The path to UFC addiction: UFC 152 and my brother Bob

Monday, October 22, 2012

Underground Blogger Jack Brown is “The Part-Time Martial Artist,” offering a full-time fan’s perspective on UFC and major MMA news, developments, or hypotheticals. He earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do a decade ago from Joe Rogan’s teenage alma mater Jae H. Kim in Boston, and currently trains at Lauzon MMA.

In this blog, he lays out a the path to UFC addiction.

By no means do I want to trivialize any form of addiction.  Especially since, as some addicts might say, I believe that my particular addiction is rather harmless compared to others’.  But typing this right now, while watching the latest episode of TUF, listening to The MMA Hour podcast, and periodically checking Twitter and the UG for UFC and MMA updates, I can readily admit that I’m addicted to the UFC.  So what?  It won’t kill me.  And I can stop any time I want.  Right? 

However, I find that lately I’m not content with experiencing the highs by myself.  Instead I try to bring others into the world of Griffin vs. Bonnar, Liddell vs. Ortiz, and Abbott vs. Ferrozzo.  In fact, at UFC 152 last month, I gave my big brother, Bob, his first hit.  I snuck him across the border and took him to Toronto to watch the UFC live.  And he liked it. 

While Bob may never be the same, I don’t know if I can take full responsibility for what happened to him.  As you’ll see, the UFC and Bob should have met long ago.  Plus, isn’t it said that for addicts, they take their first steps toward addiction long before they even get on the path?  Dana White was right.  Fighting is in our DNA.  But few have more of it in them than Bob.   

The Subject:

Bob is a 53 year old alpha male.  He is of average height, yet has the athletic build of a man in his prime.  His hands, with motor oil dug deep into the crevices and fingers that look like they’ve been smashed by hammers, are his most impressive feature.  He has been a logger since he was 17, but he’s also worked as a welder and a commercial fisherman.  He races motorcycles and enjoys long-range target shooting.  His motto is: “If you can’t die doing it, what’s the point?” 

Bob, 17 years my senior, is the oldest of my three brothers.  He lives in a village of a thousand, in a house on a waterfall, in upstate New York.  His kids are grown and have moved on, but Bob and his wife of 35 years are settled there.  Bob still likes to tell tales of when they first bought the property, and how he kicked out 1,065 people in the first three years.  He says that after that he “stopped counting.”  These trespassers made the mistake of swimming in the beautiful basin in Bob’s backyard.  I truly feel for any pour soul who was skinny-dipping with his girl only to look up and see Bob standing high above them.  Bob’s favorite method in this case was to tell the guy, “the girl can stay, but you got to go.”    

Bob trained as a kickboxer back in the late 1980s, but has learned most of what he knows about fighting through experience.  Bob does not watch much television, but when he does it’s not sports or mixed martial arts.  So somehow, inexplicably, before I intervened, Bob had never seen the UFC. 

The Experiment:

Sometime during this past summer, I was having my semi-annual phone conversation with Bob when I mentioned to him that I might be heading out his way when I’d be driving to Toronto from the Boston area, for UFC 152, in September.  After explaining to Bob what UFC 152 meant, I impulsively invited him to join me.  I told Bob that all he would have to pay for was his ticket, and that I’d take care of the rest.  I’m not sure why, but Bob accepted.  We had a couple brief phone conversations and text exchanges prior to the weekend, but I had explained to Bob that I wanted him to abstain from seeking any information about the event.  Of course, there was a lot I could have done to prep Bob.  I could have sent him links to articles or videos, directed him to websites or podcasts, had him watch some fights on-demand online or on cable, or had him watch the countdown show.  But I wanted him to be a virgin.  I didn’t even want him to read any of my blogs.  For some reason, I wanted to be there when he had his first hit.  I wanted to watch him and take in his unadulterated initial reaction.  

The Trip:

After a six-hour drive, I arrived at Bob’s house around 9:30 at night on Friday, September 21st.  We spent a few hours catching up on life (family, work, money, health, death), but didn’t talk much about fighting or the weekend ahead.  Before bed, I simply told Bob that he needed to remember not to bring any weapons with him when we left the next day.  I didn’t want any trouble at the border or at the event, I explained.  “Really?” he asked.

We were up early, got some breakfast at a greasy spoon, and dropped one of Bob’s logging trucks off for repair at a farm up in the hills.  Bob pointed out a log cabin along the way and wanted me to take a good look.  For the next hour, as we began the four hour journey North, Bob told me about a murder that took place in that cabin six months earlier.   It would have been an incredible story no matter who was involved, but the clincher was that the morning after the murder, Bob was questioned for two hours by police as one of their initial suspects.  I was still wrapping my head around everything that he had told me when Bob launched into his next tale of suspense.  This one involved a pair of home invaders that he had turned the tables on a few years ago when he started stalking them.  If I hadn’t known my brother better, and if I hadn’t been able to Google some supporting evidence, I would have thought that Bob was as full of it as Sensei Seagal.

Eventually the stories died down, and when it got quiet in the car, I was ready.  I’d downloaded a few of the latest Joe Rogan Experience podcasts to get us thinking.  I started with one that I knew would interest Bob.  My brother is extremely political, and inherently opinionated and headstrong.  He’ll tell you that he has absolutely no respect for anyone who is “lukewarm” about their beliefs.   So I played JRE #265, the one that has Shane Smith talking about Romney’s family down in Mexico fighting the drug cartels.  Not long after that we were at the border.

I’m not usually nervous crossing the border.  I don’t feel that I have any reason to be.  I’d been across three other times for UFC events and my purpose was easily explained.  But there was something about having Bob with me that made me feel as though I was bringing something illegal into the country.  As we were questioned about weapons, I wasn’t sure whether or not Bob was still armed.  When we were questioned about cash, and Bob said he had over a grand, I took a big gulp.  Nevertheless, it went smoothly enough, and an hour or so later we were checking in to a cheap little motel, twenty minutes from the Air Canada Centre, that I had booked weeks earlier on

The Event:

My custom is to get into the event as soon as the doors open.  So Bob and I drove there a few hours before the event’s posted start time of 6:45.  As we were driving a few blocks away from the Air Canada Centre, looking for a parking lot, who should we spot crossing the street all alone?  It was only the single most important fighter in the history of the UFC – Royce Gracie.  I called out, “Hi, Royce,” lamely through my sunroof, and then did an even worse job of trying to explain to Bob who that guy was.  Royce, almost as old as Bob, and looking classy, certainly didn’t have the aura of a fighter.

After parking, we got something to eat and walked around the waterfront.  As we made our way to the venue, I pointed out to Bob the fashion phenomena that signaled that a UFC event was near.  The men’s t-shirts were getting smaller and tighter and busier, and the few women we saw wore almost nothing at all.  While I only observed this out of the corner of my eye, Bob had no shame and stared openly in amusement. 

The doors opened nearly an hour before the first fight, and Bob and I made our way inside.  We then began to circle the loge level of the venue.  I told Bob to follow my lead.  Although I had purchased the cheapest tickets ($100 each) when they originally went on sale back in July, I was determined to obtain an upgrade.  After ten to fifteen minutes of circling, I spotted a loge entrance where someone wasn’t standing guard.  Bob followed me through the entrance, and then midway down the loge section, to an empty row of seats directly across from, and just above, the cage.  In my mind, those were the best seats in the house, and as fortune would have it, nobody else ever came to claim them.

As we watched the venue slowly begin to fill, I sensed that Bob was fascinated by the setting.  Then I realized why.  “Have you ever been to a concert or sporting event in a place like this?” I asked.  “Never,” Bob said.  In fact, Bob had never been in one place with this many people before.   “Well you’re about to experience a combination of the best concert and the most exciting sporting event all rolled into one,” I told him.

The Fights:

I proposed to Bob that we make five-dollar bets on each fight.  Bob doesn’t normally gamble on anything, but he was game.  Since I had a decided advantage in terms of background knowledge, we agreed that Bob would pick the fights and I would take whoever he hadn’t chosen.  Once the lights went down, and Mike Goldberg’s taped intros started, Bob was riveted.

Kyle Noke vs. Charlie Brenneman – Bob chose Noke based on his size, and I believed that I was good to go because I wanted Brenneman anyway.  I thought Noke might have had a hard time moving down from middleweight and that Brenneman had more experience in big fights.  But too much knowledge can be a bad thing.  Noke got the TKO in the first minute, and Bob was up 1-0.  It was an exciting finish, but Bob was interested in seeing something that lasted a little longer.

Mitch Gagnon vs. Walel Watson – After the intros for this fight, Bob said “I bet we both want the same guy.”  He was right.  We both wanted Watson, and so I got Gagnon by default.  I had seen Watson fight in person before, and I had been very impressed.  So we were both surprised when Gagnon knocked down, and then submitted, Watson just over a minute in.  We were tied 1-1, and we had already seen two exciting finishes.  Bob still wanted to see a longer fight, but, in my opinion, we had been lucky.  I tried to explain to him that you can sometimes go the whole prelims without a finish.

Seth Baczynski vs. Simeon Thoresen – After the intros, Bob wanted Baczynski.  But when he watched Baczynski’s rather listless walkout, Bob chose Thoresen instead.  I wanted Baczynski because of his experience, but I had to agree that his energy continued to be concerning once the fight started.  That ended four minutes in, when he viciously knocked out Thoresen.  As Thoresen remained on the canvas, Baczynski explained during his post-fight interview that he had purposely tried to slow himself down during the fight and not be too overeager since the first two fights had ended so quickly.  So I was up 2-1, and we had just seen three consecutive first round finishes.  “Now we have to wait again?” Bob asked, eager for more action.

Marcus Brimage vs. Jimy Hettes – Bob was thrown off by Brimage’s headgear, and I tried to explain that masks and things like that weren’t usually allowed.  Bob chose Brimage anyway, and I thought for sure that I had scored a coup and that Hettes was going to submit Brimage.  Again, too much knowledge didn’t help me as Brimage won the unanimous decision.  Hettes seemed to tire early, but he kept coming forward and took a lot of damage.  Bob finally got to see a fight go the distance and we were tied up 2-2. 

Sean Pierson vs. Lance Benoist – Neither of us felt strongly about either fighter, and we passed on betting on this fight.  Pierson won the unanimous decision in a fight that Bob and I thought could have gone either way.

TJ Grant vs. Evan Dunham – After the intros for this one, Bob wanted Dunham.  I told him that I felt certain that Dunham would win as well.  So we passed on betting on this fight too.  Before the fight began though, I honestly turned to Bob and said that the one thing we hadn’t seen yet was blood.  From our vantage point, the canvas didn’t seem to have anything on it other than ads.  That all ended a few minutes later when Dunham’s forehead opened up.  As Dunham and Grant high-fived between rounds, I thought this bloody war had fight of the night written all over it.  Bob and I were surprised that Grant won the unanimous decision.  Dunham seemed to have done more, but all that blood might have swayed the judges.

Vinny Magalhaes vs. Igor Pokrajac – This was the prelim fight that I was looking forward to the most.  I was pretty certain that Magalhaes would show Bob what Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is all about.  Bob actually chose Pokrajac to win.  After the intros, Bob said “I’ll take the kickboxer.”  It was probably my favorite fight of the night since, despite my still rudimentary grappling, I was actually able to explain to Bob what Magalhaes was doing as he attempted multiple submissions before eventually getting the armbar in the second round.  I was up 3-2, and it was time for the main card.

Cub Swanson vs. Charles Oliveira – At this point the crowd really came alive.  You just can’t beat the Baba O’Riley montage followed by the pay-per-view intro.  It’s a chill-inducing part of the UFC live experience that never fails to get the adrenaline going.  Bob was impressed, and we both felt fortunate to still have our great seats.  After the intros, Bob chose Swanson, and that was fine with me.  I’d always liked Oliveira and thought that he could have continued to be successful at lightweight.  I was pretty shocked a couple minutes later when Swanson got the bizarre delayed knockout.  It was clear that Oliveira was out on his feet and it was another devastating first round finish.  Oliveira was on the canvas for a while before being helped from the cage.  Bob and I were all tied up at 3-3.    

Matt Hamill vs. Roger Hollett – I tried to explain to Bob a little about Hamill’s backstory before this fight began.  Although he knew that Hamill was heavily favored, Bob still chose the striker over the wrestler.  I thought that Hollett had no chance in his first UFC fight.  It turned out that both guys gassed early and that the time off probably did affect Hamill.  Though the Hamill unanimous decision win was the most lackluster fight of the event, it was interesting for Bob to see what happens when two guys are exhausted.  After the fight, Bob and I moved up a row, because the idiots who had recently sat down behind us were unbearable.  They had been booing the deaf Hamill, and kept asking out loud why Hamill wasn’t trying harder.  They were drunken morons who didn’t know what they were talking about.  Anyway, we were one row closer to the action, and I was up 4-3.   

Michael Bisping vs. Brian Stann – Bob wanted “the marine,” and I would have picked Bisping anyway.  This fight didn’t end up having much more decisive action than the previous one, but both fighters’ energy level and pace was at the opposite end of the spectrum from Hamill and Hollett.  Bisping won the unanimous decision and I was up 5-3.

Demetrious Johnson vs. Joseph Benavidez – After the intros, Bob wanted Johnson, and that was fine with me because I thought Benavidez was going to finish him.  With only a couple brief exceptions, those two were never still for long enough to land anything.  Bob and I enjoyed the fight, but we seemed to be in the minority as the booing reigned down.  We had no idea who was going to win or how to judge any of the rounds.  Johnson winning a split decision wasn’t surprising, but it did seem anticlimactic.  Going into the final fight I was up 5-4.  

Jon Jones vs. Vitor Belfort – Bob decided earlier in the card that he was picking Belfort.  “I’ll take the old guy,” he said.  I was definitely rooting for Belfort too, but I didn’t think there was any way that he was going to win.  I had been there at UFC 128, rooting for Shogun, when Jones destroyed him.  And I had been there at UFC 140, rooting for Machida, when Jones choked him out and dropped him.  So even though I had Jones for this final bet, I was still hoping to see an upset.  I did think it was brilliant, and a genuinely cool moment, when Jones came out to Bob Marley.  It seemed to transform the Air Canada Centre.  For the duration of the song, we were all partying together.  After that, the chill vibe passed and we were all on the edge of our seats.  I literally leapt up when Belfort got that armbar.  I thought it was over.  Then later, when Jones got on top of Belfort, I knew it was over.  It was dominant and devastating and Jones used my favorite submission technique for the win.  I won ten bucks, and Bob had witnessed something special.

The Results:

Bob and I got back to the motel room around one, and we were up and on the road about six hours later.  We talked about the fights nearly the whole drive back to Bob’s house.  But that wasn’t enough for Bob.  When we got back to his house, we cleared some of the furniture out of his living room, and for thirty minutes or so, I took Bob through the various submission techniques used in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

A few days later, Bob and I spoke, and he let me know that he was hooked.  I knew what had to be done.  So I bought us a pair of tickets to UFC 154.  Hang in there, Bob.  November 17, in Montreal, you’ll get your next hit.

Get at me with your comments and complaints on Twitter – @jackjohnbrown