I started collecting souvenir guides for Ultimate Fighting Championship events back when I first started covering them professionally.
It was not a conscious decision. Not at the beginning. The public-relations team always handed them out to those of us in the media center or put them in a stack for us to grab. I packed them away, took them home and put them in a stack on my office bookshelf.
Over time, that stack became larger, and it turned into something meaningful. As it grew higher, I would occasionally return to them, leafing through the pages and remembering things that happened in those specific events.
They were a trigger for walks down memory lane. I have not attended every single UFC event over the past six or so years as part of my job, but I have attended many of them, and I have many memories.
Today, that stack of souvenir guides is quite tall. It is heavy, too. I know this because I recently moved and I had to carry the stack to my car and then into my new house.
This event stands tall in my mind, because how can you forget the sight of 55,724 mixed martial arts fans filling a domed stadium for a UFC event? You cannot.
Back then, I worked for another outlet. We produced the UFC’s official pre-fight show. Hosted by Dave Farra and Megan Olivi, the show would run live for an hour before the main card started. It was something of a precursor to the official Fox pregame shows that currently air.
We would arrive at venues early in the morning on fight days, long before I needed to be there for reporting. And this afforded us the unique opportunity to see the UFC’s production team in full swing, setting up all the lighting and sound and machinery that makes a UFC event a spectacular thing to see in person.
The best part about this access was seeing the production team work out the kinks for each fighter walkout. What you see on television is a smooth and finished product, and you will notice that fighters often enter the arena at the exact moment a big hit or swell in their walkout music occurs. There is a reason for this. The production team has planned and coordinated it.
Early in the day, the team will go through each fighter’s walkout, paying attention to the co-main and main events. There is a production team member pretending to be a fighter. There is a production team member pretending to be Burt Watson, fighter handler extraordinaire.
The music is blaring,and the videos are playing, just like they will during the real thing. They hit their cues and take notes and tweak until it’s perfect.
In the empty Toronto Skydome, this effect was magnified. For the first time, the UFC used custom walkout videos, synced to the music.
The first rehearsal I saw was that of Lyoto Machida. There was a long Japanese-style introduction, and then the Japanese characters on the giant video screens on either side of the Skydome slowly morphed into two words: The Dragon. Machida’s music, something by the rock band Linkin Park, blasted throughout the stadium. Chills ran through my body.
Randy Couture’s walkout was next, and it was an epic one: For the final bout of his career, he’d chosen “Lunatic Fringe,” a classic song by the band Red Rider from the wrestling movie Vision Quest. Couture’s video package proclaimed him as The Natural. Again, chills ran through my body.
Hours later, the event began. Couture and Machida had epic walkouts, but the winner for best walkout went to Mark Hominick. “Coming Home” is overused these days, and perhaps it was even then. But Hominick’s video package, with snow falling gently over his name, was absolutely perfect. It was emotional, and it was a moment I’ll never forget.
If you asked me to name my favorite UFC event of all time, it is likely I would tell you UFC 129. I don’t know when the UFC will return to stadium shows, but I know that I will be there, because it is hard to replicate that kind of moment in a smaller arena.
The Program: It is gorgeous. It is not the first time the UFC’s art department draped its main-event stars in the flags of their home country, and it certainly was not the last. But it’s the first time I can remember the UFC creating a custom program for an event, using the matte cover that has become synonymous with special programs like this one.
Prior to UFC 129, all event programs were the same: the same paper, the same size and with the event poster on the cover. This one was different. It feels luxurious. It made UFC 129 feel like a special event.
That is appropriate, because it was a special event.
UFC 148 was meaningful for me, and I’ll explain why.
During UFC 117—the event that featured the first bout between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen—I was in a lot of pain. I couldn’t focus on the fights, much less on the work I was supposed to be doing. And by “a lot of pain,” I mean the worst pain I’ve experienced in my life. It was like somebody was cutting my insides with razor blades.
Even through that pain, I could tell I was watching a masterpiece fight between Silva and Sonnen. But I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have, because I wanted to die. I wanted the agony to be over.
After the fight, and after Silva’s amazing triangle win when he was on the brink of losing his title, I made my way to the post-fight press conference. I couldn’t focus. I was sweating.
I wanted to stick around and see what Sonnen had to say about the loss; he’d spent so much time talking trash about Silva, and then he went out and did exactly what he said he was going to do: He beat Silva from pillar to post. But then he lost, and I wanted to know how he was handling it.
But I couldn’t. I had to leave, and my boss gave me permission to go back to the hotel. I did so but only after waiting for a BART train for what seemed like hours. My pain was getting increasingly worse. I went back to the hotel and tried to sleep, but it wasn’t going to happen.
Finally, in the middle of the night, I made the decision to go to the hospital. My boss and my buddies piled me in a car, and we drove around downtown Oakland, looking for a hospital.
We finally found one. It turned out I had the worst kidney stones you could imagine. There were so many of them that they actually looked like sand.
I spent three days in that Oakland hospital. And so when I think back to that Silva/Sonnen fight, the first thing I think about isn’t that magical fight. I think about the pain. So when the rematch rolled around at UFC 148, I couldn’t wait to see it unfold, because I’d be pain-free and able to concentrate.
My enduring memory from UFC 148 comes from the weigh-ins. It was an International Fight Week, which meant a ton of fans from around the world flocked to Las Vegas for several days of UFC-related merriment. I am not a fan of the UFC Fan Expo. Not at all. I’ve been to all of them at this point, and they have grown long in the tooth.
But without all of those fans here in Vegas for the Fan Expo, there would not have been the atmosphere at the weigh-ins. The Mandalay Bay Events Center, normally cut to a third its regular size for weigh-ins, was almost completely full. It was electric.
Thousands of Brazilian fans had traveled to Vegas for the event, and they were issuing full-throated support for the middleweight champion. There were giant Brazilian flags around the arena. I took my customary seat at the back, near the top of the arena, because I like to take everything in and see the crowd’s reaction.
The crowd’s reaction when Silva first got in Sonnen’s face and then bumped the challenger, hard, in the face with his shoulder? Priceless. The rematch itself did not deliver, with Silva slaughtering Sonnen, but the atmosphere made it memorable.
The Program: It utilizes a matte finish on the simple cover, which features “Silva vs. Sonnen” running vertically and the UFC 148 logo running horizontally. I like the simplicity of it, because fight merchandise often runs on the garish side. This program is subdued and gorgeous.
The great Anderson Silva was facing his strongest challenger to date. Chris Weidman, one of the UFC’s hottest prospects in years, had all the tools to beat Silva.
That’s what a lot of folks thought. Me? I thought Silva would run right through Weidman. He’d made it look easy. Most of my fellow media members—very smart men and women, mind you, some of whom have been covering the fight game for a long time—had picked Weidman. I thought they were crazy.
I was wrong, of course. And my enduring memory from that night was the moment I realized Weidman had knocked Silva out, and the reign of the greatest fighter in history was over. And I realized what a privilege it was to be there, sitting 15 feet away, as Weidman celebrated his win. It was one of those moments—and there are many—that made me grateful that I get to do this for a living.
The Program: This one is notable because of the size. It is quite a bit larger than even the UFC’s previous special event programs. It’s glossy, with an embossed gold event logo. The front features a page-filling photo of Silva, and the back features Weidman.
UFC 167 fight week centered around a single question: Would Georges St-Pierre’s title defense against Johny Hendricks be his last?
We media members heard the rumblings all week. We heard St-Pierre’s heart wasn’t in the fight game anymore. He played things close to the vest during interviews, but the talk was out there, and there was a general sense that there was something to it.
We also felt he’d earned the right to call his own shots. If St-Pierre wanted to walk away after a win (or even after a loss), well, that was his decision to make. He owed the UFC nothing, and he owed the fans even less. He was always a unique creature, with certain tics and traits that are not very common in the fight game. If he wanted to go back to Montreal and stay there and enjoy the spoils of his career, that was his choice.
In retrospect, of course, we were right. St-Pierre did walk away after a closely contested title defense against Hendricks. He gave up his championship belt and walked to the sidelines and has remained there ever since. We’d like to see him return because he’s one of the greats of the sport, but it has become increasingly clear that a return is likely not in the cards.
And if he does stay away, I cannot blame him one bit. He has earned that right.
The Program: It is once again a matte cover, with lots of gold embossing and a stellar piece of art depicting St-Pierre and Hendricks punching each other. The UFC went through a phase where it used a variation of this art for nearly every fight, and it would become old news. But when this event poster was released, it was new and gorgeous.
Unlike the first bout between Silva and Weidman, I knew going into the second bout that Weidman had a chance. But I still believed Silva to be the heavy favorite; I viewed the Weidman knockout in the first fight as an aberration that occurred largely because Silva didn’t take Weidman seriously. If he hadn’t danced, he wouldn’t have been caught with that punch. The fight would have gone differently.
I’ll never forget UFC 168, and I’ll never forget the sound of Silva’s leg breaking when Weidman checked his leg kick. I’ll never forget him screaming in pain. I wrote about my feelings that night, and they remain the same: This was only memorable in a horrific way.
On that night, I figured Silva’s career was over, and that made me depressed. Thankfully (or perhaps regrettably), he is returning next year. The chilling ending of UFC 168 was not the end of Anderson Silva.
The Program: I particularly like this program for one reason: Most of it is matte, but the large photos of Silva and Weidman are glossy. It is a good usage of varied media to create something that stands out. On the back, the same treatment is given to Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate. It’s a beautiful program.
I’ll never forget UFC 175 fight week because of, to put it bluntly, B.J. Penn’s weird performance against Frankie Edgar at The Ultimate Fighter finale the day after UFC 175 proper. Penn’s upright stance and out-of-character style will serve as my enduring memory from another International Fight Week filled with fan expos and concerts and more.
The Program: I like this one, and it serves as a good bookend to my UFC 129 selection earlier. It is glossy and features Weidman, the middleweight champion, covered in American flag art on the front. On the back, challenger Lyoto Machida is covered in the Brazilian flag. It was a perfect piece of art for yet another USA vs. Brazil outing.
Read more UFC news on BleacherReport.com
Courtesy of :Bleacher Report – UFC