Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009 | 8:52 p.m.
Sun Special Section
Octagonside at UFC 94 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, I have two thoughts:
2. I cannot believe how popular this sport has become.
The first thought has been prompted by the crammed conditions at the Grand Garden Arena for the Georges St.-Pierre-BJ Penn world welterweight title bout, which is to decide the world's toughest guy who weighs about 170 pounds. Dozens of media types are penned in as they attempt to cover this card, and my knees are digging into the back of a guy who might well be the Grantland Rice of Brazil.
The second thought is prompted by the rowdy crowd that has once again filled the MGM Grand. I'm guessing more than 16,000 people have poured into this place, and there isn't a casual observer in the house.
Amazing, because I have never found UFC bouts -- as a form of entertainment or as an athletic exercise -- all that compelling. I recognize the volume of the events, no question. A crowd of 16,000 roaring in unison is a difficult entity with which to debate.
But I compare UFC with some of the great boxing events, over time, and I'm lost to explain how this form of fighting can ever match, say, the Thrilla In Manilla, or the Rumble In The Jungle, or the Rhubarb in Rhyolite (I made that last one up). Could a UFC fighter ever be named the Sports Illustrated Sportman of the Year? Would he visit the Obamas in the White House? Would UFC-modeled fights ever be an Olympic sport?
I doubt it, but I have been wrong about this sport before.
A long time ago, probably 10 years ago, a had a friend who was a bartender at PT's on West Sahara, just east of Decatur (I had many friends who were bartenders 10 years ago, especially PT's bartenders). After my friends and I had hung out at this place long enough to be considred "regulars" (and that period of time was probably $1,000 apiece), he let us in on some inside information: Every Sunday, at about 2 a.m., he would treat favored customers to tapes of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
"The WHAT?" I remember asking.
It was such a fringe sport then. I think these bouts were held in places like Osaka, Japan and Helena, Mont. I do remember Ken Shamrock being in some of these fights. I'd heard stories about Shamrock when I lived in Redding, Calif., where Shamrock had gone to junior college and where he was a holy terror at nosetackle on the Shasta College football team despite weighing about 180 pounds. I used to hear stuff about Shamrock all the time. "He's a great guy, unless he punches you," was one such remembrance.
I went to a few of these inexplicably rollicking PT's UFC parties before telling my friend, "I've had enough. Next week, let's dial up some monster trucks or midget wrestling or something."
"You wait," he told me. "You'll see."
I am. Tonight, I am.
Notes: I'm in not in a very good celeb-spotting location (unless you consider octagon girl Arianny Celeste a celeb, and I, for one, do). ... Jason Giambi just walked by, carrying a refreshing beverage brown in color. He's wearing a black leather jacket and Led Zeppelin T-shirt. Ramble on, muscle guy. ... Michael Clarke Duncan was just shown on the arena big screens, waving to the crowd, and let's get HIM involved in the octagon fury. That'd be great. ... Frank Mir is just a few feet from me, working the corner (or, working the side of the octagon) of Dong Hyun Kim in Kim's welterweight undercard bout against Karo "Syrup" Parisyan. I am really fighting the urge to shout at Mir, "Hey, Frank! Remember when we talked at the Nevada Ballet Theatre gala at the Bellagio a couple of weeks ago!?" But he seems sort of busy. ... There are so many guys in here who look like Mickey Rourke, he must be around, somewhere. ... I don't want to make this sound like anything but a purely visual observation, but you'd think that in a crowd of 16,000, you'd find some average-looking women. But no. Not in this crowd. There are scores of ugly men, though (see previous note) . ... There's Chuck Liddell, hangin' loose. Somebody buy that man a shot. ... UFC exec Marc Ratner is wearing a pastel-colored argyle sweater vest that looks like the national flag of Pago Pago. ... The UFC official program is a keeper, packed with outstanding info and (in a rarity) the $20 cost is not insane. ... You know who I miss on a night like this? Hector "Macho" Camacho. Dana White needs to find a role for Macho Man.