Last night the UFC held one of the first events of Fight Week at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, featuring appearances by Forrest Griffin, Reed Harris, and Megan Olivi. Zuffa and Fertitta Entertainment contributed funds to help build The Center a few years ago and have taken part in a number of initiatives, the most recent being the Protect Yourself At All Times campaign for HIV awareness to (1) know your status and (2) use safe sex practices.
UFC Director of Public Relations, Anthony Evans, explains their involvement. "We donated money and we asked them, ‘Is there anything else we can do?’ Honestly, we thought they’d come back to us with something like bullying. They came back and said, ‘We’ve got to raise HIV awareness,’ and we thought, ‘Really? We thought that had happened already.’" The idea is that while the HIV awareness campaigns of the 90’s were successful, there’s almost an entirely new generation of young people who’ve grown up without much discussion of HIV awareness and prevention. The topic strikes a chord with me as I lost a cousin to the virus a couple years ago.
However, yesterday’s event is less about HIV and more about physically protecting yourself at all times. I arrive 20 minutes late and enter what looks like a multi-purpose room behind the front desk to noise, commotion, and grip breaking. People are practicing breaking an attacker’s grip by swinging their arm against the gripper’s thumb. Forrest is his usual comedic self and Reed Harris – founder of the WEC and VP of Community Relations for the UFC – is in full gi.
I see Griffin, I see Harris, I eventually see Olivi, but where’s Tate? (Being an idiot, I forgot to ask why she was missing.) Harris’ energy and charisma are the next things to catch my attention. The man is a ball of positive energy every time he shows a move or helps a group of people.
After the grip break, Griffin teaches a pass/spin move to use an attacker’s own momentum against him if he pulls your arm. It’s practiced for 10 minutes or so – with varying amounts of dizziness – and we move on to the mount. The kids seem to love the mount techniques. It's like getting chucked off of someone makes them come alive.
The first mount escape involves pushing the attacker back with your arms. It initially makes my BJJ spidey senses cringe, but I think the idea is that you’re being attacked by someone who doesn’t really know how to fight and is therefore unlikely to put you in an insta-arm bar. The lesson is that the attacker’s likely to drive into your outstretched arms, giving you the opportunity to quickly use leverage and flip them off. This, of course, leads to "thrust" practice.
Griffin demonstrates a few more mount escapes and has people drill them while Megan Olivi roams the room for interviews. Somehow I don’t recognize her for the first few minutes (fine, take my man card). But once the neurons start firing, it’s impossible to miss.
The session lasts over an hour and a half with Forrest doling out advice to "get athletic" and "don’t be embarrassed to be uncomfortable," while recommending everyone read The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. He poses for pictures and signs autographs at the end, and even stays after everyone’s gone home to talk to some schlep from Bloody Elbow.
This is Griffin’s sixth or seventh event with The Center, but the first self-defense class. "I liked it," Griffin said. "It’s been years since I’ve done them. I actually used to do a lot of them back in the day. I was the first cop that knew jiu-jitsu. Even though I was never certified they were like, ‘Hey, you come to the class and help teach it.’ I actually learned a lot just from watching other people teach, and that’s most of the stuff I showed here today."
At the end of the day, the folks at The Center get such a strong response that they ask Harris to return monthly, to which he agrees. It’s a nice way to start off Fight Week – avoid getting beat up by an attacker so we can stay safe and healthy to watch others get beat up this weekend. Sounds like a plan to me.