The Roseland Theater sits blocks away from the Burnside Bridge in downtown Portland, Ore., a place where high-rises and city landmarks butt up against homeless encampments and a bunch of MMA fighters and submission grapplers look very out of place.
Music is the Roseland’s main bag. On this Saturday, one half of the marquee outside advertises Bone Thugs N’ Harmony. Pictures of Tina Turner, Kenny Loggins, Cheech and Chong – all big hair and in their prime – adorn the lobby as yellow-shirted security guards flank metal detectors. They’re here for the other half of the billboard, Submission Underground 11, Chael Sonnen’s long-running grappling contest.
Past the wrought iron gate that protects a parking lot, where a sparkling Bentley sits next to a broadcast truck, you go in the back door and head down several flights of stairs. You navigate tight corners with low ceilings until you see an arrow fashioned from rainbow tape, and then you’re in the basement, which houses the green room where the combatants ready themselves for the show streamed on UFC Fight Pass.
A hang in the green room of a submission grappling contest is not like a Cheech and Chong show. The only drugs done here are pure whey protein and electrolyte-infused water, though one woman walking toward the stairs brings all of Humboldt in her wake. Most are watching a monitor showing the action upstairs despite no sound. Bellator fighter Austin Vanderford practices takedown setups on the linoleum floor with wife Paige VanZant looking on.
In the corner, on a ratty couch that’s probably seen far too much action, Danielle Perry recovers from her first submission grappling match alongside her husband, UFC welterweight Mike Perry. Known as “Platinum Princess,” Danielle is in relatively good spirits despite getting submitted by Samantha Bonilla, whose experience overcame her scrappy attempts to reverse position.
Mike Perry is about to take on Al Iaquinta, a UFC lightweight on a skid whom he’s vowed to smash. He’s also tried hard to advertise his lack of care for the result, smoking a cigarette at the weigh-ins like boxer Ricardo Mayorga. There’s a reason for that, he says. For too long, he’s been wound too tight about the results of his training, and this time, before he gets back in the octagon to rebound from the first knockout loss of his career, he’s trying to go the opposite direction.
But in this moment, he and a coach are comforting his wife before he tests his new training theory and a nosy reporter asks for an interview, which is edited for clarity and length.
MMA Fighting: Have you ever done anything like this before?
Mike Perry: Technically, no, because I’ve never taken my wife to a grappling event. It was cool to hear her name announced, Danielle Perry, so I thought it sounded pretty good. It’s an experience.
MMA Fighting: What was the experience like for you?
Mike Perry: Frustrating watching my wife grapple a girl who was really good. I want to do things certain ways, and I know I can’t expect my wife to do things. I tried to say some things to keep it simple and give some help, but at the end of the day, that’s fighting. You can’t really help them. You can’t get in there with them. She put up a fight. The crowd showed love and respect, because she’s just a nice, respectful person. They get mean to me, because I do what they want me to do, which is play the part.
MMA Fighting: What part is that?
Mike Perry: The asshole. We’re here to fight. It’s still a fight. The loser gets embarrassed. So I’m not trying to be the loser. I’m trying to be the winner. Then again, I really don’t give a f*ck either way. But I’m just going to go out there and be me and do what I do. And people are either going to be mad about it, or they’re going to like it, or they’re going to hate on it, or they’re going to care about it.
MMA Fighting: It seems like people do care. It seems like you guys have a good thing.
Mike Perry: We say funny things like, Danielle is going to end up being the breadwinner, going to the UFC.
MMA Fighting: Is that what you want, Danielle?
Danielle Perry: No.
Mike Perry: She doesn’t want that.
Danielle Perry: No, I will, just not with this. With one-click countertops. If people want countertops, they call me.
Mike Perry: She’s talking UFC money. We’re talking about opening businesses and be entrepreneurs.
Danielle Perry: It’s software for estimating. It’s a little less violent.
MMA Fighting: And the violence is your hobby?
Mike Perry: But it’s not my hobby.
MMA Fighting: What is your hobby?
Mike Perry: This pays the bills. I don’t have a hobby. My life is my lobby. I sit at home on the couch. Smoke, f*cking get drunk, watch TV.
Coach: Don’t believe nothing he’s saying.
Mike Perry: I don’t train at all.
MMA Fighting: Did you want to do this as opposed to fighting next? Was that more important to you than getting back into the swing of things?
Mike Perry: I’m just trying to take some time and get my body in order and get back to training the way I want to see training. I want to go into the gym and spar hard and fight a guy that’s capable and on my level, and have some good sparring work where I can feel more confident in what I’m going to do next. But I’m going to try and get back to it depending on how this weekend goes. If I go out there and smash this lightweight like I think I can, then we’ll see. Because there’s money. But it’s money I don’t need right now. I just want to enjoy some of the money I got already.
MMA Fighting: So you’re OK with fighting once or twice a year?
Mike Perry: Now. Now that I’ve built it up, and my body has taken a toll from fighting 12 UFC fights in a little over three years. My body took some punishment on that, and I’m trying to heal it.
MMA Fighting: What do you need to see from yourself (at SUG 11) to say, I want to get back in there?
Mike Perry: Anything at all. Any good out of it. This in itself is a win.
MMA Fighting: Why is this a win?
Mike Perry: It’s a free trip to Oregon and Montana that we want up in the snowy mountains. We’re going to drive to Montana. I think we’ve got to get a different car, though. We’ve got the V-8 Challenger, but that’s rear-wheel drive. It doesn’t have the sport like my Mercedes, so I’m going to have to go back to Hertz and get a Mercedes with all-wheel drive.
Coach: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s what he’ll do.
Mike Perry: I’ve got something I want to get back to after the Geoff (Neal) loss. I’ll either go back and fight him, get ready for that, or maybe they want to see me beat somebody, and then go back to that fight, because that’s the only thing I have in fighting now is something that I had taken from me, and I can go back and win it back, maybe, if I work hard, or if I care to work hard. Once I start caring.
MMA Fighting: Has the UFC given you any indication of what they want next for you?
Mike Perry: I don’t know. The UFC always lets me do my thing, and fighting has always been a part of Mike Perry’s life, and who Mike Perry is, and I’m trying to change that part of Mike Perry, where it’s not who I am, but it’s a part of what I do. Or I can do it sometimes, and they take care of me, or us. I’ve just got to be in the winning mindset.
MMA Fighting: Do you think having it be the biggest part of your identity has hurt you?
Mike Perry: Yeah. I take it too seriously sometimes, and what’s good about this match is that I didn’t take it seriously at all, as far as training and eating and smoking. I did a lot more resting and laying down and smoking. And it’s only five minutes. It’s not a stadium 20,000 people.
MMA Fighting: Could be worse. Could be PRIDE.
Mike Perry: F*ck. I could go 10 minutes, too. I just did 10 minutes straight with a heavyweight a week after I lost my fight. I grappled a heavyweight.
MMA Fighting: On purpose?
Mike Perry: Yeah, a big strong guy on purpose who’s going to try and choke me out, just grappling. And that was like a draw, 10 minutes. We didn’t do the overtime. I’m trying to think like my dad’s mentality. Motherf*cker, two minutes and 45 seconds of hell I’m about to bring it to you.
Coach: He’s got to get himself warmed up.
About 20 minutes later, Perry will walk up those long and winding stairs to face Iaquinta in the cage. Iaquinta is also on a losing skid and looks to prove he hasn’t dropped off by taking out the bigger man, though after a few months away from competition training, they’re separated by less than 10 pounds. Iaquinta immediately dominates top position when the bout starts. But he’s kept on his toes by leglock attempts and scrambles by Perry, who shows he’s much more than an oaf with knockout power. In the end, the rules defeat Iaquinta. He’s penalized for breaking position to try a Twister, and in overtime, Perry notches the fastest submission escape for the win.
As comebacks go, things look pretty good for “Platinum,” who exits the cage looking exhausted but satisfied with himself. In another green room downstairs, Iaquinta calls the technicality “bullsh*t” and declares a moral victory. Perry briefly approaches, but backs off as Iaquinta talks about his next step. The Perrys know theirs. They didn’t go 2-0, but they got a road trip. A Mercedes and Montana beckon.