Believe it or not, but after more than five years of loving mixed martial arts and over 2.5 years of writing about the sport, which included multiple media appearances at Strikeforce, Bellator and countless regional shows, I'd never been to an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event ... not even as just a fan.
That was until I scored a lower bowl seat at the second UFC on Fox event, which took place at the United Center in Chicago, Ill., this past Saturday night (Jan. 28, 2012).
When you attend an event as a member of the media, you aren't allowed to cheer. You have to remain composed so as to not show any bias. If you showcase emotion during a fight, it's considered unprofessional.
I was pretty stone-faced to begin the night just out of habit, so it took me a few fights to loosen up, but by the time Charles Oliveira pulled off the first calf slicer in UFC history, I'd finally snapped out of it and was marking out pretty badly.
I mean, come on. How often are you going to see a freaking calf slicer?
Posted below are some of my observations from the seat of a fan during UFC on Fox 2: "Davis vs. Evans:"
There are a ton of people who still have no respect for the ground game - There was a belligerent guy who sat in front of us who thought he was hilarious. Every time a fight went to the ground, he cupped his hands around his mouth and screamed out "Quit touching wieners!" It was never funny, but it didn't stop him from doing it most of the night.
The UFC production level is amazing -- All night, they kept us entertained whether it was remixes of popular songs between fights, visual effects during the fighter entrances or the Baba O'Riley highlight, which is practically worth the cost of admission alone and gets you incredibly pumped up right before the main card begins.
Chris Weidman vs. Demian Maia sucked the life out of the building -- As excited as the fans were after the Baba O'Riley sequence, they were equally (if not more) disappointed in that fight. When you've got two very strong ground fighters and they choose instead not only to "stand and bang" but to gas out by the beginning of the third round, it wasn't appreciated. The entire fight was met with crickets interrupted by the occasional smattering of boos.
You end up watching a significant portion of the fights on the jumbotron -- With eight sides to the Octagon, that means eight giant black strips of foam padding, which means eight obstructions. Why the four video guys aren't standing directly behind the foam padding is beyond me, but they instead stand on stools directly in the middle of the fence on four sides of the cage. The entire middle of the Octagon was cut off by a cameraman for us, so we actually watched at least half of the action (if not more) from the giant video feed despite having some pretty good tickets.
Anthony Pettis is really good with the fans -- "Showtime" was walking down the aisle to get to a seat on the floor and he got absolutely swarmed by UFC fans. Despite the fact that it looked like his buddies wanted to get to their seats, Pettis made sure to sign everything and take a picture with every person who wanted one on the way down to his seat. It's just another example of UFC fighters giving back to the fans better than many other professional athletes.
Chael Sonnen and Michael Bisping are really big stars -- The loudest ovations for any fighters weren't the main event, it was for Chael Sonnen, who fans badly wanted to see beat the tar out of Michael Bisping. Bisping got the opposite reaction as they booed the Brit every time he was put on the screen the entire night. Facing Bisping may have done wonders for Chael's popularity and beating him may have put him over even more. Love them or hate them, these guys get people talking and they get people interested in their fights.
Speaking of that ...
No commentators made it seem pretty obvious that Chael won the fight -- I didn't realize what the big deal was or that there was a controversy because I just watched the fight with no extra voices in my head telling me who was winning or doing something impressive during the fight. I thought the first two rounds were close, with Chael getting the first and Bisping taking the second. From what I heard, Joe Rogan was really talking up Bisping and that may have led to more people siding with "The Count." I suggest watching the fight on mute and that may actually help you decide who won better.
People were leaving in droves during the main event between Rashad Evans and Phil Davis -- It was like they really had somewhere to be that was more important than discovering the next light heavyweight title challenger. It was like the seventh inning of a Dodgers game or something. Maybe that's what people do during fight events, but I thought it was crazy that so many people didn't care to see who was officially announced the winner. I suppose the result wasn't in doubt, though, because I made a $1 bet with a fan sitting next to me that Evans would win and he paid me after the second round was over.
Jon Jones not confronting Rashad in the Octagon was a mistake -- I believe Geno already covered this one, but Jones was literally in the building on Saturday night doing some analysis on the FOX show. All he had to do was take a quick detour from the booth to the Octagon and it could have set up a huge staredown and built some heat for the UFC 145 main event. Instead, we just had Rashad semi-apologizing to the fans for not putting on as good of a performance as he wanted. It was a pretty big letdown.
Well there you have it.
Sure, the under card was more exciting than the main card, but that was something many had predicted before the night even started.
I had a great night, even if the main card was a disappointment and you end up watching several of the fights on the big screen. The live experience is amazing and I would highly recommend doing it yourself if you haven't before.
Were any other Maniacs in attendance last Saturday night in Chicago? Speak up if so, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Shout out to Rich Hansen, Jamie Penick and the rest of the guys.