I leave this afternoon for the World Team Championships in Florida. Maybe it’s narcissism or maybe it’s the inability to think of anything else to write about, but I thought it would be interesting to chronicle the experience of traveling with an MMA organization in a series of blog posts. If that doesn’t interest you, I don’t really care. Start your own blog. And no, I won’t link to it.
If you’re still with me, then let us begin.
The IFL travel schedule has slowed down a lot in recent months. There was a time in the spring when we were putting on shows all across the country every 3-4 weeks. That starts to wear on you, especially if, like me, you don’t like flying and would generally rather be at home with your girlfriend.
I’m not complaining, because I do like these trips in a way. Staying in hotels, running into Ken Shamrock in the elevator, drinking with Don Frye in the hotel bar — that’s fun stuff for an MMA nerd like me. And I can’t complain about the workload, because my only really busy night is fight night, and then I get paid to sit ringside with a laptop and write about what I see. It’s basically the best job I could imagine at this point in my life.
The strange thing is that, even though the IFL has taken me all over the United States in the past year, I don’t feel like I’ve really been anywhere. Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, Moline, Oakland, Los Angeles — it’s all the same city when you live out of hotels, eating in the same restaurants, drinking in the same bars. We just go from the airport to the hotel, from the hotel to the arena, the arena back to the hotel, and then back to the airport and home again. I could tell you which Marriott’s are better than others (the one near LAX is like a resort; the one near the Sears Centre in Chicago is crap), but that’s about it.
The most interesting things at these events – aside from the actual fights, which are great – are usually the things I see or hear or am otherwise tangentially involved in before and after the show. You can really see the difference between the teams by how they conduct themselves just hanging around the hotel.
The Silverbacks, for instance, are always together. They eat together, cut weight together, sit around in the lobby bored together – it’s amazing. The Wolfpack are always pissed off about something, and they don’t hesitate to let you know about it.
The Anacondas party harder (once the fights are over) than any other team, bar none. If you don’t believe me, just try and keep up with Benji Radach. You’ll be in bad shape in the morning when he’s coming out of the elevator with a bell cart loaded down with beer, laughing all the while and terrifying the hotel staff.
The Pitbulls are always late getting anywhere, but they seem to be having more fun than anyone else. There also seem to be more of them, owing mainly to the Brazilian guys who aren’t technically on the team but are always hanging around in a Pitbulls jersey anyway (one of them once jokingly called Jamal Patterson, in broken English, a “metrosexual”, to which Patterson responded, “Motherf*cker, you just learned that word today.”)
It’s strange sometimes to see how the fighters react to seeing one another for a day or two before the fight. Some are friendly, some aren’t, and some are just uncomfortable. For some of them, the first time they see the man they’re about to face is an accidental meeting in the hotel lobby. Very rarely are there hard feelings between guys before bouts, but they still have to prepare themselves mentally to go out and beat the other man.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about professional fighters, it’s that the successful ones are usually the ones who are able to flip a switch in their mind when the time comes. They don’t let the stress of sitting around waiting, giving interviews, and taking pictures get to them too much. The Brazilians have a special gift for this, I think.
I can remember sitting in my hotel room the day of an event and listening to Renzo Gracie and his entire team in the next room, watching Rocky Balboa on pay-per-view and making fun of it all the way through, as if it was just a lazy afternoon. That ability to stay relaxed really helps when the pressure starts to build.
No matter what they say about Thursday’s fights being no different than any others, I think they all know it’s not true. These guys want to win the team championship just as much as they want to win their individual fights. It’s not just extra money in their pocket (though that’s a part of it), it’s also bragging rights. It should be interesting to see what the atmosphere is like when I get to Florida – who’s stressing out, who’s not as worried as they probably should be, and who looks like they’re ready to kill everyone in the room.
However it unfolds, I’ll keep you posted.