FORT HOOD, Texas – In the grand scheme of things, it's just a sport, just one night of entertainment.
But the UFC's second "Fight for the Troops
" show on Saturday meant a night away from the stresses of military service – stresses most will never understand. About 3,200 troops attended the show, which was set up in a temporary arena inside a hangar on an air strip – tanks and helicopters just a couple hundred feet away from the Octagon.
The troops posed for pictures with Chuck Liddell and Bruce Buffer and Dana White and the Octagon Girls and Stitch and every fighter walking past – and most stopped to shake hands, sign autographs and get a snapshot, win or lose. They ate burritos at a tailgate outside the hangar. They cheered and booed the same as they would if they were in any other arena.
But this was more than just another UFC event. While part of the purpose of putting on a show exclusively for enlisted military is to bring some entertainment to the men and women serving America, the UFC and Spike partnered once again with the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund to raise money for troops suffering from brain trauma, as well as their families.
Martin Edelman, a board member with the IFHF and one of its founding leaders, said more than $600,000 was raised during the Spike broadcast of of the show – from phone donations alone. And he praised the UFC for being involved. Both Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, majority owners of Zuffa, LLC, are on the IFHF's Board of Trustees.
"Traumatic brain injury is the signature wound of this war," Edelman said. "So we raised $65 million and built the Traumatic Brain Injury Center, and the UFC has been our partners in this venture from the beginning. They're devoted to America's troops, they come to these events, they help us create them – and we wouldn't be doing it without them today."
Edelman said the total raised from the UFC's Fight for the Troops event in Fayetteville, N.C., in December 2008 was in excess of $4 million.
"Last (event's) number was close to $5 million, and I must say that Dana, Lorenzo and Frank contributed a lot to that," Edelman said. "They've been just absolutely spectacular."
Edelman said the IFHF doesn't set fundraising goals. Rather, it just continues working to raise funds until the current need is met, then moves on to the next goal.
"We determine the need, and we've so far never failed in raising the money we need. We just keep doing it until we have enough," Edelman said. "Right now, we have about $13-14 million for research. We'd like to get to $20 (million) and we'll do whatever it takes to get there."
White has said the most meaningful events he has put on as a promoter have been events giving back to U.S. troops. And while there is no official word of the next troops show, there is almost no doubt that one will come, Edelman said.
"Our relationship with Dana White and Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta has been both personal and professional and philanthropic for years now," Edelman said. "Each UFC fight has a number. This is Fight for the Troops No. 2, we'll probably do No. 3 next year and we'll just keep going until all the needs of our young wonderful warriors and their families have been taken care of."
And while Edelman was excited about the event being a success, and about the early numbers trickling in from the phone donations, there was still gravity to the reality of why the event was taking place to begin with.
"You come to these events and you see that even with all the fun and happiness that we're having, we send these kids to places that are really challenging," Edelman said. "And when they come home, we owe them at a minimum the comfort of knowing that we're going to take care of them. That's the absolute duty of every American."
To learn more about the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund or make a donation, visit the organization online at fallenheroesfund.org