Thursday, March 8, 2007

Fight or flight

By Brooke Williams

I am not what you'd call a mixed martial arts enthusiast. But I was curious to see what all the Ultimate Fighting Championship fuss was about. So last Saturday, March 3, armed with a press credential, I joined the sold-out throng of people making their way into Nationwide Arena.

That's right, I said sold out. Tickets started at $50, with some octagon-side seating tagged at $400 apiece. Unless Barbra Streisand was singing the national anthem, the sellout was baffling to me. Even chart-topping mop-top John Mayer didn't sell out Nationwide Arena last week, and those tickets topped out at $50.

Ever more determined in my quest to understand the siren call of UFC, I pressed onward.

The media center—a room directly under the arena seating—featured a bar, some laptop plug-ins and a half-dozen middle-aged male reporters with their pit-drenched sleeves rolled up, their brows furrowed over what seemed like their millionth scoop.

A few eyebrows raised the silent question, "Aren't you a few weeks late for the Justin Timberlake concert, little girl?" I met their glances with my best, "I'm very, very serious about journalism" face and marched into the arena.

It was only 8 p.m. (the marquee fighters wouldn't enter the octagon for two more hours), but it was already packed. There were some women—the trophy-girlfriend tube-top quotient seemed high—but the crowd was mostly composed of frat guys, ex-frat guys, anyone who has ever driven anything with a Hemi, and the heavily tribal tattooed.

I didn't blend in very well, to say the least.

I made it to the reserved octagon-side seating, where I tried to chat up my neighbors in the interest of research. I asked the man beside me if he was a member of the press. "No, I'm just a fan! A huge fan! My wife got the tickets," he bellowed in a thick Jersey accent over the roar of the crowd, as two fighters made their way into the arena.

I politely asked his wife, "Do you mind me asking how much you paid for these seats?" She looked me up and down and said, "Ughmmnnn," then chugged a beer. Fair enough.

Seconds later, I was joined by a husky gent who had recently fallen into a vat of Drakkar Noir and alcohol. "Is your boyfriend sitting here?" he slurred over the sound of the fighters' crunching bones.

"No one's sitting here," I replied, and ran for it.

Soon after, I decided that I'd enjoy the match more from a more comfortable seat, like the one in front of the big TV screen at home. I eventually packed up and did exactly that—it was glorious.

So what if I wasn't sitting next to Ken Griffey or Joe Rogan? I didn't have to watch the Couture-Sylvia fight through a mesh cage, I didn't get bled on, and the only person flirting with me was my fiancé.


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