Covering Bellator MMA can take you to some obscure places. In my case, it has taken me to Windsor, Ontario, and now Orillia, Ontario - a place that I am certain, had I selected another career path, I would have never even known existed. It is an odd, yet somewhat fitting setting for MMA's No. 2 promotion: a remote location and a Casino.
Instead of returning to BloodyElbow with a simple post-fight review of a particularly lackluster fight card, I opted to provide a sort of diary entry for the most noteworthy moments of my overnight stay at Casino Rama. Fair warning, little of this has to do with the actual happenings of the fight card-instead, I've tried to offer a brief glimpse into the other aspects of ‘Fight Day.'
Entry 1 - Lunch Time
The guest of honor during our pre-fight lunch at the Casino was Brian Beauchamp, one of the referees officiating at the event. While I had never met or seen him in person prior to this lively encounter, he was well-known to my friends and fellow journalists Adam Martin and James Lynch, both of whom would also be covering the fights that night.
My initial impression of Beauchamp: a man I would certainly want on my team in a game of tug-of-war. The man's booked half a century's worth of miles on his body, but masks it in a well-maintained exterior, which is more than I could say for most men his age - or even half his age, for that matter. Later on in the conversations, I would learn about his martial arts background - which included stints on the Canadian Judo National Team - and that he was a professional firefighter. Fighting blazes by day and refereeing by night, Beauchamp embodied an interesting conglomeration of characteristics that greatly expanded my understanding of the official's role in general.
Mealtime conversation ranged from pre-fight previews and predictions, to discussions about Ontario MMA, the failings of Egyptian Top Team, and my personal favorite - the Ohio Athletic Commission.
Entry 2 - Pre-Fight
My first interaction with fans at the Casino Rama was in the elevator on the way up to my room following lunch, where a middle-aged couple, dressed in matching Tapout shirts, asked me and several other writers when the main event would be starting. After giving them an estimate, their immediate follow-up question was: "what about the heavyweights?" I once again responded accordingly, although I added that there were a few other somewhat intriguing match-ups on the card, and that since they had tickets, they should see them. Undeterred, they simply responded: "We want to see the heavyweights."
Entry 3 - Press Row
I have always been amazed by the variety of people that attend MMA events, or at least ones in Ontario. While you would expect your typical meathead, yowling incoherent statements such as "you go war," I was instead surprised to find a sea of salt- and pepper-coloured hair interspersed between the standard MMA fans. It gave the evening an aura of maturity that offset the dimwitted comments that polluted the air throughout the evening. It was clear, however, that they knew little about fighting and even less about the music played between the bouts.
This should not be mistaken for a faint-hearted crowd, as one fan screamed, "Knock his head off so I can catch it!" during the Gordon/Kelades bout, and was met with cheers of agreement from the crowd. Needless to say, the grandmothers and grandfathers in attendance did not join in that cheer, or any other sort of tomfoolery that involved vociferation.
Others in attendance seemed to believe they could yell a command into reality, as another unwitting fan called for a flying knee at a moment during the Meisel/Bussieres fight when both competitors were in the midst of a grappling exchange.
The sound of Rogers' shin colliding with Miles' ribs, causing the crowd to awe in both admiration and disgust. It was the loudest move that had occurred so far in the night, and the crowd was clearly hungry for more. Lucky for them, Rogers was in a giving mood, as he ended the fight less than five minutes later with a savage flying knee that left Miles doubled over against the cage.
There is something to be said about "boring" fights and the reaction they can induce from the crowd in attendance. Bellator 119 featured several of these unfortunate matches, but instead of sending the crowd to sleep, it enjoyed a sort of anxious, jumpy energy that inspired the aforementioned meatheads to begin howling such slurred buffoonery as "Elmo wants your number" and "even the camera guy isn't watching."
Entry 4 - Post-Fight
The post-fight proceedings resembled a shepherd herding his flock away from danger. After the final stoppage was called on the Bellator card, we were escorted towards the exit and led directly to the presser, where (overly) salted popcorn and bottled water was positioned strategically for the purpose of simultaneously dehydrating and rejuvenating the present scribes.
After pleasantries were exchanged between those who know each other, the topic of discussion shifted towards the fight card, which many agreed was the worst of the events held in Casino Rama.
The seating at the presser consisted of less than 20 media members - 10 of which maintained an odd code of silence - and two hooded gentlemen who attempted to remain inconspicuous in rearmost seats. At one point in the proceedings, James leaned over to me and said, "Is that Jeremy Horn over there?"
He was right. Little did I realize that both Horn and DaMarques Johnson were present at the event as acting cornermen. Neither man appeared particularly pleased with their surroundings, that could have been attributed to a variety of things and not simply their uncomfortable seating arrangements.
Following the conclusion of the traditional press conference, the majority of the media members present dispersed across the room, each locked onto a potential interviewee. Minutes later, a few of us gravitated towards Bjorn Rebney and surrounded him for a scrum, with the aim of hounding him with questions regarding his inaugural Pay-Per-View event. Adam asked the lead, and likely most significant, question: "Are the rumours true? Is Alvarez out of the PPV?"
Rebney looked him directly in the eye and replied, "The main event is on. Everything is moving forward. It is fine."
Little did we know, everything was far from fine.
Entry 5 - Final Thought
While the fights may not have been the best, one can always learn something new if they are willing to listen closely.
To conclude this "diary entry," I shall leave you with a quote I overheard one of the older gentlemen tell his confused wife after the fights. It was a less-than-casual viewer's simplification of MMA, but an interesting way to justify it to a frazzled first-time spectator:
"You don't understand dear. These fighters have so much pent up energy. Sometimes they just need to punch it out."