LAS VEGAS – All the people who think that MMA media and fans are among the bottom thirds in sports acumen have never heard us discuss the finer points of saturation. Heading into this weekend’s UFC doubleheader, that’s become the UFC’s big issue -- oversaturation -- and most of us can talk about it until we’re blue in the face. Too many fights, too little talent, too much gray matter mucking up what we’ve come to protectively call an "event." More is less in the world of schlub-level prelimists. Less is more when watching those prelimists at 3am fighting in Auckland on our glowing computers.
What does it mean that we’ve segued into the business of comparing magnitudes…of fighters, of pay, of fight cards, of this against that? Among other things, that we fear our own sense of numbness in a sport that traditionally twists our guts in just such a way that reminds us we’re alive. Once we start shutting down our faculty for measured violence, well, heaven help us. We'll just sort of turn into a Pink Floyd song.
Tell you what though, even if it’s approached with radical silence because of all the other events going on before it, the UFC 175/TUF 19 Finale "Ultimate Media Day" made the event feel like an event. Walking into the South Pacific Ballroom at the Mandalay Bay you were flanked by a walled tapestry of unsmiling fighterly faces on both sides, each with his or her national flag behind them. Dan Henderson had America, Uriah Hall had Jamaica, Georges St-Pierre had Canada, and so on. Brendan Schaub even had a spot, which prompted one fan to say, "why the f*ck does Brendan Schaub get a spot?" No good answer could be come up with.
If the UFC is latching onto the coattails of the World Cup, it’s done a nice job of demonstrating its own claims to globalness. By now you’ve seen the gratuitous use of face-paint in the promos to demonstrate this worldliness…but now that this thing is here, it felt big.
And big felt good.
There where big speakers and clusters of boom mics and cameras and stands set up for fans to watch a stage panel of Dominick Cruz, Daniel Cormier and a rotation of fighters, while Karyn Bryant emceed. At one point she gave lightweight champion Anthony Pettis a peck on the cheek as he got set to bounce, because things were loosey-goosey and real "hey, why not?" It was a fun stretch of mayhem, just like in the old days. Just like the days of warmly regarded anti-PC taboos that we clutched so dear, back before we forced this beautiful fringe into that sad "mainstream." In other words, back in the aughts. There was a raw nerve being thrummed, and the music sounded like this: The thing’s not dying. The fight game’s off-colorness is still vibrant.
Urijah Faber was there, and he was taking pictures of the people taking pictures. He headlines Saturday night’s prelims, because these days we have people headlining prelims (!). His opponent, Alex Cacares, didn’t have a pick in his ’fro, but he did bring an improved sense of alchemy, the expansiveness of his new inward frontiers he’s been exploring in his yellow kung fu suit. He’s not longer flirting with kimuras and such, he’s onto levitations…shape-shifting…Peruvian astral plains…the bigger sh*t. The real stuff!
Good to have "characters" again.
There was Eddie "Truck" Gordon sitting next to B.J. Penn, and Gordon was like an anonymous man sitting on the plank of the dunk tank, waiting for somebody to sink him with softballs. He was abandoned, but when I spoke to him he said concealing his TUF finalist news for all those months wasn’t so very difficult because, with kids, Santa Claus was still real at his house. He’s used to pulling the wool over people’s eyes. How great is that?
Meanwhile Penn had dozens in his orbit. Alexis Davis, who was gussied up for her title bid against Ronda Rousey, was overshadowed because there was Lyoto Machida next to her juggling a soccer ball on his knees. Beatus, the FOX robot, was photobombing people -- including Jens Pulver, who just wanted to find the media room so he could get online. Ray Longo’s voice could be heard over this great cacophony, rasping about the karate enigma that awaited Weidman on Saturday night.
"We may get in there and find out that this doesn’t work, or that doesn’t work, we’ll have to wait and see what works," he said.
The fans were eating things up.
And there was Rousey, the rock star. Love her or hate her, she’s the fifth Beatle. There were people losing their sh*t when she did a lap around the stands signing and posing for pictures. Certain women were crying tears of (what I assume were) reverent joy. It was something. It was enough to forget, for a minute anyway, that Nate Marquardt headlined a gig just a short week ago looking like a man who could identify edible wildflowers.
Or that somewhere in this madness Andrei Arlovski and Antonio Silva were booked as a future main event, which as somebody pointed out was particularly "absurd." And it is! Of course it is. The eyes should be rolling.
But that’s all for tomorrow. This one? This one feels like an event. And that’s something that we could get used to all over again.