Chronicles of a Night in MMA History: From Ringside

In the 3 years that I’ve been watching and enjoying MMA from the comforts of my home, I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to finally attend an event. Would viewing it live feel different? Would I even be able to see anything? Would the fighters look that much better or worse?

Tonight, on a historical night in MMA, I got my answers — and then some.

I was able to procure credentials for the Elite XC Primetime fight in Newark, NJ — a mere 25 miles from my home. This was beyond a dream come true. Not only was I finally going to get to see a fight live, but I was going to see it free, in good seats, AND I could go behind the scenes.

In the weeks before the fight, I was a nervous wreck. What do I wear? What do I bring? What do I ask? I was so afraid everyone would know I was clueless. And all this I unleashed on my poor brother (who accompanied me as the photographer) as we take the train to get to Newark for the early fights. And so it began — not knowing what it’d be like to be press, I found out first hand what it was like to be just below celebrity status.

We arrived around 5:30 and were given our credentials and directed toward the press room (and the food). Now, I wasn’t expecting great seats, just good enough to see the fight. HA! I was RINGSIDE! I was actually on the floor, less than 15 feet from the ring. The food was equally as surprising, as we had a nice catered spread and all the water and soda we could drink. I was starting to feel very special.

That’s when I decided to test how far our passes could take us. So, we left the press room and walked toward the entrance to the arena…and kept going. We followed the tunnels and ended up at the locker rooms, and no one stopped us! So there we stood, five feet from the door of the blue corner. And that’s when it smacked me and I became star struck. I saw Phil Baroni, Mark Coleman, Robbie Lawler (with Pat Miletich, who even asked us how Robbie could watch the fights from his room) and Kaitlyn Young — all five feet from me, all in a span of 10 minutes. I was in my own little MMA heaven!

By then it was almost seven and the Makovsky/Soares fight was about to start, so we took our positions. My brother posted himself way up at the top of a section near the ring, while I entered the “Media Ringside” area. I wedged myself in at the press tables (which I hear is a bonus, as not all press areas get tables) and tried to act like a big fish in this (really) big pond. And believe me, there was some really big fish…like Sam Caplan…like the guy sitting next to me, George Willis of the NY Post. I was definitely out of my league, but it was everything I’d thought it’d be and SO much more.

Now as I sit in my living room and really soak in what the night brought me, here are just some of the ramblings/thoughts and notes I took as the night progressed:

  • Elite XC has a somewhat similar set up and feel to a UFC event, with the exception of the stage that the fighters walk in on — felt a little too WWF for me. UFC’s corner tunnel has a much more impressive effect.
  • Frank Shamrock looks much bigger in person! And he looked so serious! I definitely got a vibe that he was nervous.
  • All the other press people and the staff of the Prudential Center were amazing. Everyone was very friendly. There wasn’t a lot of talk between writers (as we were “working”), but it seemed like everyone knew everyone and talked to me like this was my twentieth event. They really made me feel at home.
  • The crowd was something else, I tell ya! It seemed to me that it was a pretty good mix of the die-hard MMA fans and the new casual MMA fans (this included a decent percentage of women!). Now, mind you, the press seats basically back up to the front row of seats so I got to hear a lot of the shouts from the audience. Sometimes, some terrible things were said (mostly about the women’s fight — no surprise there), but overall, I have to say that hearing the fan commentary just added a whole new dimension to watching a fight that you could never get at home. Even though I might not agree, some of those clowns were actually funny!
  • Last observation — while women were well-represented in the audience, they were not in the press. I know that women have made great strides and have had success in the field of sports writing, but clearly not in reporting MMA. Out of the 40 writers present, I was only 1 of 4 women. And while a good portion of the men didn’t really care all that much about their appearance, we girls dressed to the nines. I didn’t wanna do it, but I knew that I had to play up my femininity if I wanted to get the interviews. But oh well, I guess ya gotta start somewhere!

Ok, so down to the fights…..I didn’t do a play-by-play, but I did jot some commentary down. For your sake, I’ll stick to the main card (although I’d love to go on a nice long rant about Nick Serra….grrr….)

And so that’s where my Cinderella evening ends….well, almost. I guess the night had been going too well for me. It just had to end badly. So I wait around to see if I can get any interviews. Tonight’s fighters were all tied up, so I saw Mark Coleman. Bravery took over and I went for it. I walked right up to him and interviewed him for a good 5 minutes holding my little voice recorder up. I walk away all proud of myself, smiling. That is, until I looked down at that little voice recorder and realized — I hadn’t turned it on. I am an official idiot. Then, I catch Phil Baroni alone. Great picture-op. So we pose and my brother aims and shoots. I thank Phil and turn away – only to have my brother show me that the battery died on the camera! All I can do is shake my head and laugh. Every first experience teaches you a lesson — I was lucky enough to learn several. I got to have a great time learning them, along side some great fighters and really nice people. And now I can live happily ever after — or until the next event!

Jon Murphy vs. Brett Rogers

This was a good fight to start off the broadcast. Rogers is a big, intimidating looking guy, and Murphy has a rep for just being tough. But, I think a lot of people underestimated Brett Rogers. I knew from the get-go that the two of them were gonna go toe-to-toe and bang. And they proved me right. And now forever and ever, Brett Rogers will be the answer to a new trivia question: Who was the winner of the first ever MMA fight aired on network TV?

Phil Baroni vs. Joe Villasenor

Of all the fights, this is the one I looked forward to most. Baroni is a slugger and a character, to put it mildly. He did a lot of trash talking in the weeks leading up to the fight, and Villasenor was taking it personally. From the get go, Baroni was the crowd favorite. Between the “Full Metal Jacket” inspired-song and the flashy pimp get-up, he got a lot of cheers, while Villasenor got a lot of jeers. Didn’t last long though. Villasenor finally got his payback for the burrito comments. And the fickle fans turned applause to boos when Baroni left the ring before the decision was even made. Tsk tsk…

Gina Carano vs. Kaitlin Young

Obviously the Kimbo fight got the most press and hype, but this one wasn’t far behind. This was the first women’s MMA fight ever to be aired on network TV too — a huge step in women’s MMA. Carano was overwhelmingly the favorite. Both girls had great records, were in shape, and eager to fight. Overall, I was very impressed with the fight. Thus far, it had been the most technical. They were both very aggressive and utilized all areas of their training. It was definitely a good match up for such an important night. And they did not let the fans down. Carano and Young beat each other up and good. Carano’s win was controversial, but it was glorious. The only negative I noticed about this fight was how the male fans reacted to it — between the shouts about Gina being hot, or how they should kiss, not fight, it was very clear that there are some people who can’t take female fighters seriously. Such a long way to go….

Robbie Lawler vs. Scott Smith

In my opinion, this fight should have been the main event. It was a championship fight! How do you put that below a Kimbo fight? I mean really! Placement aside, these two provided a REAL MMA show….well…after a while they did. At first when I was watching Smith I was starting to have Kalib Starnes flashbacks! (A fan behind me even said he’d seen better fighting on the World Cup). All that dancing and shadowboxing was making me dizzy…but then they really started to throw down. Once the real fight got going, they put on a great show. By the end of Round 2, Smith’s ribs were thoroughly barbecued and Lawler looked like he could’ve finished him off. But when Round 3 took that terrible turn for the worse — Lawler became all thumbs and it was over. At first I was annoyed that the doctor stopped the fight, but as there was a commission employee nearby, I got the scoop. Smith had told the doctor that he couldn’t see and that he needed a minute to clear his eyes. He said it a couple times. Doctors had no choice. It sucks, but whaddya gonna do? They’ll make up for it in the rematch.

Kimbo Slice vs. James Thompson

And last but not least, the main event that shouldn’t have been one. The main event that got stopped for no good reason. I’ll let everyone else talk about how Kimbo sucked the life out of MMA in only 2½ rounds… I’ll just put it the way Brett Rogers did in the post-fight press conference. “It. Was. Garbage”.

Comments

  1. Some bad luck there Nichole for sure. I'm sure the next one will be a lot easier for you. And by the way I'm jealous that you got to sit ringside. Wish I had paid more attention in my writing classes because that sounds like a good job.

  2. Nice article. I liked the entrances because they reminded me more of Pride. The fighter comes out alone and isn't being smacked in the face and chest by fans.

    Ringside? Nice. I'm not a reporter but if you ever get desperate Cage I'll cover any Chicago events.

    I agree Nichole. Lawler vs. Smith was the fight of the night. It must have pissed you off like it did me…the crown Booing them. That disrespected the event more than Kimbos win.

  3. Nichole Lesniak says:

    Thanks for the compliments!

    Oh yeah…bad luck is an understatement. But at least now I know to bring extra camera batteries and to check the recorder for the next fight :P

    Finally, being an English teacher has paid off!!!

    I was pissed off about Lawler before I even got there – I had prepared interview questions ahead of time and that was one of them. I was just glad I got to ask Lawler and Shaw about it. There was so much booing that night it was sickening… but it's just an easier way to tell who is a real MMA fan, and who's just watching it for the blood.

  4. you guys nailed it. the crowd booed there and in the WEC event. i almost felt embarassed because there were first time viewers who will think that those guys didn't work. but they worked their asses off. nichole you're right. real mma fans see the details and new mma fans only want to see big finishes.

    also, the female fight was good. they went after it, both of them to the end. i was pissed that they had kaitlin young fight carano instead of the girl that beat young. but she brought it.

    even though lawler had a PC answer for you. i bet he was happy as hell that you had the guts the bring up that question.

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