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From the Inside: UFC International Fight Week - Part Two

UFC middleweight Josh Samman delivers the second entry in this series detailing his experience at UFC International Fight Week.

Mitch Viquez/Zuffa LLC

I forget to put the "do not disturb" sign on the door handle the night before, and housekeeping wakes me for day two in Las Vegas. It begins with a trip to Whole Foods, to purchase food for the week. I call down before leaving my room and ask for a refrigerator to be sent upstairs. Afterwards, I go downstairs and hop in the cab line.

No carbs, no sodium, just lean protein and an assortment of veggies. Unsalted poultry breast, sprouts, veggies, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and a few different fillets of fish that I have the guy behind the counter grill me, and I’m back to the hotel.

The UFC reimburses my cab fare to and from the grocery store, and I make it back it just in time for a scheduled photoshoot for TV and internet graphics. This is an unnecessarily long amount of time in front of a green screen, ab flexing and glove pounding, all done with a photographer and sometimes also a director. Towards the end you say "fuck it" and hope they choose one of the thousand pictures they took from a portion of the shoot when you still cared to look tough.

After an hour of Blue Steel and Magnum, I stick around downstairs until we’re scheduled to meet with Jeff Novitzky, UFC Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance, and Chief Operating Officer of USADA, John Frothingham. Jeff looks like a 6’6" version of Florida Governor Rick Scott, and he gives me a firm handshake as I walk in the door.

We wait around as the rest of the fighters begin to trickle in. The meeting begins before they all get there. I assume we will finally be getting blood tested, which was the policy reported to begin on July 1st. Instead, the meeting is purely informative.

We learn that the full policy will actually go into effect on October 1st, including the mandatory USADA app, "Whereabouts," that will determine where we are located at all times, should an agent want to come test us randomly. We are told that we have three strikes on not being able to be found, although that slate is wiped clean every 12 months.

That sounds pretty damn ridiculous.

In the case of a dirty test result, the B sample will remain sealed until the athlete arrives at the lab, should they choose to do so. There, they can then see the second sample opened and tested, as if that will somehow make the second test come back clean. The only thing I can think this will avoid is an agent who may have a vendetta against a fighter, which seems unlikely.

Jeff talks a bit about the difference between in competition drugs and out of competition drugs. This is a question I get often from friends and fans, whether or not fighters will be tested for marijuana year round. A lot of fighters get high. Jeff says that testing for THC, like other recreational drugs, will be limited to the hours immediately before and after a bout takes place. He says they are not there to play moral police. He explains that the threshold for THC allowed by USADA has increased 10x over the past several years, and that an athlete would have to be getting high very near to a bout in order to fail.

They explain about what they call "biological passports," which act as markers to look for variances in an athlete’s blood over time. Everyone’s blood has a testosterone : epitestosterone level, as well as other particulars that vary from person to person, and while that number may change over time, any spikes or drastic increases/decreases may indicate drug use or masking agents.

Jeff explains that many supplements on the market are tainted, and to be extremely cautious of what brands we are ingesting. He tells stories of athletes who have failed by taking supplements that did not even list the drug that they failed for, and that USADA independently tests supplements from time to time to try to identify which companies are guilty of mislabeling. The whole thing is pretty terrifying, thinking your whole career could come tumbling down by taking a product that includes a banned drug not even listed. He says to always keep samples of supplements in the case of this happening. It makes me wonder why any of these fighters that have failed for substances they claimed to take without knowing haven't named them particularly, in order to prevent it from happening to others.

John tells us there is a "three stick policy" that means if blood is not successfully drawn by the agent after three sticks, then the test will be cancelled. This sounds strange as well, but he says that multiple failed attempts can lead to problems that may cause decreased performance. I’m still unsure of the science behind this one.

They talk a bit about the IV ban, explaining that IV use may also act as a masking agent. Many of the fighters have been outspoken about the ban, although I’ve only used an IV to rehydrate once, so I’m put at a further advantage by the IV ban, and have to admit an element of being pleased by others' indignation of it.

The meeting ends, and I stick around to ask more questions. I'm curious why we aren't being blood tested as was announced. I’m told it was a concern that there would be excessive test failures for those that weren’t properly educated on therapeutic use exemptions. That’s unsettling.

I learn all I need to know, and head back up to my room, eating some of the food I bought earlier in the day. I lay back down that night again with the green glow outside my window. I get a good night's rest, and am able to sleep late the next day as I don't have any obligations on my press schedule.

I wake up in the late morning, write some e-mails for work, and wander around the hotel a bit, interacting with fans before going to work out. My workouts are light around this time, just doing repetitions on the mat, and shadowboxing until I'm sweating for about an hour.

The only thing on my agenda for the rest of the evening is the Invicta fights, tickets courtesy of the oh-so wonderful Julie Kedzie. I shower, get dressed, and head to the Cosmo. As I walk in the hotel, the who’s who of MMA icons begins.

Arlovski. Trigg. BJ. Tito. It was like an MMA awards show from a decade ago. I find the Chelsea inside the Cosmo, and right as I walk in, Marina Shafir is getting her fight stopped by Steve Mazzagatti. The place is super nice, and my seat is on the floor level, next to other UFC fighters. Liz Carmouche, Frankie Edgar, Miesha and Bryan, all sitting around me. Flashes from camera phones flood the dark room in between every fight.

I spend much of the second bout locating my seat and googling the fighters on the night’s program. The third fight begins between two fighters at 105 lbs who are 4-1 and 5-0. Amber Brown and Catherine Costigan are their names, and both of these women would probably be in the UFC if Zuffa showcased their weight class. I wondered what the endgame was for women like this, in weight classes the UFC skipped over. Keep fighting and hoping, I suppose.

Brown wins, and walkouts for the next bout begin. Pannie Kianzad enters the room with a "Just Bleed" shirt (respek), and a cornerman that has a full facial tattoo (yikes). Her opponent, Jessica-Rose Clark, walks in to some European techno music, and the fight begins. Punch punch, kick kick. 17 minutes later Kianzad is declared the winner.

Next is Ayaka Hamasaki vs. Herica Tiburcio for the atomweight title. Tiburcio is a cutie. Hamasaki is the first Japanese in a title fight in a long time. She goes on to become the first ever Japanese champion in a major organization in America.

Co-main is Tonya Evinger vs. Irene Aldana, in one of the gnarliest female fights I’ve ever seen. After walking out with a picture of the shocker on her shirt Evinger beats the shit out of Irene, tries to break her arm in every which direction, squeezes at her neck, and does some more beating until finally, after vomiting in her corner after the third round, she TKO’s Aldana in the fourth. Not once does Aldana lose spirit or give up, she’s just outmatched and outworked by the veteran Evinger.

The fights were cool and all, but it’s fucking destruction time. Cyborg vs. Faith Van Duin. I go to take a piss before the crowd floods the bathrooms, as I assume the main event will be quick. On the way to there I see more MMA stars. Swanson, Rashad, Werdum, Don Frye and the gnarliest mustache I’ve ever seen. It's like a giant shaggy caterpillar hanging onto someone’s lip. He has a big cowboy hat on, and was making some fan’s day at the bar.

I step back into the banquet hall just in time for the camera on screen to pan to CM Punk in the crowd. He looks.. Old. Sorry, Phil. I look old too. Bas is on screen now, looking like he’s ready to do a flying split at any moment. They cut to Lorenzo. He looks invested. We’re all waiting for the lamb to be led to slaughter.

Finally we see the prey. She sounds unsure in her pre fight talk. "I believe she’s a woman just like me." Someone has failed to even tell this poor girl her opponent’s nickname.

Cyborg walks in, with several wardrobe malfunctions. A large tag is sticking out of her bra, and her shorts have a pocket in them. The commission should be going back to make her change her shorts, but they put a piece of tape over it instead.

Boom, boom, pow. 46 seconds and the fight is over. Cyborg could have fought 10 Van Duins that night and not broken a sweat.

I go to leave the building, but see Joanna Jedrzejczyk on my way out. I’m surrounded by MMA legends the whole night, and the last time I remember being geeked out over meeting someone was Tyson years ago while filming The Ultimate Fighter, but I find myself overcome with fandom as the straw weight champion stands in front of me. She’s magnetic, and I ask her to take a picture with me before making my way through the crowd and back to the MGM.

I return to my room, which is feeling more and more like home with every passing night, as my clothes and personal belongings have become scattered about. I can’t stop visualizing the fight, seeing him head kicked into unconsciousness, or kneeing in the face until he quits. I wonder what I look like in his visualizations, how he sees himself winning the fight.

I decide I don’t care much what he thinks, and put the thought out of my mind. I remember to put the "do not disturb" sign on the door this time, and count sheep until it’s tomorrow.

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