And now for the second part of Fight Week in Hawaii with Fightlinker’s favorite photographer. Right? I’m covering EliteXC’s Return of the King for combatlifestyle.com. If you missed part one, here it is.
Morning of the weigh-ins, I finally get in some beach time–about 10 minutes. I jump into the water right across from my hotel, swim out to the wave barrier, swim to the opening, body surf over a couple of waves and swim straight back to the shore. That’s all. I can’t stay long because I have to get out a few images before I go to the weigh-ins at Waikiki nightclub, Fashion 45. It’s a bummer but I’m not out here for a vacation.
I get to the weigh-ins and I hear rumors that Nick Diaz is overweight. I’m given a fight card so I start to take notes as the weigh-ins begin. Murilo “Ninja” Rua weighs in with a devious smile, staring Tony Bonello down in the face off. Ninja pushes Tony a little with his forehead, grinning, eyes intense and full of heat.
The last time I was here in Hawaii was Ninja Rua vs Robbie Lawler and Ninja did not have that fire he possesses now. Sure enough, Diaz weighs in at 169.5 while Corbbrey comes in at 163.5 with his cargo shorts (pockets full). Corbbrey seems resigned to fight regardless.
Despite the controversy, it still goes the way weigh-ins usually do: Yves Edwards and KJ Noons have a little giggle session during their face off and one fighter on the undercard is late because he’s at work. Mark Oshiro is 4 pounds lighter than his opponent, Chris Willems (and I believe Oshiro actually walks around at 140), but still looks every bit the tough Hawaiian brawler.
Local favorite, Kala Kolohe Hose faces off against Bubba McDaniel, who is a head taller than the stocky brawler. At the end, Scott Smith decides to weigh-in for kicks.
As usual, I hop into the first car leaving the club so I can be the first to upload the photos. I finish in an hour. I decide to wander around the lobby with my camera but fighters are off hiding, eating, resting. No one is around. My stomach growls.
I walk into the nearest ABC Store (which is every 50 feet) and buy spam musubi, a thin slice of spam over a rectangle of Japanese short-grain rice, tied loosely with a band of nori (seaweed). Hawaii is expensive because all these islands have to bring in food from elsewhere (and transport the waste elsewhere) and it is even more expensive in tourist areas. I keep a tight budget so I eat the cheapest, most filling item in the store. If I can manage to get someone to drive me outside of Waikiki, I head to the Diamond Head Market and Grill for a killer Ahi sandwich. This is the point where I wish I was a food critic instead of an MMA photographer because as much as I love the sport, when in Hawaii, I’d rather be seeing the island by way of cheap Suzuki rental, eating my way around O’ahu.
It is not to be. I spend the rest of the evening jotting ideas down for this thing you’re reading now and bumping forum threads with my pictures in them.
In the morning, I treat myself to a nice breakfast with a few members of the EliteXC production staff and see a few cornermen also partaking in the breakfast buffet. A couple next to us dines and dashes. One minute, they’re sitting and eating, next I hear waitresses asking each other, “What happened to that Filipino couple that was sitting here?” The day is going to start very soon since the show goes live to the east coast at 4 pm Hawaii time.
After prepping my cameras, I tag along with Ron Waterman and Muhsin Corbbrey and their corners to the arena at 1:30 in the afternoon. Still early but fans are already pulling into the parking lot of the Blaisdell. When I get to the cage, publicist John Beyrooty tells me he has not yet decided where the photographers will be placed.
I spy Ninja and Shogun warming up in the cage while I plead for a good spot, and Icon Sport co-owner Patrick Freitas does his best to reason with Beyrooty as to why I ought to get placement second after Sherdog. As more photographers show up, Beyrooty quizzes us on our affiliations and places us by some hierarchy, Sherdog first, then The Honolulu Advertiser and The Star Bulletin, then two shooters from Associated Press. Then MMAHawaii. UFC has sixteen photographers at their events cageside, countless others above. I am placed behind the box that EliteXC photographer Tom Casino stands on. I can’t see half the cage. But I will make do. I always do.
Nick and Nate Diaz are now rolling around in the cage.
The 3 pm opening bout sneaks up on me and I run to my spot but my chair’s been taken. Referee Mario Yamasaki lends me his. But it is my luck that the first bout takes place entirely on the side of the cage I can’t see. Oh well.
I won’t analyze the fights now because I can’t. When I shoot, I’m paying attention to body language for possible strikes or takedown attempts and I’m constantly focusing my lens, framing the shot. My view of fights is through my cameras, so while I often see a lot more (I know when that submission attempt is not close despite the crowd wailing), I also see less. The more I enjoy a fight, the more I miss shot opportunities.
Herb Dean once said he can’t recall what his favorite fight was to officiate since he can’t really pay attention to whether or not it’s “good” because he’s just making sure the fighters are responding and everyone is following the rules. Shooting a fight is similar in that I am so focused on reading the fighters for shots I don’t actually count or pay attention to who is landing more. When I get home and watch the fights, they are very different from what I remember. Imagine my surprise when I start checking up on all the major blogs after posting my photos.
Part 3 of Fight Week in Hawaii to come soon (promise)! The Mini-Brawl and Surreal Aftermath.