Over the last couple of years, I had heard from a few friends and colleagues that the atmosphere at a big fight in Las Vegas was something to behold. Saturday night provided me with that opportunity, as Rampage Jackson stepped back into the Octagon to battle his arch nemesis, Rashad Evans, in one of the most anticipated MMA bouts in recent years at UFC 114.
So what better excuse to say Vegas, baby! Vegas!
It was my first chance to soak up the experience and I must say; what a vibe. What sort of hype was there for this fight? The day prior, there were around nine thousand people on hand for the weigh in. The freaking weigh in!
First off, with a fight held at the MGM Grand and Casino, you're immediately off on the right start with no shortage of dodgy looking people that you would normally find at a gambling hall. Add in a few thousand Affliction and Tap Out shirts along with endless sleeves of tattoo ink up and down scores of dude's arms, and finish it off with some ridiculously beautiful women sprinkled throughout the sea of testosterone and voila; you've got a fight night!
It's a very simple mindset that people attending a UFC event have. They want blood. No one wants a wrestling match; they want a knockout - and a crippling one at that. Think Henderson/Bisping, Jackson/Wanderlai Silva, and you've got the idea. Show any signs of applying wear down holds or trying to maintain your leverage, and you'll get a restless crowd turning on you in an instant.
The first taste of the crowd really heating up on Saturday came during the bout between Jason Brilz and Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera. Brilz was a last minute replacement on the card and was a heavy underdog who came in and dominated but still lost via decision, reaffirming my UFC theory that whenever a fight goes to the judges, the more bankable commodity wins. The crowd sure disagreed with decision, but their spirits were lifted quickly by the introduction of some of the stars located around ringside.
MC Hammer was tough to miss hanging at ringside, trying to be too legit to quit. It's good to know he's finally given up on those baggy pants that looked like inflated Zubaz from 20 years ago. Tough guy Chuck Zito was floating around the room looking like he could still put people through walls. Comic Russell Peters seemed to be having a blast too. Mike Tyson - once the baddest man on the planet - was given a loud ovation for his years of entertaining Vegas during his reign of terror, but no one was greeted more warmly than hip-hop icon Snoop Dogg. If someone embodies what Vegas is all about, it's the Doggfather.
Sitting four rows from the cage let's you realize how hard the heavyweights can throw down and Todd Duffy and Mike Russow provided the divesting knockout of the night that everyone was hungry for. The chiseled and much younger Duffy looked to be well on his way to another win when his opponent, who looked like he swallowed a watermelon, one-punched his way to a surprising out of nowhere win. Fights like that one are what make the sport so appealing and what keeps us all coming back for more. You've always got a puncher's chance and anything can happen.
I have to give the UFC a lot of credit with how they give fans a chance to mingle with the fighters. In addition to meet-and-greets all week long at various venues, fighters are interspersed throughout the crowd on fight night - and in saying that no one seemed to be having more fun than aging scrapper Mark Coleman taking pictures with everyone...whether they wanted to or not.
Remember that crazy ovation for Snoop I was telling you all about? Well, if the D-O-double-G embodies what the spirit of Vegas is, imagine the reaction Spurs star Tim Duncan got being introduced to the crowd. The Big Fundamental gets better treatment on the road against the Rockets and Lakers than he did from this crowd. It must also be noted as anyone who has been to any of the UFC cards in Montreal has seen firsthand already; ring girl Arianny is almost worth the admission alone.
Main event time and the MGM is going nuts; loud chants throughout the building with people screaming 'Ram-page! Ram-page!' I've got goose bumps. Maybe it's because there's a sense from almost everyone at ringside that hopefully some blood or a tooth will land on them.
The fight itself was good...not great, with Rashad Evans coming away with a decisive unanimous decision win over Jackson. People still enjoyed the bout but for a fight built up for over a year, people wanted epic. Guess that's what the rematch is for.
As for the rest of my Sin City experience fight weekend, you know the rule. What happens in Vegas...