight Club passes to enter the venue early to watch UFC Hall-of-Famer, Matt Hughes, do a Q&A. We took our seats just as Reed Harris introduced Hughes, and the former champ took the stage.
Hughes was engaging enough as a speaker, but I’m sad to say that the majority of the fans that asked questions just weren’t bringing it that day. I was squirming in my seat a bit as people took the microphone and asked for pictures and autographs, but I was all out writhing when fans asked Hughes things like, “Would you fight Fallon Fox (the transgender fighter)?” or “Should Jon Jones have an asterisk next to his championship years because of his unfair reach advantage?” Hughes was probably used to such things as he was able to shut these questions down deftly. The rest of the crowd also did their best to boo the bad questions away. Fortunately, Hughes ended the Q&A by relating a timeless story as related to him by his twin brother, Mark. It was the great Tito Ortiz vs. Lee Murray street fight story. Some things just never get old.
After the Q&A, there was quite a bit of time before the weigh-ins. We got to watch the countdown show once more on the big screen while I continued to relate bits and pieces of MMA info to Kevin. The weigh-ins then started at four, and the adrenaline was flowing. It’s always a fascinating twenty minutes or so, and Kevin and I were watching closely for anything that might give us an edge in predicting the next day’s fights. We noticed the obvious, that George Roop and Dan Miller both looked emaciated. And we also enjoyed the stare-down for the main event, when Nick Diaz did not look like he was joking as he put his pants on and squared off with GSP.
We exited along with the thousands of others in attendance and walked a couple blocks to our lodging for the next two nights, the one and only, YWCA. Those of you reading my blogs for the first time might be surprised with my choice of accommodations. Kevin and his wife were concerned too. But the Montreal YWCA is a perfectly acceptable hotel, for all genders, located in the shadow of the more well-known Sheraton. This was my fourth time staying there for a UFC event, and Kevin, after some initial doubt and his offering to pay for us to stay at the Sheraton, was pleased with our modest but adequate room.
As I alluded to earlier, there was a special dinner in store for us Friday night. In fact, if I had not received the invitation several weeks earlier, we likely would not have gone up to Montreal until Saturday afternoon. The UG’s own Chris Palmquist, who I also knew from training at Lauzon MMA for the last few years (I’m the 6’5” guy who sucks at jiu-jitsu), invited me to dinner with him, Joe Lauzon, and crew. Chris had told me that dinner would be paid for by the company, by the UG, for my contributions to the site. Enough said. It was an offer I could not refuse.
Chris had texted me Friday afternoon that he had dinner reservations for eight o’clock, at Seoul Chako, a Korean BBQ restaurant a few blocks away. After naps (we’re old) and coffee, Kevin and I met Chris and company over there promptly at eight. The two of us made a group of ten, and the tables were specially set up with their own do-it-yourself grills. This made it necessary to divide our group across two tables. So while Joe Lauzon, his friend Brandon Chase, and two UFC employees sat at one table, Kevin and I sat with Chris, his fiancée, April, UFC fighter Joe Proctor, and Joe’s longtime girlfriend, Chelsea.
The food was plentiful and delicious as we grilled and shared chicken, beef, shrimp, salmon, vegetables, and more. And the conversation was even better than the meal, with the six of us talking about the fights and the experience of going to UFC events. While Kevin only got a chance to shake hands with Joe Lauzon, he really got to know and appreciate Joe Proctor. The TUF 15 competitor, Proctor, was in town primarily to support his teammate from the show, Daron Cruickshank (I featured them both in #10 in my UG interview series, Proctor and Cruickshank ). One of Proctor’s coaches from the show, Team Alpha Male’s T.J. Dillashaw, was also due to be competing at 158, and Proctor would be rooting for him as well. Proctor shared his perspective with us on a number of topics, from how he prepares for a fight to what he eats. Two hours later, we were all very full. It was a great dinner. Thank you, Chris. Thank you, UG.
As we left the restaurant, Kevin let me know how impressed he was with Joe Proctor. Kevin, who was just beginning to enter the world of MMA with some trepidation, felt reassured by Proctor’s modesty and his obvious humanity. I explained that this had been my experience with all the fighters that I had met. While Proctor is an especially nice guy, I find that most fighters have dynamic personalities that are much more engaging than their fighter personas might lead you to believe.
We did not have much of an agenda for the day, and we took the opportunity in the morning to drive around Montreal while listening to a download of Sherdog Radio’s roundtable preview of UFC 158. I intended for this to help keep things fair when we would be making our picks for the fights later that day. I had an obvious advantage in knowledge and background, but we all know that sometimes that doesn’t help. So we saw the sights and ended up at Westmount’s Summit Park that overlooks Montreal. It would have been a good time for a walk, but it was a discouraging sixteen degrees out.
After lunch, the plan was to visit the Montreal Biodome. Of all the attractions, we were convinced that this would be the most unique and worthwhile. We got as far as the queue to buy tickets. With only three cashiers selling the tickets, and hundreds of people in line, we concluded that our wait would be longer than our visit. So we ditched that. Instead, Kevin went for a run and I took another nap.
We had a bit of dinner in the café in the YWCA lobby around five. Kevin was genuinely excited for the fights, especially the main and co-main events, and we continued to talk about the matchups as we ate. Apparently, all the buildup had succeeded in ensnaring Kevin, and he was ready. At six, we were off to the Bell Centre.
Initially, Kevin admitted having some nerves about my usual method of upgrading my seats for an event. As a lawyer, he’s come to respect the rules. I abide most rules just fine, but didn’t see the harm in keeping someone else’s seats warm. We entered the arena as it was opening, and immediately took some sweet seats down in the loge, just opposite and above the top of the cage. As we waited for the first fight, and Kevin took in the many sights and wonders while relaxing with a beer, we made our final picks for the night. We each picked a different winner for every fight, five dollars a fight, and took turns making picks. Kevin wanted Hendricks and Diaz, so I let him take those two first. I took Proctor’s guys, Dillashaw and Cruickshank, with my top two picks. Then we divided up the rest.
George Roop vs. Reuben Duran
It was Kevin’s turn to pick, and he took Duran. Both of us were afraid of the tall, skinny Roop’s appearance at the weigh-ins. But this fight proved that we knew nothing. Roop showed no ill effects from the weight cut. He seemed to have plenty of energy throughout the three rounds. And Roop managed to out-strike Duran, taking advantage of his height and reach with some kicks. The result was Roop by unanimous decision, and I was up five dollars.
T.J. Dillashaw vs. Issei Tamura
As I said, I had Dillashaw. I knew he was the heaviest favorite on the card, and I was actually predicting a first round submission win for him. As the fight started, I looked into the crowd seated near the cage to see if Proctor was watching. I spotted Joe Lauzon and Brandon Chase first, and then right behind them I saw Proctor and Chelsea. They apparently were in one of the designated fighters’ areas for the night. As the event went on I also noticed Phil Davis, Tyron Woodley, and Ivan Menjivar seated there as well. Dillashaw was in control during the first round, and he finished Tamura within twenty seconds into the second round. The result was Dillashaw via 2nd round KO, and I was up ten dollars.
Rick Story vs. Quinn Mulhern
This was my pick and I took Story, knowing that he was a tough guy who had beaten many of the best in the division. Kevin referred to Mulhern as “The Moustache,” and he was obviously disappointed when The Moustache was dominated. The result was Story via 1st round TKO, and I was up fifteen dollars.
John Makdessi vs. Daron Cruickshank
Cruickshank was mine and I was rooting hard for him. I felt an affinity for him because I had interviewed him, I wanted him to win for Proctor, and I was hearing the first anti-American chirps from the crowd. I guess I’m just patriotic at heart. I liked this back and forth fight, but a number of the fans were booing because the action wasn’t conclusive. I thought that Cruickshank would catch Makdessi with a high kick when he dropped his left hand, but the kicks didn’t stop “The Bull.” The result was Makdessi by unanimous decision, and I was up ten dollars.
Jordan Mein vs. Dan Miller
Miller was the other guy that we were really concerned about looking ill during the weigh-ins. And maybe that was a factor, but the fight didn’t go long enough for us to find out. This fight featured the most jiu-jitsu we saw all night. There was remarkably little for me to point out to Kevin during the event. Miller had Mein with an armbar, and Mein just barely, and brilliantly, escaped. After that, Miller was in trouble and was driven into the cage on his heels as Mein pounded away at him. The result was Mein via 1st round TKO, and I was only up five dollars.
Darren Elkins vs. Antonio Carvalho
This was my pick and I was all over Elkins. I had seen both fighters’ previous fights in person and Elkins was much more impressive. I expected a lot of takedowns and ground and pound, but Elkins caught Carvalho on the feet. Certainly, the mostly Canadian crowd thought that, the also Canadian, Yves Lavigne had stopped it early. But it didn’t look like Carvalho would have lasted more than a few seconds if he had let it go. The result was Elkins via 1st round TKO, and I was back up ten dollars.
Patrick Cote vs. Bobby Voelker
This was Kevin’s pick, and he went with the “When in doubt, take the Canadian” rule. This was also the first fight that I felt really got the crowd going. Maybe the place was just starting to fill up or maybe it was the love the crowd had for the local, former middleweight championship contender, Cote. Either way, there was a good energy, and there were some intense exchanges when this fight stayed standing. The result was Cote by unanimous decision, and I was only up five dollars again.
Mike Ricci vs. Colin Fletcher
This was the start of the pay-per-view and the opening was as awesome as ever. Unfortunately though, there wasn’t enough time between the end of the FX broadcast and the beginning of the PPV for the UFC to play the Baba O’Riley montage. I really would have liked for Kevin to have seen that. Meanwhile, Kevin was disappointed that it was my pick and I had Ricci. He didn’t want “The Freakshow.” I actually thought Fletcher might threaten Ricci with some submissions. I knew that Ricci had a lot more experience, but I didn’t think he would be prepared for the awkward build of Fletcher. It didn’t play out that way and Ricci controlled the fight. The result was Ricci by unanimous decision, and I was back up ten dollars.
Chris Camozzi vs. Nick Ring
It was Kevin’s pick and he used the rule again and took Ring. I knew this was going to be a close fight, and I was intrigued by the matchup because of the news about Camozzi that was posted on the UG that day. Camozzi had come out urging other fighters to stop accepting too little pay for sponsorships. I felt that he was brave to take a stance, but definitely thought that he might be going out on a limb. I had no idea how his stance might impact his standing with the UFC, but I feared for his sake that he might have been cut if he lost. It was a close fight, a very close fight. The result was Camozzi by split decision, and I was up fifteen dollars.
Jake Ellenberger vs. Nate Marquardt
It was my pick and I took Ellenberger for a number of reasons, but primarily because I felt like Marquardt’s loss to Saffiedine was far too recent for him to be properly prepared for so tough an opponent. It didn’t take long for Ellenberger to prove that. It was interesting watching Marquardt complain about the stoppage to everyone. I kept my eye on him and watched as he left the cage and finally stopped to see the replay on one of the big screens. You could see it set in with him that he was definitely out and that the stoppage was a good one. The result was Ellenberger by 1st round KO, and I was up twenty dollars.
Johny Hendricks vs. Carlos Condit
As I said, Kevin wanted Johny. I think it was the beard. This was far and away the best fight of the night, and it rightly earned that designation afterward. It was just one of those edge-of-your-seat, hard-hitting, matchups. Thank you to both fighters for really making Kevin’s night and delivering for the rest of us. By the end, you knew that Hendricks had done enough to earn the decision. But it was my second time seeing Condit fight, and it was likely the same for many others in the crowd, and he convinced me that he’s still at the top of the welterweight division and always worth watching. The result was Hendricks by unanimous decision, and I was up fifteen dollars.
Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz
So Kevin wanted Diaz. Clearly that was an emotional choice, but I was actually hoping for him to win as well. I wanted some more jiu-jitsu and thought that Diaz might just submit GSP. The entrances of both fighters, Buffer’s introductions, everything was peak experience stuff. I know that most rounds played out the same, but mid to late, when Diaz connected on a few punches and GSP started bleeding, I definitely got excited. I even pulled out “The Russian’s cut!” reference from Rocky IV. As you all well know, the result was GSP by unanimous decision. I finished the event by winning twenty dollars.
Technically, Sunday started before the event ended. And we were back at the Y just before 1:00 am. Kevin was still buzzing from the event and admitted to me that he had been worried about being able to endure six hours of fights. He had surprised himself by enjoying every minute of it. We both fell asleep listening to the post-event press conference on the UFC app on my phone.
In the morning, we were up early and headed for the border. I let Kevin do most of the driving so that I could take one last nap and then start writing this blog. Kevin stayed occupied while he was driving by listening to a stream of the previous night’s Sherdog Radio “Beatdown after the Bell.” Just like the lumberjack before him, the lawyer was left wanting more.
Thank you so much for reading, and please follow @jackjohnbrown on Twitter.