My dirty little secret of covering MMA is that I have never been to a UFC event before, but I am lucky enough to attend UFC 96. This weekend, I will give you updates on what it's like to go through the UFC experience for the first time.
Wow. It's hard to find another word that suits my feelings about my first UFC event, however, I'm a writer, so I'll go ahead and try. Though the music has stopped playing and the lights have stopped pulsing, my body is still shaking from the after effects of the fights. The strength of the fights on the card, coupled with the strength of the UFC production, still have me reeling, days later.
The crowd in Columbus showed up early for the event. The doors opened at 7:30 p.m., but lines stretched away from the building when I parked my car at 7:00. By the time of the first fight, the debacle between Shane Nelson and Aaron Riley, the arena was pretty full. The crowd was also loud, if not the most knowledgeable. They quickly began booing for every clinch, even when there was plenty of action within the clinch.
It's impressive to me that the UFC treats every fight the same, with an introduction video, entrance music and postfight interview in the cage. Instead of saying that only certain preliminary fights might be suitable for airing, they leave open the possibility that every fight will be good enough for television. On this night, most of the fights were.
Just before the pay-per-view portion of the card begins, the UFC airs a highlight video that I still have chills from. This is one part of the evening where all of the members of the media were not working, and looking at the same thing. No one can take their eyes off the screen during this video. When it was over, Cage Potato's Ben Fowlkes, who has been to several events, said, "I never get sick of that." I don't think I ever would, either.
Throughout the evening, I would see huge groups of fans gathered around someone, and then I'd realize, a fighter was in the crowd giving autographs. Over the course of the evening, I saw Matt Hughes, Clay Guida, Brock Lesnar and Tito Ortiz stopping and talking to fans, taking pictures and signing shirts, programs and
dolls action figures. Looking at that scene, I couldn't help but be reminded of why I love MMA. Can you imagine Lebron James attending another NBA game, and then walking through the crowd specifically to give autographs? What about Tom Brady? Or Derek Jeter?
My overall feeling from the event is that every UFC fan should try their damnedest to make it to an event at some point. You will not be disappointed, though your ears may be ringing a few days later.