How I Became An MMA Fan
At some point in the past, I made a snarky comment about Brock Lesnar, and someone accused me of just being a bitter old school MMA fan who was pissed that a pro wrestler (or wrassler) was able to come into the UFC and win the Heavyweight title in only his 4th fight. Well, that couldn't be any further from the truth.
And as I am wont to do in these fanposts, to get things started we need to go back in history a bit.
It was April of 1996 on a Monday night. I was probably doing something of grave importance (as most 6th graders are at that time in their lives) when my friend Chris called me up. I have no recollection of what the conversation was about at first, but at some point he asked if if I could put on TNT and relay what was going down on WCW Nitro. Since he didn't have cable and he was my friend, I decided to humor him and watch something I cared nothing about.
Begrudgingly I did so just in time to catch the main event. It was Ric Flair defending his World Heavyweight title against The Giant. Now at the time I was one of those kind of people who would say "You know it's all fake right?" if someone told me they liked pro wrestling, as if it would be a major revelation that I just dropped on their simple little minds. But something caught my interest that night, and to this day I'm still not sure what wound up hooking me.
Little did I know I had jumped on the bandwagon just before it would go into warp speed a few months later. The battle for Monday nights became an all out war, the nWo started raising hell, every week someone new had jumped ship, the luchadors like Ultimo Dragon and Rey Mysterio Jr left me speechless week after week. It was exciting and unpredictable, all the right elements came together to make it the perfect time to be a wrestling fan.
Every single Monday night, like clockwork, I'd be at my TV with a fresh tape in hand ready to record the nights festivities. I wore shirts to show my support for WCW. I actually watched Assault On Devil's Island just to see Hogan and Sting sign their Starcade contract. In 8th grade when I was forced to take confirmation classes at my church, one of my main (among many that I had) objections was that it would force me to miss the first half of Nitro every week for months on end.
It would be fair to say I was obsessed. Of course I knew it was fake but it was fun to watch. Or it was for a while...
When Russo came on board a few years later, I stopped feeling compelled to tape Nitro and eventually stopped watching the show each week, and when the David Arquette thing happened I just threw in the towel. I did watch and record the final Nitro almost a year later, but it would be more than a decade till I watched another event live.
Jumping forward to 2007, I heard through another friend that Brock Lesnar had signed with the UFC, and I'll admit my interest was piqued. At the time, my knowledge of MMA consisted of the few minutes the UFC was featured in the movie Virtuosity, seeing some pudgy guy named Chuck Liddell run in the desert to promote a crappy energy drink, and that Tito Ortiz had a head so big baseballs could easily hold orbit around it.
To paraphrase the old wrestling saying, I didn't know a kimura from an americana.
But I knew I didn't like Brock (his whole "I don't like gays" thing) as a person, and since I love me some schadenfreude, I wanted to see him fail in this latest endeavor. I didn't order the PPV or even follow a live blog for his first UFC fight, but when I checked the results I was happy to see that some dude named Frank Mir had submitted him in the first round.
I found myself taking more and more interest in the sport. I started following Cage Potato and learned how the rules worked, I made a list of fighters I liked and ones I didn't, and I learned to steer clear of the Sherdog forums. While my dislike of Brock is what brought me into things initially, it was fighters like GSP, Shane Carwin, and Pat Barry who gave me a reason to stick around.
I had found something to fill that void in my life left when WCW closed up shop.
UFC 100 was the first event MMA event I would actually watch live and since then I've seen some amazing things happen in the cage.
I saw Pat Barry keep plugging (and hugging) away at Cro Cop despite a broken hand and foot. I saw the WEC go out with a bang and its head held high thanks to Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis. I saw GSP systematically breakdown and dominate one fighter after another. Mark Hunt's walk-off KO's. I witnessed Shogun and Hendo literally knock weeks off each others lives with each punch that landed. And I screamed my head off when Chris Weidman knocked Anderson Silva out with one punch.
MMA also helped keep me from going insane during one of the worst weeks of my life.
It was the end of September in 2010. I had just driven about 800 miles cross country to South Carolina to participate in a 24 Hours Of LeMons race with my team. About a half hour from my destination, the torque converter in my trusty Buick decided to give out. What was going to be a weekend of fun, friends, cars, and alcohol quickly turned into 10 days of me being stranded in a Super 8 alone and with my bank account $2,000 lighter.
But thanks to my laptop and a surprisingly decent motel Wi-Fi connection, I was still able to watch UFC 119 take place. Yes it was a lame card, but it beat the hell out of the Village People tribute band staying next door practicing YMCA for the 9,000th time*.
A few days later the much better WEC 51 event took place, and I laid on a stained mattress to watch while eating cold pizza and drinking warm soda (dry counties should be illegal), but I felt like a king on his throne for a few hours simply because it was something to take my mind off of the four white prison walls.
As I've sat here writing this, I've been trying to figure out exactly what it was that drew me into the world of MMA just like that episode of Nitro did so many years ago, and I couldn't come up with an answer. But right now... I think I know. It's the excitement from everything being so unpredictable, anything can happen at any time and there is no such thing as a "sure thing" in this sport.
It's these moments that keep me coming back week after week, and will hopefully give me reason to keep following till my final days.
*I wish I was making that up.