UnderGround blogger takes you to UFC 154
Underground Blogger Jack Brown is “The Part-Time Martial Artist,” offering a full-time fan’s perspective on UFC and major MMA news, developments, and hypotheticals.
In his lastest Underground Blog, he goes on the road to UFC 154.
UFC with Bob II: UFC 154 and the French Canadians
Some of you may recall that I introduced my older brother Bob to the world of mixed martial arts by taking him to Toronto for UFC 152. That one night was enough to get the 53-year-old, man’s man totally addicted. So last weekend I satisfied his junkie cravings by taking him to Montreal for UFC 154. Though 152 was the first major sporting event of Bob’s life, the fans in attendance that night in Toronto did not prepare Bob for what to expect at 154. Instead, in Montreal, Bob found out what it’s like to be at a Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway or at a Celtics-Lakers NBA final at The Garden. He learned about just how hysterical, fanatical, and, in this case, French, a home crowd can be as the majority of the 17,250 in attendance at UFC 154 were loud, GSP-loving, French Canadians. Fortunately for Bob, years of working hard and playing hard had already left him partially deaf.
Before the Event
Bob and I met up at his son’s house, near Albany, NY, at noon on Saturday. We were headed North on I-87 not long after that. Unlike last time, catching up with Bob did not involve tales of murder and home invasion. He had been through a relatively uneventful two months, with this weekend being the first one he hadn’t worked through since UFC 152. In fact, Bob had been so busy with work lately that he almost had to cancel our trip. He was coming off a particularly tough week that included stud-welding equipment breakdowns, getting stabbed in the eye with a stick while logging in a thick forest of locust trees, and a last-minute delivery of a truckload of coal to a snowmobile camp in Vermont on Friday.
So I encouraged Bob to relax as I drove and revealed my plan. On our last trip, I wanted Bob to go in to the event totally unaware of what to expect. This time, I wanted him to enjoy some preparation. I handed him four sheets of paper that I had printed out from UFC.com. It was the UFC 154 fight card, complete with the fighters’ photos, records, heights, and weights. Then I put on a download of Sherdog’s UFC 154 roundtable. Bob and I spent the majority of the three-hour drive listening to the experts’ picks and predictions. Occasionally, I paused the podcast to interject my own thoughts or to provide some additional background. Otherwise, Bob was studious, and eager to decide who he wanted to select for our betting later.
The border crossing was even easier than it had been when we went to Toronto, and we were in Montreal before four o’clock. We parked in a lot near the Bell Centre, and then I pointed across the street to where we would be lodging: the YWCA. Yes, it would not seem like the most likely place for two men to find accommodations. However, I had found it as an option on the internet prior to going to Montreal for UFC 113. I had stayed there for that event, and then again for UFC 124. It seemed like an ordinary hotel to me, and I hadn’t noticed a pool or anything. Perhaps YWCA translates differently in French. Bob was amused.
We went to our room up on the seventh floor, and it was nothing fancy, but it had all the essentials. For seventy-five Canadian dollars, and for being a block from the venue, it was a deal. I set Bob up with my Kindle Fire so he could spend twenty minutes watching the weigh-ins on YouTube. While he did that, I checked the UG app on my phone for any last minute updates. That’s when I discovered that the Nick Ring and Costas Philippou fight had been taken off the card. I explained to Bob that Ring was sick, and once Bob saw him weigh in, it made more sense.
We needed something to eat before the event. So we walked across the street to a 24-hour Montreal Burger. They got Bob’s order wrong, giving him a regular burger instead of one of their special chicken burgers. Something must have gotten lost in translation. The food was good enough, but we hadn’t gone to Canada for the fine dining. It was time to go watch some fights.
We walked over to the Bell Centre around 5:30. There was definitely a buzz in the air as we made our way through the crowd of fans, scalpers, and vendors. I bought some souvenirs: 2 GSP replica headbands for ten bucks a piece. No, they were not for Bob and me to wear. They were presents for my two young sons who like to dress like ninjas and beat each other up.
Bob and I entered the venue shortly after the doors had opened. Apparently we looked innocent enough since we were not among those that were frisked. Though I had purchased our balcony tickets for face value the day they went on sale, we obtained my usual “upgrade” once we got inside. The first seats we chose that night were located in section 115, row EE, at the bottom of the loge, and very close to the floor and level with the cage.
We people-watched as other spectators trickled in to their seats. The male to female ratio was a bit different than it had been for 152. In Toronto, I’d estimate that it had been 10 to 1, males to females. In Montreal, I’d say that it was more like 7 to 1. I told Bob that my guess was the difference was due to GSP’s female fan base. Bob simply lamented that it was mid-November and that these girls were wearing so many layers.
Not long before the first fight started at 6:30, a few gentlemen came to our row and politely indicated that we were sitting in their seats. So Bob and I slid down a few. Then one of the gentlemen said something in French. Bob held up his hand and said “No.” I said, “Sorry, we only speak English.” The guy smiled and said, “Thank you for warming our seats.”
Darren Elkins vs. Steven Siler – Since Bob had more info coming into these match-ups than he had at 152, we agreed to alternate who picked each fight for our traditional five-dollar bets. The first fight was Bob’s to pick, and he wanted Siler based on what he had heard on the Sherdog roundtable podcast. Though it was a pick ‘em fight, the roundtable favored Siler and described him as a finisher. That sounded good to Bob. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to enjoy Mike Goldberg’s pre-fight videos at the venue for some additional background. The pre-taped packages were in French, and it was tricky reading subtitles and watching the highlights simultaneously.
When the fight started, it was pretty clear that unlike Siler, Elkins was not a finisher. But it was also clear that it would not matter. Elkins dominated Siler with takedowns and top control in all three rounds. He won the unanimous decision 30-27 from all three judges, and I was up five bucks.
While our proximity to the action had allowed us to hear the corners’ instructions and fists hitting faces, we were too low to have a good perspective of the action. We were also on the press side of the cage and down in the end opposite where the fighters did their walkouts. I usually prefer to be on the commentators’ and celebrities’ side of the cage and to be able to watch the fighters’ walkouts. So during the Elkins-Siler bout I eyed a couple of rows of sweet seats on the opposite side. Before Buffer announced the judges’ scores, we were off.
I had Bob follow me out and over to section 101. As we entered, the usher asked for “billets.” I feigned a hearing problem like Bob’s, and headed to the row I wanted like I belonged there. We were in row F and in perfect position to watch the second fight. We were also, I must note, just across the aisle from UFC and Pride veteran, and notable Korean/French Canadian, Denis Kang.
Ivan Menjivar vs. Azamat Gashimov – It was my turn to pick, and I wanted the veteran Menjivar. I had seen him fight in person before, and always found him entertaining. The home crowd was rooting for the local Menjivar too. Though the venue wasn’t yet full, Bob started to get a sense of the energy they would bring. It was a brief, but exciting fight, ending in the first round with Menjivar’s armbar of Gashimov. The action had occurred immediately in front of our new seats, and the eventual “submission of the night” left Gashimov laying on the cage floor, injured, as Menjivar celebrated. I was up ten bucks.
Matthew Riddle vs. John Maguire – Bob had enjoyed hearing the roundtable’s analysis, as well as my input, for this match-up. So Bob knew that when he picked Riddle, he was picking a rather unpredictable and colorful fighter who had been off his “medicine” for at least a couple of weeks. Though we had high hopes for this one, both fighters seemed cautious to avoid the other’s strengths. There were only occasional flurries of action, but Riddle clearly won the unanimous decision. I was back to being up by five.
Before the next fight began, I noticed that Joe Lauzon had arrived. I knew that he would be in attendance to watch training partner Tom Lawlor, compete, but I didn’t know that he would be so close to the cage in the VIP section. The fans had noticed him too as Lauzon was happily obliging their requests for photos with him. He would later be joined in that area by Dan Hardy, Jake Shields, and others. And even closer to the cage, of course, would be greats Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida, and Lyoto Machida’s mustache.
Antonio Carvalho vs. Rodrigo Damm – For this match-up, I went against the experts and picked Damm because I was familiar with him from the first season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil. Bob thought that he had the easy win with Carvalho. Unfortunately, this fight had very little action, and by the third round Bob was threatening to boo for the first time in his life. With ten seconds left in the fight, Bob did indeed join the rest of the crowd in a loud chorus of boos. “That was sad,” Bob concluded. The Canadian, Carvalho won the split decision, and Bob and I were back to even.
John Makdessi vs. Sam Stout – Bob didn’t make his mind up about which of these two Canadians he wanted to pick until both fighters were in the cage. He eventually chose Stout, and I thought that was the right pick too. This fight, like the Carvalho vs. Damm fight, was fought standing and went the distance. But in contrast to that bout, Makdessi and Stout’s striking seemed to be far more frequent and effective. Makdessi consistently got inside on Stout, and had the jabs that made Stout’s head snap back and his hair fly. Makdessi won the fight via unanimous decision, and I was up five again.
Cyrille Diabate vs. Chad Griggs – Though this spot on the card was originally supposed to feature Bocek and dos Anjos, that match-up had been moved to the main card because of the Ring vs. Philippou cancellation. It was Bob’s pick, and he had chosen Griggs when we were listening to the podcast. Bob liked that the roundtable had consistently described Griggs as a “brawler.” Bob said, “In most fights, the brawler wins.” As we watched them face off before the fight, I realized that these were two of the bigger guys that Bob had seen fight in person. Neither of the two cards that he’d been to had any heavyweights on them. The 6’ 6” Diabate (not Canadian, but French) and the former heavyweight Griggs made an impression, and at that moment I wrongly predicted that the fight would have to end with a KO or TKO. The action was fast and furious with Griggs charging in and getting nailed with a straight punch that destroyed his nose. It ended a minute or two later with Diabate taking Griggs’ back, and then using his long arms to secure a rear naked choke. It was an uncharacteristic submission win for Diabate, and I was up by ten bucks.
Patrick Cote vs. Alessio Sakara – Even though there had already been other Canadians fighting earlier on the card, this was the fight that firmly established the power of the home crowd. Cote, a Montreal native and former middleweight contender, got special treatment because of his name. It gave the Montreal Canadiens hockey fans in the crowd a chance to sing out the “Ole Song” using Cote’s name. It was my pick, and I had chosen Cote because of the home crowd, but I thought that either of these two veteran fighters could get a knockout. Both came out aggressive, and each of them took turns stunning the other with combinations. Then, late in the first round, Sakara dropped Cote and seemed to finish him via TKO. Replays showed that Sakara had repeatedly struck Cote in the back of the head. The crowd booed louder with each replay or live shot of Sakara. As we waited for the decision, it seemed inevitable that Sakara would be disqualified. The crowd demanded it. When Buffer announced that Cote had won via disqualification, the cheering and singing followed. Rogan entered the cage to interview both fighters and when Cote was speaking Bob complained that he couldn’t hear what he was saying. That was because it was in French. I didn’t care. I was up fifteen bucks.
There was a break in the action before the main card began. Bob and I reflected on how fortunate we were that the crowd had filled in around us and still no one had come to claim our seats. There were a few more open in the row behind us that I had eyed as a backup, but for the moment we were living large and making friends. The guys next to us were curious about our betting, and Bob congenially explained our system. Not long after that Baba O’Riley started, and the montage and pay-per-view introduction followed. As always, it was awesome.
Pablo Garza vs. Mark Hominick – This was another fight that Bob was unsure about until he saw both fighters enter the cage. Bob liked Hominick’s energy and he had learned that when in doubt, choose the Canadian. I thought that Hominick would win as well, but I was distracted as the fight began. The victorious Cyrille Diabate was standing next to me, looking for a place to sit. Luckily, I wasn’t in his seat and he located his people a few rows over.
The first round of this fight was the best one we had seen to that point. Both fighters were aggressive and displaying their athleticism. The second and third rounds were entertaining, but brutal as Garza deformed Hominick in route to a unanimous decision. It was an upset, and I was up twenty.
Rafael dos Anjos vs. Mark Bocek – I chose Bocek because I thought the Canadian veteran would out-grapple the similarly talented veteran dos Anjos. Bob was glad to be rooting for dos Anjos because he had noticed something special about him on the video of the weigh-ins. Bob said that dos Anjos was wearing a “Calvary Chapel” shirt. Our brother, Dave, is a Calvary Chapel pastor in Ohio, and Bob is the head of the Christian Sport Bike Association. So as dos Anjos walked in for his fight, Bob said, “We’re sponsored by the same guy.”
The fight was another decision and it didn’t feature the grappling that I had been hoping for. Aside from some Bocek Kimura attempts, it was mostly about dos Anjos out-striking him. Dos Anjos won the unanimous decision and helped Bob cut my lead down to fifteen.
Sometime during the third round of dos Anjos vs. Bocek a fight had broken out in the stands in sections 105/106. It got the attention of about a third of the venue, including Bob and me. For some reason, we were more interested in that fight than the one in the cage. In my experience, fan fights at UFC events are rare, but this one seemed to involve a number of fans, police, and security, and took a while to quell.
Francis Carmont vs. Tom Lawlor – This was the fight that, other than the title fight, I was most looking forward to. I’m familiar with Lawlor from my time at Lauzon MMA and I’ve always enjoyed his fights and his antics outside of the cage. I was there to see his Apollo Creed from Rocky IV walkout, before his fight at UFC 113 in Montreal, and it was amazing. Lawlor did not disappoint with his walkout before this fight either, and I, of course, had picked him and was rooting for him as the fight began. Unfortunately, sometime during the first round, a young French Canadian guy came looking for his seats. Bob and I were out of luck as our backup seats were now occupied as well.
So Bob and I scampered out and had to think quickly. I led Bob to section 105/106, reasoning that after that melee there must be some empty seats there. Indeed there were, and I sat down in one of a group of four that were open. As I did so, a man leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder. “Oh, are these taken?” I asked. “No. Someone just threw up in that one,” he said.
He was correct. I was sitting in someone’s hot mess. Bob and I relocated to the row behind, but the beery vomit smell went with us. So I was understandably distracted during the second and third rounds of the fight. We were also relatively far away from the spoiled vantage point that we had enjoyed earlier.
Coincidentally, during the third round, I noticed that we were sitting near Lawlor’s friends and family. I recognized some of them, but their cheers and anxiety also confirmed who they were. I’ve sat near fighters’ families at events before, and it always seems to be a difficult experience for them to watch a loved one compete. It ends in exhilaration or devastation, and this one certainly was the latter. When the controversial split decision was announced in favor of Carmont (French and training in Montreal, but not French Canadian?), Lawlor’s friends and family and I were not the only ones booing. Many of the Canadian fans were as well. I was sad, sticky, and only up ten dollars.
Johny Hendricks vs. Martin Kampmann – This was Bob’s pick, and he wanted to go with the punching power of Hendricks. I believed in Hendricks as well, but I rooted for the veteran Kampmann as he walked in looking confident. Less than a minute in and it was over. It was a stunning knockout for Hendricks. The crowd was impressed, but still booed any time Hendricks mentioned the welterweight title in his post-fight interview. I was only up five bucks with just one fight left.
Georges St-Pierre vs. Carlos Condit – It was my pick, and though I thought it would be a close fight, I just couldn’t go against GSP. I had seen him in person against Hardy and Koscheck, and knew that the dangerous Condit was much more of a threat. I was also concerned about the time off and the infamous “ring rust.” But I didn’t think that GSP would be in this fight unless he was ready. Bob didn’t understand just how dominant GSP had been in his career, and he was happy to be backing Condit.
The walkouts were amazing. It was a combination of the UFC’s production, the way both fighters carried themselves, and the screaming and swaying of the crowd. The anticipation had built perfectly, and, as you all know, this main event delivered. When I think of it now, I just keep thinking of the color red – both the giant “GSP” in red that was on the jumbotron and Condit’s blood. The crowd lived and died with every punch, kick, takedown, and guard pass, and there was plenty of all of that over the five rounds. It ended with both fighters wounded and tired, and the crowd seemed exhausted too. But these fans were happily exhausted and satisfied with hometown hero GSP’s unanimous decision victory to retain the welterweight championship. Most of us waited for a few minutes to see if Anderson Silva would enter the cage, but it was not to be and the crowd poured out into the streets with the Ole Song ringing out.
After the Event
The best part of staying at the Y was the short trip back from the Bell Centre. We only had to spend about 120 seconds walking in the cold Canadian night before reaching the doorstep and ringing the bell. An employee unlocked the door and checked the computer to confirm we were the guests in room 704. Meanwhile a shady woman slipped in behind us. When the employee questioned her, she told him that she was in room 704 too. They proceeded to argue in French, and we took our leave.
We were up and out by eight in the morning, and cruising across the border not long after that. I had wanted Bob to listen to Sherdog’s “Beatdown after the Bell” podcast, but I couldn’t get it streaming or downloaded. We only stopped once, for some breakfast in Plattsburgh, and I had Bob back at his son’s by noon. It had been a brief, but powerful, 24-hour dose of mixed martial arts for Bob, but the time off was what he really needed. He wouldn’t be staying at his son’s for more than a few minutes. He’d be driving back home to get some work in while there was still some daylight.
So what’s next for us? Well, I have an idea, a fantasy really. The fantasy scenario is that somehow Bob and I get ourselves to Las Vegas (Bob, of course, has never been) for UFC 155 on December 29th. I’d love for Bob to be able to see Joe Lauzon fight Jim Miller and the two best heavyweights battling for the belt. Time and money are the issues, but aren’t they always? Bob and I must find a way. That’s what we addicts do.
This week’s PTMA reader shout-outs go to:
@9five2 – Chicago, IL
@AcidHaze – Dublin, Ireland
@Mr_Honky – Mountains of Oregon
@Julieha38402172 – Tonbridge, Kent, England
To be part of my next blog’s PTMA reader shout-outs, please follow me on Twitter and let me know where in the world you are.
Thanks for reading,