Sunlight shines through the blinds Thursday afternoon and wakes me up. It feels good to have slept in, and I’m able to relax for a couple hours before the day’s tasks. There isn’t much on the itinerary aside from media at 3, and a final workout sometime in the evening.
I head downstairs, into a room with tables set aside for folks that have been credentialed for the event. Esther Lin is there, along with MMA Junkie, and Jay Reddick from the Orlando Sentinel. Chuck Mindenhall gets interviewing duties from MMA Fighting. He’s one of my favorites, and I kick myself as I stumble a bit through one of his questions.
I exit, and see Diaz and company in a hallway. They look in good spirits, jovial and laughing. It seems the Free Nick Diaz era has helped turn the corner a bit.
My coaches get to Orlando a few hours later, and we head down for one last workout. Inside the room is much of the Florida MMA scene. Usually when all our camps are together we’re at regional shows, fighting each other. Tonight we’re all in one room, preparing for the out-of-towners.
I have Chuck Berry Pandora on a portable speaker, and the energy in the room is lively. Jim Alers and I work with our coaches on one side of the mats. Blackzilians coach Henry Hooft is alternating mitts between Michael Johnson and Vicente Luque. Johnson has a Porsche shirt on, and I ask him if they really gave him that car he was driving in the "Road to the Octagon" segment (they did).
I finish up, scarf down some egg whites, and browse the internet for fight predictions. This is always something I look forward to, hearing opinions on who people think will win, and why. All of camp, everyone tells you you’re gonna kick this guy’s ass. It’s refreshing to hear people analyze the matchup objectively. The internet is often the only place to get that.
I return to the subjective, having final conversations with friends I’ve trained with over the years. I try to visualize all outcomes, good and bad; putting myself in as many positions as possible, so I may not be surprised should I end up there.
A friend suggests I turn his water into wine between rounds. I’ve been getting Jesus jokes all week. Another friend asks if walking on water makes it difficult to use a hot bath to cut weight. Speaking of water, I’ll be drinking my last bit here soon. I’ve been water loading for the past week, training my body to urinate frequently before I cut off supply.
I’ll continue to eat, although less, as dehydration is more miserable when coupled with starvation. Re-hydration is also easier when the stomach isn't shriveled, eating itself. I take my last big gulp of water with a handful of multivitamins to hold me over for the next 18 hours.
Then next time I hop on a scale is at 10 AM the next morning. This is another in scheduled weight checks to gauge how much is really being lost and regained among athletes. Mine is at 189, which leaves room for another small breakfast before heading to the sauna. I eat my second egg white omelet of the day, and have a friend drive Alers and I to the local Gold’s Gym. I finish my cut before his, and return to the hotel to await transportation to the convention center.
The fighters around the hotel are collectively becoming more depleted, crescendo-ing into a final room of thirst and hunger. Our corners are split up into the workout rooms of the day before, but the energy is different now.
Dollaway is hopping off and on the scale, speculating with trainer Aaron Simpson whether his 186.2 with clothes on will translate into made weight. Firas is in the corner helping Randa Markos lay down with towels over her. Malki Kawa is in the room, telling people how much Jon Jones deadlifts.
We finally load onto the buses, and make it to the convention center. We’re in the back of what looks like a giant warehouse, with a large projector screen down the middle. On the opposite side of the curtain, thousands of screaming fans await. The show has finally begun.
I’m feeling really at home here. I’m the only fighter from the Florida Panhandle that’s made it to the UFC, and the state is a part of my identity. The room we’re in is largely comprised of people I see month in and month out. Media that cover our regional promotion, commissioners that frequent our events, the community of South Florida gyms, and fans I’ve met dozens of times throughout the years, all fill the building.
My comfort level is high, and Reed Harris asks if I’d like to do a series of VIP fan experience pictures. He tells me his wife is a fan of my writing I do on that website. If you’re reading things, hello, Mrs. Harris. Tell your husband to call me about going to London for UFC in February, please.
I’ve got jeans on, and the UFC employee in charge of making sure everyone is wearing Reebok before they step on stage stops me. He asks politely if I could put on some Reebok pants for him, should he be able to find some. He says I can say no, but then he’ll have to explain to his bosses why someone wasn’t in correct apparel on a UFC broadcast. This same guy once had to go to a shoe store in Vegas to buy me size 15 Reeboks before my last fight because they didn’t have any in the UFC office. We’ve built a rapport, and I let him sweat a bit before revealing I brought some in my bag. He finds humor in it, and calls his other Reebok buddy over to tell him the story.
I get summoned to stand in line as weigh-ins begin. Fighters are lined up directly next to each other, blue corner, red corner, blue corner, red corner, from the undercard all the way to main. It’s the the first time many of these fighters have been in close proximity of their opponents, and it can be felt in the air.
My name is called, I do my thing, and walk over to face-off. This is another part I enjoy, as it gives an opportunity to search around in the soul of the opponent. Sometimes they’re nervous, unable to hide it. Many times they’re aggressive, posturing for Alpha. Every now and then they just stare back, doing some searching of their own. McCrory seems to do the latter.
Joe Silva is looking up at us from nearly a foot below. "You guys are tall!" He makes a joke, and my focus falters for a split second.
McCrory puts his fists down. He looks hesitant to shake hands. Shit gets real for a minute.
I step off stage and head to the other side of the curtain. Mom and grandma are waiting with post fight dinner, wheat pasta & chicken breast, and several bottles of Pedialyte.
Reebok guy rushes back up to me, and asks if he can borrow my pants that I just wore, for another fighter who also has jeans on at weigh ins. I don't mind, and hand him my pants.
I ask him who the fighter is. He says Diaz. I have a feeling I know how this is going to end. He comes back a couple minutes later and gives me my pants back, as Diaz walks on stage with jeans.
I walk back to the hotel with my team, eating the whole way. By the time we get in the car to go to actual dinner, I’ve moved on to turkey sandwiches. When we arrive at a friend’s house with catering, I’m on fish tacos. This continues for hours, until I go back to my hotel around 9.
I watch a few fight videos of Tamdan before going to bed. I’ve been looking for any reluctance that he wants to be here this week. So far I’ve found none.
I’ll try again tomorrow.