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From the Inside: UFC International Fight Week- Part One

As the dust settles from a marathon of UFC events, middleweight Josh Samman goes into detail of his personal experience from UFC International Fight Week in an exclusive multi-part series.

Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC

The day begins early, with little sleep, as travel days often do. I have a habit of waiting until the final hours before a flight to prepare everything I’ll need for the week. My plane departs at 7:00 AM, and I‘m still stuffing things into my bag at 6:05. I finally get it together, and throw it in my roommate’s truck. We begin the ride towards Ft. Lauderdale Airport, as I do a mental once through of all the things I left behind on the way.

I’d made this drive several times before, heading to the airport around sunrise to catch a flight west for a fistfight. "See you on the other side," a catchphrase between our friends. We’d said it plenty times before. Sometimes the other side is good, sometimes it’s no good at all, but there’s almost always another side.

I get to bag check to find out that my flight’s been delayed, and that I’ll be missing my connecting flight in Atlanta. The only option is to wait until a direct flight that leaves just before noon. I ask the airline employee if there is anything to eat in the terminal. She says no and shoos me away, trying to pacify another unhappy customer.

I’m hungry. It’s Wednesday, four days before the fight, three days before weigh in, and it’s too early to be hungry. I reach down in my bag and scarf down the bit of broccoli and egg whites I'd packed as a snack for later in the day, and curl up on the floor of the Ft. Lauderdale Airport.

The ground is cold and dirty. I lay on a pillow to keep my head off of it, and try to curl up with my boxing gloves and foam roller to keep warm. It’s times like this that turn me to writing, out of fear I forgot any of these outrageous moments.

I’m on an empty airport floor, at 6:30 in the morning, and I'm as lonely as I've ever felt in my life. Emotions on fight week are loud, and pre fight mood swings violent. I go back to the place in my mind that I've been the last few months, across from Caio. It wasn’t the first time he’d consumed my thoughts; we were scheduled to fight once last year, before things came up. "No excuses this time" he wrote on Twitter after I signed the bout agreement for the second time.

I drift off to sleep, imagining any and every possible way that I can be victorious. I win in my dreams hundreds of times before contemplating other things, about how life will be different for the better, again, in just a week’s time.

"Ladies and gentlemen we’re now boarding flight 2231 to McCarran International." I’m awoken by a loud intercom. When I wake up, the airport is full of dozens of familiar faces. My mind takes a moment to process, still half asleep.

ATT vs Blackzilians.

The whole MMA scene of south Florida is on a plane, headed to the same place I am. I wonder to myself why the UFC travel department put me on that other flight in the first place. The event we were all going to was supposed to have been at the Hollywood Hard Rock, a half mile from my house. I had imagined jogging to the arena from my home, as close as I could get to a hometown crowd.

Besides Caio having already been a scheduled opponent in the past, my last professional loss was at the Hard Rock, against one of Caio’s countless ATT teammates. I like finding themes and threads in fights, and this bout had strong ones.

The Fight Gods saw differently though, and the arena of combat would be all the way across the country, inside a room revered for it's history of prizefights, the Grand Garden Arena. I was disappointed for the departure from Florida, but excited to be a part of International Fight Week in Vegas.

I press my luck for time once more as I run to the Corona Beach Bar in hopes of finding something half decent to eat before we board. I look down to find an enormous breakfast menu, one big enough to make me want to find that airport lady who told me there was no breakfast earlier.

I order Mahi tacos that come out exceptionally fast, and hop back in line moments before they close the terminal doors. I get in line next to ATT member and collegiate All-American Nathan Coy. I introduce myself, and he acknowledges he knows me as well, and offers congratulations on my last fight. While the fight community is largely a network of folks whom most everyone knows who one another are but not many care to break the ice, I prefer to engage with most those I meet.

I sleep most the plane ride, which has become standard for me. I wake up towards the end to find my giant head resting on some poor lady’s shoulder. I apologize, and she gets chatty. She tells me she’s going to Vegas for a funeral. I tell her I’m sorry to hear that, and she jokes that it’s okay because it’s just her father-in-law. I laugh, and she says "Really though, he was 100." We both agree we never want to live that long.

The plane begins it’s descent, and I open the cabin window. The rocks and valleys beneath us hold much significance for me, and I feel an excited anticipation as the plane draws closer. The passengers let out a mild round of applause as we touch down into Sin City.

Baggage claim has a driver waiting on us, there to carry three Blackzilians and myself to MGM Grand for check-in. They speak to each other in Portuguese in the back, while I quiz the driver up front.

"Are you a fighting fan?" I ask her.

"Only if Mayweather is fighting" she responds, simultaneously pulling into the MGM driveway, a 200 ft. sticker of Floyd on the building overlooking us.

She drops us off outside the UFC office that is set up inside MGM. The experience gets more and more surreal as fans are waiting there, and this is where the pictures and autographs begin. There are times where this stuff feels natural, then there are times when I think "This is crazy, someone wants me to sign something for them." That’s the feeling I don’t ever want to lose, that shock and awe that I feel when I think about having actually worked myself to a point to where things like pictures and signatures are meaningful to people. I don’t want to ever become numb to that. I do my best to not let external factors affect my ego though, lest I become quickly humbled by the giant Conor face plastered on the wall.

I’m greeted at the UFC office by a large, jolly looking fellow named Tony. I slap his hand and give him a hug, and feel kind of silly afterward, because I don’t even know the guy, I’m just excited to be here again. They give us more posters to sign, bout sheets, per diems (generous ones), our press schedule for the week, and finally, all of our Reebok gear, which is in the room aptly named: "The Reebok Room."

I head there to get my stuff, and try on my uniform. It feels good, and there’s a seamstress there that asks if I need any alterations done. The room is a bit of chaos; bags and clothes and shoes and hangers everywhere. Everyone is polite and amicable though. They give me a pair of shoes, size 11, and I tell them I’m a 15. Someone calls the warehouse to see if they have any in stock. They don't. One of the employees is tasked with calling shoe stores around town to find me a pair of 15 Reeboks to wear for my UFC fight walkout. He finds them, goes and buys them, and comes back. Seriously, this happened.

I weigh myself before I walk up to my room. 203. Right where I want to be. I head to the hotel room, and am greeted by two guys working for a website called MMA Interviews. I feel a bit dull mid interview, and wish I had waited one more day to begin abstaining from caffeine during fight week.

I’m tired now, but I’m hungry, so I go back downstairs after I’ve checked in. There are more fans now congregating on the ground floor. One of them slaps his left shin in excitement when he sees me, and shouts "Salmonnn!" I wonder how long people will make that mistake. At least the leg slap is funny.

As I’m looking for a restaurant, I’m scanning the faces of every person I pass. Any time I get to fight week, my first order of business is to find my opponent and introduce myself. I’m always very excited to meet them if we haven't met before, to gauge his intensity and let him feel mine. I like to let him know I'm excited to be there, that I trained hard for him, and that any feelings that he has of unsurety of himself are not reciprocated.

I find a buffet, which sounds counterintuitive to making weight, but I use hotel buffets on fight week often. There is always a large selection, including a nice salad bar and omelet bar in the morning, and I can portion my meals exactly how I want. I eat before I go to weigh myself to determine how much I’ll be able to eat later in the evening.

I'm at my table eating my sprouts and slices of roasted turkey when a fan walks up and shyly introduces himself. He’s soft spoken, barrel chested and broad shouldered, and doesn’t make a whole lot of eye contact.

"Hey Josh. I just wanted to tell you that you're my favorite. I suffer from PTSD. And I’m from Florida too. And I heard your story, and I read the things you write, and I decided that you’re my favorite." I’d gotten letters and fan mail that said stuff like this, but it was incredibly moving for someone to tell me in person.

This is the stuff I’m here for.

I’m always looking for purpose, always wondering why I'm here, and I like when I find those things. I talk with him for a moment about his story. His name is Mike, and he served in the Army. I didn’t ask specifically what happened to him, although I’m always interested in such stories. I thank him for his service, and he returns to his table.

I head to one of the two workout rooms provided by the UFC to sweat out a bit. I’m still looking at everyone I see that passes by, searching for my opponent. I open the workout room door and need to look no further. There’s Caio and his coaches, in my locker room working out. I check the last names on the door to make sure I’m in the right one. I am, and I can tell by his face he knows it too. I walk to the mat and try to shake his hand. He fist bumps it instead, hard.


I shake his coaches hands, who are nice, and tell them I’ll give them a few minutes to finish up, although I’m not even sure how much English the room knows. I walk into the other workout room to check the scale that’s in there, and I see why he’s working out in mine instead. His former opponent Trevor Smith is assigned a room with him, and punches to the back of the head don’t make for b-fizzles after a fight. I ask Trevor about it, and he says "Hell yeah, he hit me in the back of the head. I hope you beat that guy, then I hope I get a rematch with him." That sounds like the most unlikely matchmaking thing to happen, ever. I promise him I’ll do my best.

We flip flop workout rooms one more time as Caio and his coaches come in the correct one. There are a few guys working out in mine, a coach named Romie Aram, working out with Darrell Montague and another fighter. We introduce, and I shadowbox for about 45 minutes. When they’re done I ask Romie if he has time for a couple more rounds. He obliges and gives me a good 15 minutes of mits. If you’re reading this, thanks.

I’m satisfied with my workout, and make my way back to my room. It’s dark outside now, and the green glow outside the MGM lights up my blinds. I shower, and order a meal from room service. I watch Caio's fights on my computer as I wait.

My food arrives, and I lay down shortly after. I doze to sleep, picking up where I left off earlier, dreaming of how things will be different in a week.

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