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From the Inside: UFC International Fight Week - Part Three

Josh Samman delivers the third installment in his multi part UFC International Fight Week blog, including TUF 21 weigh in details, and brief UFC 189 analysis.

Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC

"Molly and Cocaine, wooooohhh!"

It’s Friday morning, and these are the first words I hear as the elevator doors open and I’m greeted by two shirtless Irish fans, playing music out of a speaker attached to a cellphone. They look like they’ve been up all night, beating the crowd of their countrymen that will be pouring in the MGM in the hours to come. It’s equal parts amusing and annoying, but I’m tolerant of them as I remind myself I too have been a drunk shirtless guy in an elevator at least once in my life.

I reach the bottom floor and there are a sea of fans in the lobby line, waiting to check in. Many have Boston Celtics shirts, or are adorning flags of green, orange, and white across their shoulders. The energy in the hotel has transformed from the day before.

I’m downstairs to check my weight before weigh ins tomorrow. UFC 189 weigh-ins are today, and the Grand Garden Arena is getting prepared for it. 10,000 people stuffed into a room to see some folks step on a scale.

I walk in my workout room and see Kenny Florian rolling on a mat with a guy I don’t recognize. I was on Kenny and Jon Anik’s podcast a week before, but hadn’t had the chance to meet him in person. He looks at me mid-roll and says "Hey Josh!" enthusiastically, and continues his workout. After his round we make conversation. He asks me how my weight cut is, and we speak for a moment about him continuing to train after retirement in order to keep up with the evolution of the sport.

I’m a few lbs below 200, but want to wait for my coach to show up before working out later. I head back towards my room and do a fan Q & A online, trying to kill some time before UFC 189 weigh ins. On my way up there’s an Irish fan, explaining to an American why there’s so many Europeans in the hotel. This guy chose the wrong weekend to pick a honeymoon with his wife. He’s telling them the backstory of McGregor, knowledgeably and candidly. He says that Conor’s wrestling has never been tested, and he isn’t sure if he’ll be able to deal with Mendes’ takedowns. The American pretends to sounds interested.

I watch weigh-ins from my room on my computer, as the line below was hours long. It was about more than stepping on a scale, of course. It was about the energy continuing to build, crescendoing to what everyone was hoping would be history in the making the following night.

I watch til the end, then make the mistake of trying to go back downstairs to see if I could find something light to eat. The elevator stops on each floor, picking up folks at every stop. We finally make it to the bottom, and chaos ensues. All through the casino, Irish fans scream, chant, and throw drinks, holding one shoe above their head. It was all confusing and mesmerizing and incredible, seeing an enormous group of people so excited to rally behind a single person.

Word begins to spread around the casino that Las Vegas PD has been called to disperse the crowd. One reporter describes it as bedlam, and that’s what it is. At one point I see a drunk fan drooling on himself, getting wheelchaired back to his room by a security guard. Hooligans, everywhere.

I stick around and people watch for hours, until my coach arrives and we go to the workout room. We hit mits until I get to 195 lbs, and I go back up and take a hot bath before going to bed. I no longer operate my weight cut in a manner that makes me miserable, but it still will not be comfortable. The objective is to save as much discomfort as possible for the very end. I get out of the bath and go to bed with nothing to drink.

I wake up the next morning at 192 lbs, and make my way to the spa to sweat out the final six in the sauna. The whole training camp I’ve spent countless sessions sitting in these things, for the sole purpose of conditioning me for the hours ahead.

I make weight easily, and take a shower before getting on a shuttle en route to the UFC fan expo, where weigh ins are being held. On the bus I run into Brian Stann, and talk with him about my MMA promotion in Florida, and our 50th event (check it out!). He tells me he's interested, and that he thinks it's a compelling thing to mention as he commentates the following evening.

As soon as we get there, one of my teammates calls me, telling me he has my coconut waters and Pedialytes. Every member of the fight card is backstage, waiting for weigh-ins to begin, and I’m wandering around the fan expo, looking for my friend with the drinks.

If anyone was wondering where all the people were that are paying $95 a piece for the Reebok jerseys, I had found them. Shirts lined mannequins that stood all over the room, next to cash registers and screen printers on site for the fans to buy any jersey they want made, right in front of them. It’s a big, giant, fascinating, well oiled machine of distribution.

I remember I have bigger matters at hand and stop my mid day field trip, returning backstage in time to be handed some Reebok gear to wear on stage. They put a piece of tape over my coaches Nike’s, and have me pick between the last two sizes of shorts they have: XXL or small. The woman running the gear looks stressed, and I’m not trying to make her life any more difficult. I joke with her that she is lucky I am skinny, and squeeze my chicken legs into the smalls.

They call our names to line up in order of weigh in. Here we’re forced to stand next to our opponents until we’re called on stage, accompanied by one coach. He sits down in the chair across from me, and begins shadowboxing. He’s staring at me and looking away every few seconds, and he appears uncomfortable. I see if I can poke the bear a bit.

I lean over, and ask him if he wants to shake hands on stage. He looks confused that I’m even talking to him. My coach leans over and translates for me. He speaks back in harsh tone in Portuguese. My coach translates. "He says do nothing."

Caio turns to his coach, looking perturbed, repeating the same thing over and over. My coach leans in once more to hear what he’s saying. He laughs, and as Caio’s name is being called by Jon Anik, he tells me what he says.

"He says you can shake his dick." I laugh too, and open the curtain to walk on stage.

186. I walk towards Caio for our face-off, and put my hands up in the southpaw position. He oozes beta as he steps forward, desperate to show aggression. His hands are southpaw as well, in order to put his hand nearer my chin, but for a moment he still has his left foot forward, and his body posture is much like his behavior: not exactly screaming confidence. I smile at him as he tries to encroach my space, remembering the last opponent to do the same thing. I’m having fun here.

We step off stage and head towards the back, where the UFC provides us with a fruit buffet and more beverages. We’re instructed to sit and wait for a moment, as Joe Silva makes his way to deliver a post weigh-in motivational speech, usually given by Dana. He reminds us of performance bonuses, and to not have a potty mouth because we are going to be on live television. While he’s giving his speech Caio and Trevor are sitting next to each other, giggling, dispelling my notion that back of the head punches preclude being b-fizzles after the fight.

Not gangster, Trevor.

I leave the backstage area and meet my friends and family at the restaurant a friend made reservations for. This is one of the things I look forward to most during the week, a post weigh-in meal with my core group of folks that come to support.

I stuff face until I have to loosen my pants, and head back to the room to watch the prelims for UFC 189. Within an hour I’m hungry again, and order some shrimp pasta and a grilled chicken sandwich from room service.

I watch some boring prelims, until Tim Means and Matt Brown beat the shit out of each other, and Matt delivers one of my favorite post fight speeches ever. It gets me excited about the rest of the fights, and I go downstairs to find a restaurant or bar that is showing the PPV.

I search around for almost a half hour, until I’m finally told that because of the post weigh-in madness yesterday that all bars had been told to pull the PPV. I decide to just order it on Fight Pass before I miss any more of the fights. By the time I get signed in and have the fights on, Jeremy Stephens is seconds away from flying kneeing Bermudez into unconsciousness. Perfect timing.

The production on the new PPV looks great, and they kick off the title fights with a cool projector presentation on a blank canvas that they pull over the cage floor. It’s one of my career goals to have a clip on one of these UFC montages.

Rory enters the arena to Tool, and the champion to Sam & Dave. Both songs are great. Words to describe the fight lie in the realm outside of what I’m capable of. It’s nothing short of amazing, and is equal parts inspiring and tragic, seeing Rory come so far, in his career and in the fight itself, only to be denied again. The belt stays in Florida.

There’s not much I can say about McGregor and Mendes that hasn’t been said. Conor is not only bringing eyes to the sport, but he's setting precedents for how much we as fighters get paid. When people hear about MMA fighters making millions, it's easier to take the sport more seriously.

What is his exact number? I’m curious to know. What we do know is it's enough for him to rent a mansion, name it after himself, and fly his whole team out to stay with him for training camp. It’s enough to land him private jet and police escort status. It’s enough for him to be in the market for a fucking tiger.

Even with all that, it’s a number at which the UFC can afford to pay him, and still turn over a massive profit, otherwise what's the point? Everyone is happy, as they should be. Chad is gracious for the opportunity. Aldo should be thanking his lucky stars he finally has a rival. Even Frankie Edgar is outside the cage, high-fiving the new champion.

It’s impossible to not respect the performance. Just as paramount as Conor’s craftwork inside the cage is the lead up to it, the grooming of the star during his ascension to the top. It is, in my mind, Dana and Lorenzo’s finest moment in singular promotion, and shows us what the Zuffa machine is capable of when it wants to flex it’s promotional muscle in the name of one fighter.

At the end of the day, fighting, and sports in general, is largely about defying the odds in honor of where you come from, should you choose to make that your motivation. In the moments after the fight, we see Conor on his knees, in tears, riding the tidal wave of adrenaline that the last few years has him climaxed in, and he does it all with his country’s flag on his back.

I’m tempted to go downstairs once more to see the celebration, but decide against it. I’m in my thoughts again, dreaming of my own glory.

Tomorrow is a big day for me.

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