UFC 133 Recap: Rattling the Cage Style

Monday, August 22nd, 2011 by Tony Reid

When it was first announced that the UFC was returning to Philly for UFC 133 in August I was excited for a number of reasons. The first reason was the fact that there was another east coast show within driving distance for us. The second reason was the fact that the card was shaping up to be a very entertaining one. I was looking forward to seeing Phil Davis take that next step up in competition to take on Rashad Evans. I thought the Rich Franklin and Lil Nog fight would be very entertaining. Belfort and Akiyama would be interesting. As a fan I was pumped. As a journalist I was equally pumped. I went on Ebay and scooped up a pair of tickets in one of those fancy luxury box deals. That would be the first time I sat in one of those. I started reaching out to anyone that would be in town that weekend to set up a few interviews for the magazine. I had been in touch with Jorge Gurgel, who I had just interviewed and was featuring in a piece in an upcoming issue, I approached him about doing a small behind the scenes with Rich Franklin and he was setting it up for me. I reached out to Rashad, Stitch, Johny Hendricks’ crew, Mike Brown, Nam Phan; the list goes on and on. Life was good as everything seemed to be working out well.

Then it all changed. As we all know by now, Phil Davis had to pull out of his fight after suffering an injury to his leg in practice. Rich Franklin was left without an opponent at the last possible minute after Nogueira had to pull out so late Joe Silva couldn’t find a replacement. You know it’s pretty damn late when Silva can’t work his magic. There were a few other alterations to the fight card. When the dust settled the main event was now scheduled to be Rashad Evans vs. Tito Ortiz. The Belfort vs. Akiyama fight was now bumped up to the co-main event of the evening. As a fan I was excited to see Tito added to the card because out of all the live UFC events I have been to I had yet to see him fight in person. With all of the scrambling around to fill out the card there was another cool addition to the prelims in that my old buddy Paul Bradley finally got his break and was pitted against Natal.

Early Saturday morning we hit the PA Turnpike and headed about 3 hours east toward the City of Brotherly Love. We arrived mid morning and Stitch had informed me the night before that everyone was staying at the Marriott, so I made a beeline there as soon as we hit town. By some minor miracle we found street parking just a few blocks from the Marriott and made our way there. We entered the hotel to find a few kids with TapouT shirts and hats on carrying magazines waiting for the next fighter to walk by to snag an autograph outside of the Starbuck’s. I made my way to the lounge area and set up shop for the weekend. As we were getting our bearings there were a number of fighters just milling around. Guys like Alexander Gustaffsson, Anthony Johnson, Dennis Hallman and Brian Ebersole just to name a few. I was in the process of getting ahold of Stitch to do our interview when I noticed Kenny Florian signing a few autographs nearby. I had been harassing him through email, on LinkedIn, etc. over the past few weeks to set something up. He was more than happy to do the interview after running to his room for a few minutes. He came back down and we had a very cool on camera interview.  For the record Kenny and I will find the best cheese steak next time we are both in town. He couldn’t get one this time around, due to that minor detail of cutting weight for his upcoming title fight with Jose Aldo.

A few minutes later I heard back from Stitch via text message. He asked me to call him when I got to town but I had sent a text that he had slept through. While I was waiting for him to come down I bumped into Charlie Brenneman and his fiancé. Michelle actually started up a conversation before I could get a word in. Stitch walks over and him and Charlie greet each other and talk for a minute before I pulled Stitch away. We joked that I was his wakeup call that turned into a sleep through text. Michelle, who was my camerawoman for the weekend, got her stuff together and we were good to go. With every question I asked Stitch seemed genuinely impressed with the line of questioning. After every answer we would stop and say things like “Wow Tony you really did your homework” or “Michelle does he question you like this at home?” We had a great interview that lasted about 15 minutes and covered a ton of information. With his infectious personality, his openness and his love for the fighters and the sport, it was easy to see why he is loved by so many people in the fight game. In general I try to make any interview I do more of a conversation and less of a “21 questions” type of scenario. I would rather talk to my interview subject as if we were having a drink at the bar or conversation over dinner like old friends. That is definitely what this meeting turned into. After a great interview Stitch offered to go up to his room and wrap my hands just as he had for so many fighters during his illustrious career. Sure enough about five minutes later he returned with his bag of tricks and began taping my hands as if I was fighting Rashad or Tito. The entire time he just had amazing story after story. He talked about how he wraps Forrest’s hands, as he did for his two biggest victories, against Bonnar and against Shogun. Stitch tells me about wrapping Fedor’s hands the previous weekend, just as he’s wrapping mine now. He also throws in a pretty amazing piece of information. I was the first reporter whose hands he has ever wrapped.  To say that was an honor is a huge understatement. The scene we were creating well, created a scene. A number of people came over and started watching the process, taking pictures, taking video and we even had a member of the hotel’s security staff approach us to see if someone was really hurt. After he finished wrapping my hand he cut the wrap off and autographed it. It is now a permanent fixture on the wall in my office.

Another cool moment after interviewing Stitch was the fact that Chael Sonnen was sitting on the couch right behind us. Stitch and I actually turned around at one point, they greeted each other and Stitch introduced me. Chael shook my hand and said he remembered me…which was really cool and really funny. I had interviewed him before but we had never met in person. That is pretty cool that Chael pretended to know me. We spoke for a few minutes; I thanked him for his time and a great interview (from months ago) and said that I would love to do that on a regular basis. He was one of the most polite, accommodating and well mannered fighters I have met. He was just hanging out in the lobby, at the restaurant, in the lounge area with friends, shooting the shit.

I just happened to bump into Greg Murray and Johny Hendricks in the lobby shortly after the interview with Stitch. Greg was “The sheriff” for Johny and Team Takedown that weekend and we had communicated a bunch leading up to the weekend in order to get a few interviews lined up. They were headed up to get one last workout in for Johny before the fight. I got a text shortly after inviting us up to the workout area in the hotel. This is the place that you see on all of the “Behind the Scenes” features on the UFC DVDs. We were waiting in the hall as the guys were finishing up the workout. At that time Bruce Buffer happened to walk by and Michelle made it a point to approach him and thank him again for doing the intro at our wedding reception. He was happy that we were happy. At that point Greg came out to get us and we headed into the workout room to interview Johny. He was cooling down and we just had as seat on the floor in the room and did the interview right there. He was a very personable and funny guy, which led to a great interview. Immediately after that I interviewed Marc Laimon. I know he has a reputation and I didn’t know what to expect going in to the interview. It turns out we hit it off and actually talked for 25 minutes or so. The conversation included BJJ, MMA and the like but also Arrested Development, Tobias Funke and other TV and movie subjects as well as gaming. It went really well. As we were running around we passed Rory McDonald and a number of other guys getting their last workout in before the fights that night. We also we right by the rooms that they do the pre fight interviews in. It is very possible that someone was being misted with water as they shadowboxed as we passed by. These are all very cool details of the trip for a nerd like me.

I missed Mike Brown and Nam Phan, who I had planned on meeting up with at some point that weekend. I heard from Mike later, he said his family had taken him hostage and out to celebrate after his win and he was enjoying time with them. How could I argue with that? I haven’t heard from Nam, also understandable after another crushing loss.

Another interesting tidbit from the weekend…I got my exercise by running back and forth between the hotel and my car, parked blocks away to ensure I had enough money in the meter. At one point in my rushing back and forth I literally bumped into Mario Yamasaki as he was coming out of the CVS. We greeted each other and he proceeds to tell me that he nearly got in a fight in the store. Apparently there was a guy yelling and kicking the stroller his small child was sitting in and Mario took exception, going as far as getting in his fighting stance, hands up waiting for the loser to start somthin’. We joked about it on the way back to the hotel, I said I would catch up with him later for an interview but time was not on my side. Sorry Mario!

I won’t bore you with the details of the fights themselves. I’m sure you have that information already. If not, then what the hell are you doing? It has been a few weeks now. How could you cal yourself a fan of the sport or the UFC? Sorry, anyhow I just wanted to give you a (somewhat) behind the scenes look at a UFC Event, Rattling the Cage style. There will be even more in depth features coming up in the very near future as we are going to keep it tight like Dennis Hallman’s banana hammock.