My Time in the Poconos with Renan Barao

July 23rd, 2016 by Tony Reid

Former UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao, a man still considered one of the pound for pound best in the sport, walks the streets of a small town in Northeastern Pennsylvania in near anonymity.

He made the long trip from his home in Brazil to the Keystone State to support teammate and lifelong friend Claudia Gadelha in her new business venture in the well-known vacation region of the Pocono Mountains. The Claudia Gadelha MMA and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy opened its doors less than a year ago and has already taken the area by storm, so such so that the owners are in the process of purchasing a second location.

“I am really happy for Claudia. Now she gets to show her hard work to everybody.” Barao said.

13716024_10154261282845586_8987722125902418816_nMany topics arise when speaking to the shy and soft-spoken Barao at AC’s, a 50’s and 60’s themed diner, found in the same complex as the gym itself. Barao seems to be enjoying himself after A.J. Hiller, the owner and operator of the gym and restaurant, hands Renan a cup full of tokens to try his hand at the wide array of games in the diner’s game room.

Barao, speaking just a few short days after Gadelha’s tough loss to bitter rival Joanna Jedrzejczyk in the main event of the TUF 23 Finale, still has the fight on his mind.

It has been said, behind the scenes, that Claudia may have done too much training leading up to the fight, even to the point of over- training the day of the fight. Her fight camp was exceptionally long, nearly twice as long as most fight camps. The challenger sparred for an unusually long period of time in the moments leading up to the title fight that night. All of these factors can easily lead to an over-trained, underperforming fighter, which is what the world saw that night during International Fight Week.

“With Claudia’s fight she was just tired. She was gassed out. It was just way too much training. The first round was hers but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.” Barao said.

Gadelha dropped the champion in the first round and pulled Jedrzejczyk into deep waters early in the contest but by the third round the champion had regained control of the fight from the wavering hands of the exhausted challenger. Joanna Champion used her vicious Muay Thai striking game to bloody and batter the Gadelha and in the end Jedrzejczyk retained the UFC women’s strawweight title, kept her unblemished record intact and moved to 2-0 against her most heated rival.

The former UFC bantamweight king has had his fair share of obstacles to overcome and setbacks inside and outside of the Octagon in recent years. After a nine plus year, 32 fight unbeaten streak, Barao has now dropped three of his last four fights inside the Octagon.

In one of the greatest upsets the sport has ever seen, Barao’s unblemished streak came to a shocking end when he dropped the bantamweight title in just his second defense in devastating fashion to T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 173 via TKO late in the fifth round of the fight. In a surprising development, the world saw the wresting heavy game that T.J. Dillashaw showcases shift gears, change the gameplan and outstrike the champion throughout the fight. Dillashaw eventually finished Barao with a headkick followed by a few well-placed punches.

An immediate rematch was scheduled to take place at UFC 177 in August of that year but it was not meant to be as Barao was hospitalized the day of weigh ins after becoming ill during the weight cutting process. Barao was cutting weight in the hotel room bathtub when he stood up, lost consciousness and fell and hit his head. He was released from the hospital shortly thereafter but the writing was on the wall. This weight cut was becoming too much for the former champion to endure.

“The cut to 135 was breaking me. It was just too much.” Barao said. “That’s why I decided to move up to 145. When it came time to cut the weight. That was the most difficult time, just knowing that I had to cut back down. That weighed on me mentally and affected my mental health.”

13707685_10154261227385586_5802773160148850872_nAfter picking up a much needed win against Mitch Gagnon Barao was awarded a rematch with Dillashaw for a chance to regain the title. The former champion came up short again, getting stopped in the rematch to Dillashaw at UFC Fight Night Dillashaw vs. Barao 2. A decision was made. It was time to move up a weight class and join the UFC’s featherweight division.

He was welcomed to the deep division by perennial contender Jeremey Stephens at UFC Fight Night 88 in May. Stephens has some of the heaviest hands and most vicious striking in the division. After a back and forth “Fight of the Night” scrap, Stephens emerged the victor on the judge’s scorecards. Barao felt he had done enough to win the fight and refuses to be discouraged by the outcome.

“My previous fight against Jeremy Stephens was probably the hardest I have been hit in a fight.” Barao said. “The result is the result but I feel like I won that fight. I am just chasing after it now. I am ready to get back in there.”

Our Weekend at The MMA Classic Fan Expo in Syracuse, NY

October 10th, 2015 by Tony Reid

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My wife and I hit the road in the pouring rain in the early morning hours of Saturday October 3rd and headed north toward the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse New York for the MMA Classic Fan Expo. Being such a huge fan and supporter of the early days of the UFC and MMA I was extremely excited to meet so many legends and pioneers of early NHB.

 

As soon as we hit the parking lot and the building I couldn’t help but notice the size of the venue. It was a very large building with more than 50 vendor tables, a food court, other large rooms for activities and nearly half of it was sectioned off for the big MMA event to be held on Saturday night.

 

I started to make my rounds and I was like a kid in a candy store. I spoke to the show’s coordinator and MMA Signatures founder A.J. Hiller first. We had spoken in the past and he helped me secure a number of legends who appeared on my ESPN Radio show in the weeks leading up to the event. The first pioneer I ran into was none other than UFC co-founder Art Davie himself. We have spoken on the phone for interviews numerous times but finally meeting him in person and showing him our cover story in Fighters Only (of which I brought a few issues along with me) from a few months back was really special. He was really impressed with the quality of the magazine and we paged through it and he seemed to really enjoy the piece and his pictures! We talked about the major motion picture that will be made of his book “Is This Legal?” He also shared with me that just moments prior he spoke to UFC 1 veteran Gerard Gordeau for the first time in TWENTY years.

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As a kid of the 80’s and early 90’s I was really happy to see The King of the Four Rounders retired boxer, kickboxer and MMA fighter Butterbean. We met The King of the Four Rounders and he could not have been any nicer. I sat and chatted with him at his booth (on his bench) about all kinds of good stuff. He shared war stories with me about leg kicks he took during his career, back room bonuses and other great secrets and stories. We actually saw him at dinner later that night. We were waiting for nearly an hour Bean walks in with his wife and gets seated immediately, even though we had been waiting. I joked “Oh I see how it is…” he laughed and said no but he told me but the next day when I saw him he that he did indeed pull the Butterbean string! We was a joy to talk to over the course of the weekend.

 

We happened to bump into the first women’s UFC strawweight champion in history Carla Esparza. She was super sweet and as nice as could be. We tried to hook up for an interview a few times over the course of the weekend but it just didn’t work out.

 

We met and got to spend some time with Big Daddy Gary Goodridge. Watching him compete back in the day he was always one of those guys that seemed larger than life to me. I had him on my radio show in the weeks leading up to the expo which was actually the first time I had ever talked to him. In person he was a super, super nice dude who always had a smile on his face. He saw each other in passing numerous times around the expo and he mentioned all throughout the weekend that the good looking couple was there, meaning Michelle and I…mostly Michelle I assume. At one point we stopped to talk for a few minutes and he even gave us some marriage advice.

 

It was an absolute honor to finally meet and sit down with the man that owns the first win in UFC history Mr. Gerard Gordeau. He told me (among many other things) that this was the first time he has talked to Art Davie since he fought in the UFC over twenty years ago. He has not been stateside since UFC 2 where he trained and cornered Remco Pardoel. We sat outside and spoke for nearly an hour on topics from the UFC not wanting him to be a part of the recent anniversary festivities to how much he hates the current Zuffa brass. I would have to assume that I conducted the first interview with him in the States in the last twenty plus years. He has some stories as he smoked, and smoked and smoked some more. The look in his eyes, even during the interview process is that of an assassin. I mean that in the nicest possible way.

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Another UFC 1 pioneer that I had interviewed and spoke to a number of times but had yet to meet in person was Art Jimmerson. It was great to meet up with him. He actually took pictures of us and posted all over social media, wearing his one big red glove, of course. The glove has really grown in size over the years. In an interesting side note he actually had a copy of the Fighters Only issue in which our interview appeared right there at his table. We caught up, shared some laughs and had a great convo.

 

I spoke to pioneer Pat Smith for my upcoming book and he really shared some crazy stories for the early days, including a few about Tank Abbott (imagine that), hotel fights, blood, guts and more. He is still an active competitor and is fighting for a championship in a smaller organization very soon.

 

I also ran into the largest athlete in the world Emanuel Yarbrough and sat and spoke to him at length. He also shared some great stories about his experience in the UFC, his fight with Keith Hackney and so much more and as an added bonus he used the word loquacious numerous times during our interview, which I enjoyed greatly.

 

Another one of the early NHB and UFC pioneers that looked (at the time) like he would literally eat your face off is Paul Varelans. But I shouldn’t have judged “The Polar Bear” book by its cover. Paul is a great interview and great guy to convesate with. He was very open and honest. He’s been off the grid for years now, just recently coming back on the scene. He said that in coming back he realized that he was missed and that there was even a market for his signature because there were literally none on the market. He suffered from depression after the way his time and end of the run with the UFC shook out. He is getting things back in order and he’s actually working on a standup comedy routine. He shared a few jokes with us and he was pretty funny. I hope it works out for him.

 

The one and only, “The Beast” Dan Severn was the man of the weekend. There was a very cool Dean Martin style roast of the beast. I was lucky enough to attend and watch roast master Jonas Barnes, MMA legends Enson Inoue, Paul Varelans, Brian Ebersole and Don Frye roast some beast. Frye came to the stage carrying a six pack and proceeded to roast the roast master, Severn and anyone else he felt like ripping, all in good Frye fun, of course.

 

As I just mentioned the man of all men Don Frye was in attendance all weekend. Let’s just say Don Frye was being Don Frye all weekend and I enjoyed every second of it.

 

The longest line of the weekend award goes to “The Godfather of Ground and Pound” Mark Coleman. He had a steady line of fans at his table all weekend long. We had the chance to catch up for a few minutes as well.

 

How could I forget to mention UFC/MMA Collectibles? There was a sports cards table set up by Dave Sadler and company. Anyone that know me know how much I was involved in the sports collectibles market for most of my life. I had to buy a few packs. It’s my addiction that I kicked cold turkey but every time I walked by the table that weekend it was like the drug dealer on the corner and I was the crackhead.

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What was quite possibly the highlight of the weekend for me was attending the UFC 1 Viewing Party. The entire inaugural UFC event was shown in a private viewing party in which numerous UFC 1 competitors where there to watch with the rest of us. From co-founder Art Davie to competitors Gerard Gordeau, Zane Frazier, Art Jimmerson and Pat Smith, watching that landmark event with those guys present was something very special. There was loud cheering from the fighters, some acting as cheerleaders for the others and overall a great sense of camaraderie thought out the viewing party and the weekend as a whole. There was so much history and so many memoires were in one place at one time. No matter the financial outcome of the expo to pull off what was pulled off, having so many legends in one place at the same time, in itself, made this a truly a special weekend that I won’t soon forget.

My Time at The 7th Annual World MMA Awards and UFC 183 In Las Vegas

February 20th, 2015 by Tony Reid

After my radio show Tuesday evening I headed home to put the finishing touches on our travel plans (mostly luggage) and got ready for the following morning. We left cold and snowy Central Pennsylvania Wednesday morning and drove to Baltimore for a direct flight out of BWI to Sin City to partake in a five day stretch of awesomeness of red carpets and face punching. We got to the airport and bumped into a few friends that were also heading out to Las Vegas for the big fight weekend. Tim Boetsch’s wife Jade and the crew of our good friends were flying on the same flight as we were. Of course Jade was making the trip to see her husband compete at UFC 183.

After the cross country flight we touched down in Sin City shortly after 4pm Wednesday afternoon Pacific Time. After flying all day we just grabbed our bags, a rental car and headed to the time share we were staying at for the duration of our trip. We chose to stay off the strip this time around. It was a great choice because they place was beautiful. We ate some bad food and I tried to connect with everyone I planned on catching up with while in town. From scheduling meeting and interview times with trainers, coaches and fighters to securing tickets for the same people for the World MMA Awards, Wednesday evening was just about firming up plans. With one exception…

The UFC 183 Silva vs. Diaz card was going down at the MGM. There is nothing like being in Las Vegas during a big fight week. The excitement in the air, the ridiculous level of elite fighters mulling around and the lights and sounds of normal Vegas just add to the fun. I could do without the cigarette smoke and five year old kids being dragged through the casinos though.

We hit the MGM to get our schedule in motion late Wednesday night and as we were hanging out with the Octagon caged MGM lion my wife spotted UFC Flyweight Champion and possibly the best pound for pound fighter on the planet Demetrious Johnson and his wife Destiny. We had planned on meeting up at some point over the weekend so there was no better time than now. DJ and Destiny were literally just getting to the hotel, bags in tow. DJ went to grab the hotel key and invited us up to the room to talk right there on the spot. We initially struggled to find the room and eventually headed up to the cardio wing of the MGM, an interesting and ironic name that was not lost on us. We had a great interview and more so a conversation in which Demetrious Johnson showed he is as exciting outside the cage as he is inside it. I know that’s really saying something but its 100% true. I hope to show that side of him in the material I gathered that day. His wife even went so far to say that people think he has the personality of a coffee mug and that the thought couldn’t be further from the truth. Some of those mugs have pretty funny sayings on them. I digress. We wrapped it up with the UFC Flyweight Champion of the world, saying our thank yous and goodbyes and made it back to the casino floor of the MGM.

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For those of you that are unaware, the hub, and the hot spot for fighter spotting for the hardcore fan is the fountain area by the hotel elevators in the MGM. Clearly the fighters all must walk by that area to get to the elevators at some point throughout the day. In our comings and goings we saw a few autograph seekers hanging out there, pretty much, the entre five day stretch we were in town. I hope they at least stopped to eat and sleep at some point.

Thursday began with an in room tux fitting for the follow days Fighters Only World MMA Awards. We hit the MGM for an “Ultimate Media Day” open to media and MMA fans alike. On the way we made a must stop pit stop at The Las Vegas Fight Shop in Planet Hollywood on the strip. I love the place because there is so much, almost too much MMA goodness per square foot. For the record I didn’t not purchase an $80 t-shirt, for anyone that is curious.

The Ultimate Media day might have been ultimate for media and the fans in the front row of the hall but for anyone else it was elbows to assholes. I was on the fan side of the fence and decided I would be better suited to reach out to the fighters I had planned on talking to instead of wading through hundreds of people. I reached out to Jimy Hettes who was lounging up in his room with his team playing cards. He invited us to come up and hang out. We did an impromptu interview in the middle of Jimy’s card game. The whole crew of guys were fun and great to talk to and it was good to talk to a guy who could understand our struggle of cold and snow back in PA.

Although it looks like we are going a mile a minute and its non-stop action when we are on a trip like this, truth be told there is a lot of downtime, a lot of hits and just as many misses as far as meeting up, scheduling interviews and even something as simple as stopping to talk for a few minutes.

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Friday was a day that was all about getting ready for the evenings red carpet, pre party, awards ceremony and after party for the 7th Annual World MMA Awards. My wife went to great lengths to prepare for a walk on the red carpet and she did not disappoint. She was the most beautiful person in the building that night. We picked up our tickets earlier in the day and prepared for a great night. We got dressed to the nines and headed over to the Venetian, where the event was being held. We were actually the first to hit the red carpet that night. As you can imagine it was a star studded affair from MMA luminaries to celebrities striking a pose on the carpet from Randy Couture to TV stars such as Joe Fatone and MMA personalities. We met up with Mike Beltran immediately after exiting the red carpet. He was nominated for Referee of the Year. He was one of the nicest and most genuine people I have met in the sport. We introduced each other to our wives and talked for a few minutes.

We hang around and took it all in for a few minutes, running into Fighters Only President and CEO Rob Hewitt, among others as we made our way back toward the theatre and the VIP cocktail pre show party. There were two levels to the pre party festivities. The top level was VIP but the lower level was VVIP. Before I was told that I didn’t know something like that existed. For what’s its worth we were in the real VIP party last year and had the time of our lives. We were told there were a few minor glitches in the ticket making and organizing process this year. We were not in the VVIP. The horror! We went to the regular old VIP party and struck up conversation with a number of awesome people, including again, Mike Beltran and another referee of the year nominee Jason Herzog. We chatted it up with them for a good while. I decided to head back down toward the lobby and in doing so I bumped in to Ryan Kiser who was an absolute pleasure to deal with all weekend. He was handling a good bit of the event coordination, if you will. Michelle approached him on a few occasions and he was more than helpful and great to talk to. I saw Ryan as I was heading down the steps as I passed the aforementioned VVIP section. He asked me why we weren’t in there and I said I wasn’t sure. He led us by hand into the VVIP party.

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The first person I saw when I got in the room standing to my right was none other than Jose Canseco. Are you kidding me? I knew this was where I needed to be! I politely asked for a picture (contrary to popular belief I don’t ask for many, if any pictures.) He obliged and we began to make our way around the room. It was a who’s who of MMA luminaries. One right after the next. The best part about it was finally seeing people I talk to all year in person. It’s like seeing a long lost friend. From talking to the Askrens (Ben and Amy) to meeting Michael Chandler and his wife and more than I can mention here. We spoke to Chris Beal, who was up for Knockout of the Year at the awards show.  I met Michael Bisping for the first time after all these years. I finally ran into Emanuel Newton after all of our conversations and interactions this year. Bruce Buffer was chilling at the bar with Arianny Celeste. My wife had to go meet Joey Fatone who was at the bar. I met Mr. Fatone but as a grown ass man didn’t want to ask for a picture with him. I did tell him how much I enjoyed his bit on a recent episode of Impractical Jokers, which I think got the biggest reaction out of him all night. He was genuinely excited to talk about the show and his appearance. She also had a nice conversation with former Bellator ring card girl Jade Bryce. Kevin Randleman and crew were in the house. We spoke to all-time great and MMA icon Randy Couture for a minute. It was just a great, great time. It was one of those kinds of parties.

 

 

10961801_10152999529335586_851800836_nSo after enjoying ourselves immensely we made our way to the beautiful Venetian Theatre for the actual awards show. We entered and as I handed my ticket to the usher we made our way down, down, down to our seats. We were seated fourth row from the stage, center stage. I had to ask Ariel Helwani to stand up so I could get to my seat. I actually sat right next to him. We were surrounded by the who’s who in the MMA and entertainment industry. It was an amazing and humbling experience. The show was fantastic. Like I have said many times before it’s like the Oscars of MMA. Black tie, red carpet all class all the way. There is nothing else remotely close to it in our industry and I was happy to be a small part of it.

After the awards show all of these amazing people are filing out of the building at the same time. I congratulated Duane Bang Ludwig on his second consecutive award for Coach of the Year. I also congratulated T.J. Dillashaw on an amazing year. I bumped into UFC Welterweight Champion Robbie Lawler just a few moments after he won Fighter of the Year. We agreed to meet the next morning for a quick interview for the magazine.

Saturday morning I met up with Robbie Lawler in the food court of the Venetian for a quick interview. Later in the morning we took the rental car out to Xtreme Couture to meet up with Ryan Couture and the rest of the team. I had a great conversation with Ryan, make that an interview that will be in print in the near future. He is such a fun person to talk to, interview or otherwise. He said to make sure I stop back and take a private lesson as he would turn me into a bunch of knots. I’m sure I will be back and I’m as equally sure he will tie me into a knot.

Saturday night, of course was the actual face punching night of UFC 183. You didn’t read this to hear the results of the fight card. We had a great time watching the fights even if they didn’t play out like many of us had hoped. After the event we met PRIDE icon and MMA Legend Mauricio Shogun Rua and Anthony Johnson, among others.

That pretty much wraps up my little blog of my time in Las Vegas. I hope to get back soon and have another blog as fun and entertaining for everyone to read.