Adam Wagner is a writer for MMAmania.com. He is in Canada as part of the UFC 83: "Serra vs. St. Pierre 2â€³ Ultimate Fight Train experience. He'll blog about his whirlwind trip throughout the weekend, providing an inside account of what it's like to be in Montreal (and Toronto) when the UFC comes to town for the first time ever. Enjoy.
It has to be said, so I'm going to go ahead and say it: If I hadn't been in Canada this weekend, I'm not so sure Patrick Cote would have made the Ultimate Fight Train to Montreal. It's possible that Forrest Griffin wouldn't have made it either.
Waking up at 4:50 a.m. after such a long day of media touring was not something anyone wanted to do. And despite trying, I don't think that even a couple of UFC legends can hold up a Fight Train from leaving on time.
But after telling the cabby to keep the meter running and running back inside the hotel to wake everyone up, the entire entourage made it into downtown Toronto just in the nick of time.
Can I say "entourage"?
I really don't want to be thought of in those terms. But as Forrest, Cote, his girlfriend, Justin Curtin from MMA Fight Gear (the master strategist behind the Fight Train), Sean McManus, me and my girlfriend Paige all strolled through Union Station with a camera crew in tow, UFC fans clamoring for a look at the fighters, it certainly appeared that we were only there to carry luggage.
Not exactly what you want to be remembered for, but better to be here than waiting in line for a ticket, that's for sure.
The Ultimate Fight Train was an absolute blast. The fellas from MMA Fight Gear reserved five train cars in all—two went to Molson Canadian, two went to the general UFC fans, and one was reserved for VIP. That's where we sat.
Ah, the perks of being on the inside.
In addition to us, VIP consisted of Forrest, Cote and his friends, the crew from Fight! Magazine, Hardcore Championship Fighting CEO Keith Crawford, the Score folks, the TapouT girls and security detail, and rocker-turned-MMA fighter Robin Black.
I'm sure there were others I missed, but those were the ones who stood out.
Things started fairly low key while breakfast was being served (another benefit of VIP). But about an hour and a half into the five-hour-long trip, I got antsy and decided it was time to lighten my luggage.
Free merch was flowing like wine (including Ultimate Fight Train t-shirts, TapouT t-shirts and GSP headbands), so Sean and I decided it was time to distribute some Mania gear to the folks in the back of the train. After all, the beer hadn't started flowing yet, so they needed a pick-me-up.
Soon, Forrest and Cote started making their rounds to meet fans and sign free copies of Fight! Magazine provided to everyone on board. The TapouT girls joined the party too. Several camera crews also made the rounds.
After a bit, the beer was served, and things really began to take off. The volume in each of the train cars went up several decibels. Seeing an opportunity, I pulled Patrick Cote aside and conducted a quick interview (I'll post it next).
Getting Forrest to sit still was an entirely different animal. Every chance I had was squashed by a camera crew or an autograph session. So I opted instead to settle into an MGD (where the Molson was, I have no idea).
Answer to #2:
2. While cornering (literally) on rails on a Canadian fight train, which tastes better, the King of American beers, Budweiser, or Canada's own Molson?
What's up, Canada? Where's the brew? The MGD was okay and all, but you lost out by not showing up. I'm going to have to find someone to explain this to me.
By the time we arrived in Montreal, rumors were already surfacing about a couple of rowdies in the tail section of the train (apparently, someone smuggled mushrooms on board—hope it was worth it, because I doubt they last until fight time).
We walked a few blocks from the train station to the Delta hotel. Man, this place is nice. Again, people lined up to check in, which was being held in a small conference room. And once again, we cut the line, carrying promotional t-shirts and other merchandise.
Inside the conference room, a booth was set up for the TapouT crew, who were thus far nowhere to be seen. Matt Hamill was on hand, signing autographs and posing for pictures, keeping everyone at bay for the time being. Matt seemed like a really genuine guy and went out of his way to accommodate a lot of half-drunken fans. Soon, Forrest showed up and joined in the autographs.
Finally the TapouT crew arrived. Those guys like to make an entrance, let me tell ya. They instantly commanded an audience, giving an orchestrated interview and acting like the circus you're used to seeing on television, before finally taking to their booth and entertaining the fans.
I have to hand it to the Mask, Skyscrape and Punk Ass. They had an idea and they ran with it, turning an otherwise run-of-the-mill MMA outfitter into a multi-million dollar franchise that builds support for a lot of great fighters throughout the country (and the world). And they got rich in the process.
But maybe it was Skyscrape's fluffy animal slippers, or the Mask's camouflage Army hat with a towel draping his neck, or maybe it was watching the Canadian glam rocker Robin Black give interview after interview about his upcoming MMA debut, but I just couldn't help but shake my head.
This isn't what fighting's about, man. At least, this isn't what fighting's about where I come from.
Fighting's supposed to be about two men entering, and one man walking out. It's supposed to be about measuring up your opponent, identifying his weaknesses while respecting his strengths, and shooting in for the win before getting caught yourself. It's supposed to be about the raw nature of the human condition, and focusing in on what makes us...in the end...still animals, if only for an instant.
I'm pretty sure it's not supposed to be about fluffy lion slippers and black eye makeup.
I can't help but wonder, do these guys ever wake up in the morning and say to themselves, you know I really don't feel like wearing the fluffy animal slippers today. I really don't feel like playing this character that I pretend to be in order to become a bazillionaire. Today I feel like going by "Albert" or "'Simon" or whatever the hell my real name is.
But then again, had they stuck with my crappy attitude, theirs would be just another brand, hardly recognized.
I guess what I'm saying is, I respect the good that they've done, not only for fighters, but for the popularity of the sport in general. I'm just a little nauseated by the production of it. I'm afraid of what it could mean for the sport of MMA down the road. We don't need another big-time wrestling, and when you're slinging characters, you walk a fine line.
As I sat there with my girlfriend Paige, shaking my head, Forrest walked up.
"Sometimes you gotta hate it," he said (I'm paraphrasing), referring to fame in general. "It can be a real bother. But you have to approach it knowing that one day, maybe not tomorrow, but one day, all of this will be gone, and you'll be back to sitting on the couch being fat. And no one will know who you are anymore."
"Yeah," Paige said, "But then some old man will walk up to you and say, ‘I know who you are. You're that fighter. You used to be great.'"
"Yeah," Forrest said, knowing that that day is inevitable for all athletes. "I'm gonna bond with that guy."