UFC 129 had a lot of banner moments. The event was great for the sport, for the UFC, for Toronto and for the fans. I was one of the lucky 55,000 people who got to attend the event live. It was my first MMA event and I thought I'd share my experience with all of you Maniacs who couldn't make it to the Rogers Centre.
I have been following MMA for several years now. Many of you who know me from the threads will have heard me say that there are many here at MMAMania.com who know a great deal more about the sport than I do. I have become an even bigger hardcore fan in the last few years, in no small part, due to this site.
Like many people in Ontario, I had been waiting for the powers that be to sanction this thing for a long time. When the day finally arrived and the event was announced, I started dreaming about this -- literally. I was actually losing sleep the closer it got to UFC 129. This weekend my dreams finally came to fruition and I've included a few thoughts and pics to share my experience.
I arrived in Toronto Friday afternoon at 5 p.m. I wasn't able to make the weigh-ins or day one of the Expo due to work. I was already missing out but determined to make up for it on Saturday. When my wife and I, along with the couple we traveled with, arrived, there was already a sense of excitement in the city. I have lived near Toronto for most of my life and I've attended a lot of sporting events, concerts, and the like within the city.
The first thing I noticed was there were people scalping hotel rooms! My buddy Dave was wise enough to book ours before the tickets even went on sale. Most people lucky enough to get a room afterwards, paid three times what we did for a room.
We dropped off our bags and cabbed it down to Real Sports Bar & Grill in Toronto. If you ever visit the city, I suggest you give the place a try. We were watching the Washington Capitals play the Tampa Bay Lightning on a 37-foot high big screen and I was barely paying attention. Our waiter was a UFC fan and I told him to keep his eyes open for fighters. He brought me a beer, smiled and pointed off in the corner and said "Shogun Rua in the house." Sure as shit, there was Shogun, sitting with UFC announcer Mike Goldberg at a booth!
After running around the bar tryin to get a word with him, I spotted Sportsnet doing an on camera interview with the TapouT guys. I waited until they were done and went over and introduced myself to Skyskrape, who earned that nickname -- trust me. The guy is HUGE. He was nice enough to let me have a photo with him and shake hands.
Very cool guy.
After a night of star watching, it was time to head over to the Expo. I've been to a lot of trade shows and really didn't know what to expect from this one.I didn't want to spend my day in 2-hour lineups to meet fighters but hoped to meet a few anyway.
The first guy I met, walked right up to me and introduced himself. I didn't recognize him but he sure as hell seemed to know me. Turns out, it was Mania's own Bigger Zino. He was loaded down with swag, autographs and was even more excited to be there than I was. It was a great way to start the day, seeing a friendly face and shaking hands with a fellow Maniac.
I've included a pic of the two of us (with Zino's permission of course). BZ is on the left, yours truly on the right. Mean mugging at 10 a.m. That's like a broken dick -- can't beat it.
This was going to be a great day.
The fan expo had an incredible assortment of industry vendors, instructional symposiums on everything from grappling to refereeing with guest speaker, Herb Dean. Herb remarked, 'If you are here watching a guy talking about reffing MMA, you are a real fan.'
Every time I turned my head, I saw a fighter. Left turn, Gilbert Melendez. Right turn, Rashad Evans This booth, Josh Koscheck. That booth, Jon Jones! The place was a who's who of MMA. I was like a kid in a candy store.
I stopped and looked at every t-shirt, fighter, video and hot trade show girl I saw -- and there were a LOT of hot trade show girls. Say what you will about the UFC; they know what guys like.
I got to heft a UFC belt. To a guy like me, the only trophy that matters anymore is the Stanley Cup, which I have also posed with! I got to go in a regulation Octagon and beat the holy hell out of my friend Dave for nearly 25 minutes. I got to shake hands with some of my heros, buy some great souvenirs and look in wonder at a Strikeforce booth at a UFC event. That was crazy.
I still felt like I was dreaming and the event was only hours away!
I laid down for an hour at the hotel but couldn't sleep. I was really here. I was going to see the UFC live -- in person -- at an absolutely historic event.
I didn't sleep a wink.
The four of us headed down to the Rogers Centre. We were all decked out in Xtreme Couture shirts. I'm not usually "that guy" but Randy was hangin 'em up and I wanted to show my thanks and support.
As I've said already, I've attended a lot of events in Toronto and specifically, the Rogers Centre. I have seen World Series games there that had HALF the buzz. The crowd was absolutely electric. It was as if we were all looking at each other on the way in and thinking, "My God. We are actually here."
We walk in through the gate and head for the seats. Wow. And I mean -- WOW. The place is decked right out. There are huge screens everywhere. The music is pumping and the preliminary fights start in 10 minutes. I think to myself, 'The prelims haven't even started yet and there are already enough people in their seats to break an attendance record!'
I sit down in the 100 level and I already know that there isn't a bad seat in the house. Uncle Dana looked after us. Lots of us worried that without seeing the octagon up close, that the atmosphere would be antiseptic and cold.
The Jumbotron monitors were massive and as crisp as my big screen at home. The sound was great and I'm already yelling!
I get an email from Maniac magicmike telling me to hold a good thought for fellow Maniac A.K.'s boy, Pablo Garza. No problem. He's up in 2 minutes.
Here it is. Finally, the moment I have been waiting for, for ... well ... years.
The whole crowd takes a breath as the place goes quiet. You know what I mean when I say that? It's the moment before the moment. Then, up comes the music. The lights come up. We hear Bruce Buffer and the place goes apeshit. I mean it. All 55,000 of us screamed our enthusiasm and the atmosphere was amazing. I had goosebumps head to toe. It was so loud that I couldn't hear myself screaming.I knocked back a 10 dollar Budweiser in 2 pulls. Let's do this thing!
Garza puts on one of the sickest triangle chokes I have ever seen and puts the Canadian boy out of his misery. What a start! Sure, the fans are going to cheer the local guys. That's what fans do; most of us appreciate all of the fighters and choose to cheer for the local boys first. Happens everywhere.
I was lucky enough to be surrounded by knowledgeable fans and not meatheads. The guys sitting next to us are all fighters themselves; one of them is a training partner of Claude Patrick, who is up soon. The guy behind me is in a full gi and obviously a GSP fan who knows his shit. He and his buddies were loud, proud and hilarious through the whole thing.
The first real deafening roar of the night came when Makdessi smashed Watson with that spinning backfist on the heels of a fake kick. The entire place was on its feet, shrieking for the knockout! I can't imagine how that must have felt for Makdessi. It must have been pretty surreal to have that kind of ending in that environment.
The prelims are all great! Jason MacDonald sinks in a beautiful triangle -- we Canadians all love a good comeback story! He got a nice roar from the crowd. Menjivar almost put Valencia's nose through the back of his head with a vicious elbow. Claude Patrick had a dominant 3 round performance, much to the appreciation of a few of his training partners to my right! ]
That's it for the preliminaries. The crowd is in an absolute frenzy, frothing at the mouth and ready for more. $10 Budweiser tallboys are starting to pile up. I don't even feel buzzed ... I'm way too excited.
And now ... the main card.
Bruce Buffer announces that "WE.....ARE.....LIVE!!!!!!!!" and I thought the roof was going to cave in from all the noise! First up, Jake Ellenberger has a great performance and puts Sean Pierson away with a short left jab. Even Ellenberger looks surprised that the jab put Pierson out. Canadians are having a good showing. The fans goodnaturedly boo the American, although we are all doing it with a smile.
We would expect no less in Jake's hometown!
One of the nicer moments was next for me. I got to watch a Diaz brother get beat up in person. That guy got suplexed more than a 1980s WWF jobber (if you don't get the reference, that sucks for you). It was fun to watch and based on the noise levels, the 209 was not well represented at the Rogers Centre on this night. No Diaz crew stormed the Octagon to beat anyone up, either, so that was nice.
Mark Bocek got schooled by Ben Henderson. We boo you, Ben, but we hurt because we love. Nice performance. Now pack your shit and get out of town ... just kidding (only a little though ... bout a half cup). Henderson had a top notch performance and seemed to recognize the local boy was the hope but the crowd loves a good performance from Henderson.
Now it's time for Randy. The crowd is as loud as any I have ever heard in my life. I think most of us suspect what is about to happen. Machida is no joke. We are determined to send out Captain America in style. It's the least we can do. After the Ralph Macchio Steven Seagal Super Karate Toothbuster Kick, it was time to say goodbye to Randy.
I don't mind telling you that I actually had a lump in my throat. Only half of it was $10 Budweiser. The crowd shows Randy what we think of him -- in a big way -- and send him off with the loudest ovation I have ever heard. Thanks for the memories, Randy. You are the reason I am a fan.
Now time for Jose Aldo vs. Mark Hominick. Mark gets all kinds of love from the crowd. The guy's wife is due with a baby and this is our boy. Everybody is pulling for this guy.
The crowd oohs and ahhs through a few tough rounds. That thing on his head looks like something from Aliens. If it pops, a lot of people are gonna barf. It holds, however, and Hominick puts on a show. That fifth round was out of a Rocky movie! He just keeps hitting Aldo and when the horn sounds, we don't even hear it; nobody does. We all know he didn't win but every Canadian should be proud of his performance and you should hear the crowd when he does his push-ups after the fight!
Now it's time for Georges St. Pierre vs. Jake Shields! The crowd is off the hook for GSP and he couldn't possibly have heard anything anyone was saying to him inside the Octagon.
The fight ... well, you all saw it. Sure, it was disappointing. GSP still holds the belt and broke a 15-fight win streak with a more than able opponent -- with one friggin eye.
That's good enough for me.
My voice is gone and so is all my money. I drank all the beer Toronto could shove at me. I just had the best time of my life. I got to share it with my wife and two great friends. There will be bigger. There will be other events, with even more stacked cards. Ontario will host many more of these.
But at the end of the day, I saw the biggest, the best and the first. And it was my first, as well. No event can ever top this for me. Sometimes in life, you hope that an event can live up to the hype created by the media, by the fans and by yourself.
It just happened. It surpassed every hope I ever had.
You want some advice? Get off the couch. Don't assume it's better at home. To be part of something like UFC 129 can never be matched by a "purchase PPV" button. Save your money. Go ... you won't regret it.
So, that's how I spent my MMA vacation. I am one one happy Maniac.
Thanks for riding along.
Here are the pics I took while I was up there. Enjoy.
Prison pose next to the Strikeforce belt. Nothing gay about this, boys.
I was asked to pose by this picture ... not sure who it is. Help?
Squaring off against Bigger Zino. Sexy beasts right here, ladies and sirs.
Both of these ladies went home with me.
Actually that's a lie. This is the wife and she would kill me. She actually beat me pretty severely for posing in the previous pic. If you're wondering why so many seats around me are empty it's because I had to smack down a few fools for looking down her shirt. You Maniacs, however, can feel free. (She's going to kill me for that, too.)
About to smash my buddy Dave inside the Octagon.
Still smashing Dave inside the cage. Leonard Garcia won the decision.
Hanging with "The Predator" Patrick Cote.
Skyscrape of TapouT, with his glorious head of hair.