I’m on the island of O’ahu for the week, covering EliteXC’s Return of the King for Combatlifestyle.com. While having breakfast on my first day in Waikiki, the EliteXC video crew gets word that Anderson Silva and Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante will be training on the North Shore. I scarf down my loco moco and hop in the van and drive towards Sunset Beach. We pass the Dole Pineapple plantation. As touristy as it is, I’m disappointed we don’t stop because they have pretty tasty pineapple soft serve.
After an hour, we arrive at the “Boar’s Nest” – a training facility that boasts weights, heavy bags, mats, and surfboards. A lot of surfboards. When we arrive, Silva hops off a jet ski and he and Feijao practice a bit for the camera.
While we’re shooting on the beach our host brings over Nainoa, a nine year old who, “is the future of MMA.” The crew nods politely, promising to shoot the kid later. The uncle is very insistent and asks us to refer to him as Feijao’s Hawaiian little brother. But upon entering the mat hut, our minds are changed. Nainoa is immensely talented and proceeds to show his skills to the crew, from high head kicks to ground and pound. The little fireball nearly kicks the cameraman in the face.
Later, I watch “The Spider” row on a surfboard in the waves while happy dogs run around splashing in the water. Silva struggles to keep balance on the narrow board, constantly wiping out with each wave coming through. Arguably the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the world isn’t the best at rowing on a surfboard. A crew member jokes, “Overrated,” then laughs awkwardly, looking around to see if Silva can hear us a hundred feet away. I dare not giggle aloud since I’m pretty sure Silva can throw a flying knee at my head from the middle of the ocean.
The crew needs to leave and shoot Ron Waterman in the evening so we say our goodbyes and drive south to Waikiki.
In the hotel lobby, I sit with travel coordinator, Jessica, while she arranges rides for fighters, checks them into the hotel, and briefs them on the week. Every fighter that arrives is presented with a large packet of contracts, schedules, and EliteXC gear. While explaining the basic appointments for the week, Jessica’s phone won’t stop ringing. She is arranging pickups for all the fighters, their cornerpeople, officials, the EliteXC staff, and rides around Honolulu to gyms so I stop bothering her and head back to my room to work.
The next day, I get up early to hang around Showtime and ProElite.com interviews by the pool.
Midway through interviews, I run out to the press conference at the King Street Cafe. The stage is setup in a dangerously narrow fashion. While scooting in the few inches of space given to each fighter, Muhsin Corbbrey and his chair go crashing behind the backdrop. Corbbrey pops back up, he’s okay! The other fighters and crew start pulling the tables forward to prevent anyone else from falling over.
While KJ Noons speaks at the press conference, Nick Diaz visibly disapproves with the most curved frown I have ever seen (around the 2:00 mark and goes on for a few minutes, Diaz even crosses his arms).
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, at the press conference supporting brother Murilo. Despite seeing fighters all the time, I still think it’s pretty cool that he’s here.
After the presser, EliteXC producer Nate is able to get me out to shoot behind-the-scenes with the Showtime crew on Magic Island with KJ Noons and Yves Edwards. Magic Island is a misnomer. It is actually a peninsula. I arrive with KJ, his nutritionist Shoshana, and cornerman Dennis right as the dancers are performing for Showtime’s cameras. It’s a beautiful location with waves crashing into the rocks right behind the fighters. They face off in front of a crowd gathering in the park.
Yves raises his eyebrows at KJ, “Just don’t push me over,” since just behind the wall they pose upon, jagged rocks wait many feet below. KJ and Yves can’t stop laughing during the face off and the producer keeps asking the guys not to make each other laugh. The sun sets.
I top off the night at a birthday dinner for Jessica, EliteXC’s travel coordinator I mentioned earlier, who is one of the most wonderful souls alive. Any fighter on the EliteXC roster can attest to that (really, you should probably call one and ask, maybe Joey VillaseÃ±or). The staff piles into a few vans to enjoy a warm, lovely dinner at local favorite, Uncle Bo’s. The Production team, fight team, and even the big wigs behind ProElite attend (because nobody would be in Hawaii if Jessica hadn’t booked their flights) and we all toast to her birthday, but also to the team that’s become such a close family.
Everyone’s been working very hard so it is nice to take a short break and enjoy being in paradise, even if for a brief moment. Though, we only are able to keep the work-free atmosphere going for about half an hour before conversations about Opah and other Hawaiian fish turn into intense discussions about matchups and prospects. Always working!