Saturday, October 10th, 2015 by Tony Reid
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.
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.
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.
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.