If I was still in elementary school and we were sharing what we did on break, my story would ruin my classmates’ because I had the pleasure of attending Strikeforce: Carano vs. Cyborg. After a bit of quick work by the great Esther Lin, we here at Fightlinker were granted press credentials for the event. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well….IT WAS! I have to say I had one of the most enjoyable experiences of my whole life on August 15th. I will fully admit that the following is more for posterity’s sake, and some readers aren’t fans of any writers but Ryan, but hopefully this little piece will give me some ethos with you guys.
This wasn’t the first time we tried to get me to go cover a Strikeforce show – some miscommunications kept me from going to last April’s Shamrock vs. Diaz card. That obviously didn’t go through, but some last minute emails opened up the door to go see Carano vs. Cyborg and attend the EA Sports: MMA press conference in San Jose. It’s completely my intention to make a career out of this sport, so getting a first-hand viewing of how these things work was absolutely humbling and inspirational. I’m gonna save all the sentimental stuff for the end of this so let’s jump straight into my mini-journal…
The chance to go cover an event excited me to no end. I was a little bummed out when I didn’t go to Shamrock vs. Diaz, so when Ryan let me know I had been approved for Carano vs. Cyborg I completely lost it. I was doing cartwheels and push-ups and stuff.
Needless to say, I wanted to be as professional as possible because I knew I would be representing Fightlinker. I woke up the day of the show really early to get ready. I straightened my hair so I wouldn’t look like a drug dealer, put on a collared shirt and didn’t sag my jeans. (I even used deodorant!) I had a feeling I would meet some of the larger names in the MMA media so I wanted to make a good first impression. I mean, Fightlinker has the rep of being crude Canucks so I wanted to dispel that if need be.
If un-punctuality is a Fightlinker virtue, I certainly upheld it getting to the EA press conference. It wasn’t totally my fault though. There was a bus going half a mile an hour down main street and a wedding was going on across from the hotel where the presser was. So don’t fall in love or pay taxes – you’ll just get in my damn way.
I stood around outside the hotel just enjoying the lack of police sirens (and looking for the door) before I realized I had ten minutes before the presser started. I walked in and saw a giant, giant man to my right. It was a famous fighter that shall remain nameless. I’m no stranger to seeing physically imposing men – I got Richard Kiel’s autograph at a car dealership once – but I still wanted to back off of the guy. I got in the elevator with him and I swear to Superman he took up half of it. He has to be around 6’17” or something. I felt kinda bad later when my uncle told me he was trying to get into the press conference but was denied.
I had contacted Michael Rome from Bloody Elbow before going. (Note to self: keep his info for when I inevitably need a lawyer.) I asked if he’d meet up with me, and, being the nice guy he is, help me out for my first time covering a show live. Sounded like a great plan until I memmered that I didn’t know what he looked like. Ever play that game “Guess Who?” without clues? Exactly. Lucky for me, I spotted Ariel Helwani in a chair a bit up from where I had sat down. I scooted up and introduced myself, and it just so happened I had plunked right next to Mr. Rome in the process.
I’m glad to note that you couldn’t meet two nicer, more humble guys. For some reason, I really thought people would be mean or stuck-up. That was far from reality. Ariel and Rome are two really cool dudes. I half-expected Ariel to be perpetually interviewing Arianny Celeste and Rome to be looking over depositions, but they were just normal men. It’s likely the case for Loretta Hunt (after all, she did link one of my posts on Sherdog once), but she was moving all around the place trying to find a better seat.
Was I nervous at first? Obviously, but my guts turned to steel and my heart pumped ice water when I realized I wasn’t too out of place at such an event. I mean really, if a big time guy like Ariel Helwani is cool enough to talk pro-wrestling then there isn’t much to worry about. There was one thing the real pros had that put me in my place: 3G internet cards. How can you be a true professional if you aren’t ready to inform at all times? It would have been useless to boot up my laptop to take notes since there was no way I could post them. But I’m from Fightlinker! You can’t stop me! I went to plan B and pulled out a spiral notebook. “Old school.” I told Ariel.
Peter Moore came out in front of the cameras to start up the conference. He introduced Randy Couture and I nearly lost my stuff. The man, the legend, “The Natural” was twenty feet in front of me. All I could see in my head was Randy vs. Sylvia; the only time I felt my eyes get misty watching sports besides Super Bowl XXXIII and Wrestlemania XX. I got to watch how the major guys do things when Loretta and Ariel asked questions.
The whole thing was over pretty quick. I did a double-take when everyone was leaving the room because I saw I was in the presence of another legend: Dave Meltzer. Fun fact, I saw him in the concession area of the UFC 79 weigh-ins but was too chicken to say hello or anything. Memmering that, I walked over to him this time and thanked him for all the things he has done for the sport and pro-wrestling. He was absolutely gracious and humble. I was frozen for a second, because I had just shook hands with the guy I want to be like when I grow up. It was like an aspiring actor meeting Edward Norton, or a stupid person meeting Lloyd Christmas. I hung back for a second after walking back in the room and seeing him lecturing two guys about the WWE wellness policy. An eighteen year old Jessica Alba could have walked by and I wouldn’t have even noticed. You couldn’t use a crowbar to pry me away from experiencing in person what I’ve been listening to on Wrestling Observer Live and Figure Four Daily for years.
So I left the room after everyone emptied out and started heading downstairs. Ariel walked towards the stairs also and told me it was nice to meet me, and I, for some reason, responded with “You too – you’re a good man.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with that response but it still seemed awkward on my part. I felt like Paul Rudd in “I Love You, Man” when he talks to Sydney on the phone (“Laters on the menjay!”).
I had nothing to do from 1 PM to 4:30 when the media entrance opened. I grabbed some McDonalds, GSP style, and tried relaxing. It worked a little too well since I fell asleep on the sidewalk. Boy was I dirty when I woke up. No joke, I was dirtbag filthy and I could totally smell myself. So with my new hobo fragrance I stood by the box office just in case there were any fighters that walked by. There were none who graced us with their presence, but I could almost swear I saw Christopher “Kid” Reid from “Class Act” (one of my favorite movies ever) buying a ticket.
(I also took note of the arena being zombie-resistant.)
4:30 rolled around and I had to walk to the underside of the arena to the media entrance. There was no walking in with the unwashed masses, but I was unwashed myself so it added to the whole “still only a fan” mentality I had. There were already people there, and I felt kinda bad that I had never heard of any sites these guys were from. They’re supposed to be my peers. Not to be pretentious, but if I wore my Fightlinker shirt people would have recognized it immediately. If I had to come up with a metaphor, I would relate this site to an indie movie that’s in wide distribution. Also, I looked like I was going to Sadie’s with the guy in front of me because he was also wearing a striped brown shirt. Great.
I stood around in the line at the door to get my credentials. The dude found my name on the list but couldn’t find a cred with my name on it. He ended up just giving me a generic one that said “MEDIA” and assuring me that it was as good as all the others. (He also mentioned something about a table with energy drinks and Gumy Bears, but I couldn’t find the stupid thing.) I went out to the floor and just soaked in the atmosphere of the empty arena. I hadn’t been in the Pavillion since Shamrock vs. Le in March of ’08 so it was pretty nice to go back. But there was a good bit of wandering around trying to find my designated seat. I looked at all the names on the paper place holders thinking about how I was gonna laminate mine and frame it.
Too bad I didn’t actually have one made for me. I asked a nice lady if she could help me find it, but she couldn’t. She pointed me to a guy standing next to the cage and told me to ask him. I waited for a second before asking him because I’m a gentleman. I used the time to watch Jimmy Lennon Jr. introduce ‘the womens’ MMA superstar’ and watch a disinterested, older looking production guy walk down the ramp on the big screen to get the timing right for guys in the truck. They were also calibrating the fireballs, which, if you read my play by play, I all-encompassingly HATED. There was also a gong sound effect that made me think The Undertaker was coming out.
The man who was going to help me turned around and I asked if he would help me find my seat. He asked who I was, and when I said who he immediately extended his hand and introduced himself as Mike Afromowitz. He remembered my name since Esther had gotten in touch to see the status of my credentials a few days earlier. He took me around to see where my place was but I actually didn’t have one since I was approved so late. Now get this: he actually disappeared backstage for a minute and came back with a steel chair under his arm. I figured he was going to Van Terminator me because I’m from Fightlinker, but he personally took me over to the best media area in the arena, opened the chair and pulled it out for me. I was completely blown away by how gracious the Director of Communication for the second largest MMA organization in the world was. I mean, the cashier at McDonalds earlier that day was rude and here was Mr. Afromowitz personally seeing to that Fightlinker was well taken care of. There isn’t a better man on the planet. And all throughout the night people were coming to me and checking up on how I was. Mr. Afromowitz gave me a completely warm and friendly experience and I can’t thank him enough.
I chilled out just amazed at how great my vantage point was to everything. Ariel, the Sherdog guys, Steve Cofield, Bryan Alvarez and the rest were all way on the side of the arena behind entire sections and I wasn’t. I was seated right next to the operator of the giant camera crane. The entrance was to my left, cage right in front and the backstage area on my right. I was about twenty feet away from the curtain so I could look over and see guys waiting around. It was just fantastic. I pretty much did a stream of consciousness style play by play during the show, but there’s one thing I didn’t mention: when they were airing the commercial for the next event, the Fedor KO of Arlovski was on loop basically. Andrei was already a few rows ahead of me taking a picture, and as soon as I saw him and Fedor on the big screen behind me everything went to slow motion. I immediately turned back around to look at Arlovski see himself get knocked out and he just closed his eyes and put his head down. The dude was legit bummed out.
The guy who was seated next to me – and I’m pretty upset that I don’t memmer his name – was probably the coolest dude I could have been near. He had a camera suitcase with various pro-wrestling and MMA stickers on it, Zubaz pants and a gait that only decades of fighting, wrestling and boxing photographing could give. It was so fun to sit by him. All night he was telling me great stories about various people, networks, promotions, and other stuff that I absolutely will not repeat. I was honestly worried about being a bit lonely there, but with that guy I had not one second of down time. I asked if he knew where extras of the giant programs were, so he just got up and jacked one from somebody’s chair. I can safely say without seeing any pictures that he is my favorite photographer not named Esther.
I went to the post-fight presser after the show. This lady came by and told me where to go, but I really wasn’t paying attention because she was smokin’ hot. I just wandered around for a bit until someone told me where to go. Then, one of the greatest moments of my life happened: during my trip through the backstage corridor, I walked by NICK DIAZ. Flawless victory. I had saw him fifteen feet above me on the upper level of the Arco Arena in June, but right there he was so close that he almost bumped into my shoulder. It was so totally awesome.
I chilled out in the press conference room for a bit because I got there early. I said wazzzzaaap to Michael Rome sitting behind me and set up my laptop to post up notes. Guys were filing in and once again, Dave Meltzer seemed like he was behind a podium with all the people listening to him talk about the Carano/Cyborg stoppage. Some guy in a suit came out wheeling a big Rockstar cooler like you’d see in a convenience store and told us to help ourselves. I was conflicted; on one hand I abhor Michael Weiner Savage, but on the other my Mexican-ness wouldn’t let me turn down anything free. I took two of them.
Looking around, I noticed Esther zipping around the room scouting good angles. Not a chance I was gonna interrupt her while she was working. Marloes Coenen was standing around by herself in the very back corner of the room but I didn’t recognize her at all. Pretty soon the chairs were all filled up with press guys and some fighters near the back. An inebriated Scott Smith sat down right next to me.
The whole press conference was standard fare. In my notes of the thing I pointed out Meisha Tate’s sly attempt to get into Cyborg’s game, but in hindsight I feel bad for possibly blowing up her spot. Also, I was super-oogling her fantastic backside after the presser was over. 10/10. (Cut me some slack, I’m 19 years old.)
I finally said “hi” to Esther after she stopped looking like she was in fast forward. She is an incredibly nice lady. I was kinda embarrassed because I smelled like I was sleeping on the sidewalk of a big city for an hour, but she probably understood. No question that she is the coolest person in the world. I can’t thank her enough for pulling those last minute strings to get me credentialed. I owe her a Coke or whatever the kids use as currency these days.
I headed out of the door and stood in front of the arena to wait for my ride. Looking at my notes right here, they simply say “Waiting outside. My hands are really filthy.” And I wasn’t lying. Everything was fine though. I felt safe posted up on a street corner of a city with over half a million people – San Jose is just that nice of a place. (Or maybe it was the armada of police cars I was standing by. Whatever.)
So that was my first experience being a legitimate member of the MMA media. Esther, Mike Afromowitz, Michael Coughlin from the Wrestling Observer and Ryan are the people I owe the whole personal and career experience to. It was unquestionably a learning experience that went better than I could have ever expected. I was there live covering a milestone in mixed martial arts history and I’m so thankful and proud that I had the opportunity. Once again, thank you Mr. Harkness for allowing me to be a contributor to your wonderful site; thank you Ms. Esther Lin for doing everything you could to get me approved at the last minute; thank you Mr. Coughlin for inspiring me and thank you Mike Afrmowitz for giving us the greenlight and being such a humanitarian. Also thank you to the Jackals – I wouldn’t be anywhere without you guys and gals.
Thanks for reading!