The Art of UFC

I hate violence, but immersing myself in the UFC Fan Expo helped me grow to appreciate MMA fighting

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Joanna Kao—The TechFormer Olympic wrestler and UFC heavyweight champion Mark Coleman (center right) poses with fans in the exhibition hall.
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UFC lightweight fighter Clay C. Guida signs autographs for a young fan Friday morning.
Joanna Kao—The Tech
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Canadian Mixed Martial Arts fighter Shawn Tompkins (right) teaches a right hook during a training session. He emphasized starting with a jab and punching with the shoulders.
Joanna Kao—The Tech
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Two Brazilian Jiujitsu fighters compete in Grapplers Quest, a grappling tournament held at the UFC Fan Expo August 27 and 28.
Joanna Kao—The Tech

I’m not a sports fanatic in any sense. I don’t follow the Red Sox or the Bruins, and I absolutely hate seeing blood or watching people get punched out.

So the idea of me going to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Fan Expo sounds like an utter disaster, right? Actually, no. I left the two-day event at the Hynes Convention Center last weekend with a newfound appreciation for the sport and greater admiration for the fighters.

Going into the expo, I was apprehensive at first. I worried that I was going to faint from seeing a lot of blood. But once I stepped into the convention hall, it was impossible not to get caught up in all the excitement that everyone was feeling (even though I had only learned what “UFC” stood for days before).

This was first time that the UFC had ever been to Boston. Bruce Buffer, the main announcer for the UFC, said, “The people that come to the show [are] going to see an experience... that’s probably far beyond any great rock concert they’ve ever been to. The excitement level is beyond imagination.”

The two-day fan expo was packed with autograph signings, question-and-answer sessions with prominent figures from the UFC, training and development sessions with professional fighters, and exhibitions by hundreds of vendors, all leading up to UFC 118: Edgar vs. Penn 2, the big fight that happened Saturday night.

What struck me was how freely the fighters mingled with the fans. Within the first ten minutes of stepping into the exhibition hall, I ran into my first fighter, Clay “The Carpenter” Guida. Literally. I had been walking around, somewhat blindly and looking lost, when I turned around and found Guida directly in front of me. He looked at me, extended his hand, and said, “Thanks for coming.” He posed for a photo and continued on, leaving fans in his wake gushing, “Oh my god, I can’t believe that just happened.” I have to admit, even I was a little starstruck.

Many of the fighters almost blended into the crowd while walking around the exhibition hall. I didn’t really know who any of the famous fighters were, but it was easy to figure out. The crowd would gasp and point as the fighters walked through.

Later, I interviewed welterweight champion Mike “Quicksand” Pyle.

As I pulled out my voice recorder, Pyle gestured toward it. “Closer!” he said. I inched the recorder toward his face. “A little closer!”

Faster than I could react, he twisted his head forward and chomped down on my wrist.

He grinned at me. Pyle was a jokester. When I told him I was from MIT, he said, “MIT? I don’t even know how to spell that. Oh wait, I just did.”

He also gave a shoutout to his MIT fans. “MIT people. Thanks for tuning in with us. We appreciate it. It’s all you guys who support us who keep us going,” he said.

The lines for autographs moved quickly on Friday morning, but grew as the event progressed. Some took as long as two to three hours to get through, especially for top fighters such as light heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.

I got the opportunity to talk to Ryan Bader, a top-ten ranked light heavyweight fighter, at an autograph signing early Friday morning. “[My] favorite part is giving back to the fans and then interacting with them,” he said. “That’s what really makes the sport, and that’s what’s great about MMA.”

One of the most interesting events at the fan expo was the training and development sessions. For $100, fans got to attend a two hour workshop with a fighter to improve their MMA techniques, learn warm-ups, and acquire coaching tips.

It was interesting to watch and learn from the best (although the room wasn’t the best smelling room after the first ten minutes). I had no knowledge of any MMA techniques, but I was still able to pick up some intense warm-ups and a few simple moves such as the “high crotch single leg dump” (watch out — don’t jump me in dark alleys). The fighters gave every participant individual attention, even in the larger sessions where there were 30-40 people.

The most popular events were the question-and-answer sessions with Chuck Liddell, a UFC Hall of Famer, and Dana White, the president of the UFC. Liddell got declarations of love, questions about his plans for the future, and whether he would fight Tito Ortiz, referring to a controversy from April where they were scheduled to fight but Ortiz pulled out due to an earlier injury.

At White’s Q&A, a fan in the audience told a touching story about her husband’s success in the amateur fighting circuit before being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis just a few weeks prior.

The final scheduled fan expo event was the “Are You Smarter Than a UFC Octagon Girl” contest. This featured two UFC “octagon girls” — assistants to the fighters in the ring — Arianny Celeste and Chandella Powell, and fans were tested on UFC trivia against the girls. I didn’t find this as exciting because 1) I’m not into watching scantily-clad women as much as some of the other UFC fans are and 2) I don’t know much about UFC.

While all these events were going, there was also a grappling tournament held by Grappler’s Quest. Grappling is essentially MMA without strikes. Over 500 fighters signed up to compete, and these matches were fun for spectators, since they were able to watch the techniques the grapplers were using up close.

The main event for the Grappler’s Quest was the Super Fight. Over the course of two days, there were four super fights. All the fights started out slowly, but by the last 90 seconds of the match, the grappling had picked up and the crowd cheered with each reversal (switch of positions).

In all, I found the event to be very eye-opening and a great introduction to the UFC. I found myself looking up UFC results first thing the next morning. Since the event, I’ve had a very different view of the UFC. Before going, I thought that the UFC was filled with angry people who just liked watching people beat each other up; now, I learned that the UFC is filled with fighters who work extremely hard in training and want nothing more but to provide people with entertainment. I can’t wait until the next time they make a stop in Boston. I’ll definitely be there.