As I sat waiting for Saturdays Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix to begin, I realized that what I have taken for granted many people are missing out on and have never attended Zuffa produced event live. If they have been to any MMA event live, it has been to watch a friend fight on a local card. Then it hit me like an overhand right, how about a fans point of view, write about why you should attend these events live rather than on watching on TV.
First you need to secure tickets to the fight; Buy them, win them, get them as a gift, just get some tickets I won’t ask questions. Normally the doors open about 30 minutes before the first fight occurs. You can arrive early and tailgate with the other fans in the parking lot if you want, or not show up until the main event starts, seems everyone has their opinion on the best way to do it. Doors open, no need to worry about rushing or standing in line to get in, usually not many people are waiting to get in right away. Seems that even though people showed up before the doors open most want to continue partaking in parking lot activities. As you get into the concourse of the arena you can hear the promos playing for that evening’s main event, often the same ones you’ve seen on TV. They promote the merchandise booths available throughout the arena, which are hard to miss. After about 10 minutes music starts to play and you begin to wonder if you are in a club. You walk into the arena to check out what is going on, it is pretty empty except around the cage where you see workers making last-minute preparations, then the media, commission, and the rest of the crew taking their places.
If you are in your seat, you will likely find yourself bobbing your head or tapping your foot to the music, then all of a sudden the music stops and you hear the voice of the ring announcer. There are fighters in the cage, all the lights in the arena are on but the fights are about to start. Doesn’t matter, there are less than a 1000 people in the arena at this point, but based on the cheers and applause you would have thought there were 2,000. About 5 minutes after the scheduled start time the ref is telling the men in the cage to fight. Because the crowd is small at this point, the majority of the people in the arena are there to support one of the fighters in the opening bout. Then within a minute of the fights starting, an element you can only truly experience attending live, the crowd commentary begins. It is the classic, “HIT HIM IN THE FACE!” Some would argue this is annoying, but most of the time it is entertaining to me. Here are some examples heard at the Grand Prix:
With fighters on the ground grappling – “Hey Ref, Stand them up or give them a pillow”
Someone from the crowd screaming instructions in Portuguese at Villafort, sorry I can’t translate
During the Villante vs. Mehmen bout – “Put the upper in the middle” (Sorry, I have no clue)
Female screaming across the arena and others join mocking her “FINISH HIM! FINISH HIM!” Guess they thought they were playing Mortal Kombat.
To keep this article somewhat short I’m not providing specifics of every fight, but here is how almost every fight plays out. You get to watch the fighter’s walkout and understand their taste in music. The announcer introduces the fighters inside the cage, there are cheers and boos for both fighters some just louder than others. The fight starts and the crowd will start off cheering, and if nothing happens within the first 20-30 seconds they quit. All of a sudden something happens the crowd thinks is good or bad for their favored fighter and they respond. There are typically three types of responses, and they often occur at the same time.
The first is those in support of the action, which is commonly accompanied with a “GO! GO! GO!” or “YES! YES! YES!” and followed by some noise some of which may not be human. The other response is from those who don’t like what is happening to their fighter. Those responses usually result in a shriek of some kind or the words “NO! NO! NO!”, “GETUP!”, “GET OUT!”, or some other instruction they think the fighter can actually hear and will benefit from if they listen. The 3rd is oohs and ahhs from those who may not have a vested interest in the match, but appreciate the entertainment factor.
As the fights continue, you will notice more and more people flowing into the arena. Interestingly the expensive cage side seats are usually the last to fill up, but by the time the main card begins there are no longer rows that are completely empty. You will notice bright lights next to the cage and the lights in the arena will dim for the rest of the night. This is usually the indication that the TV broadcast has begun and you will notice the commentators talking cage side under those bright lights. Something odd though, you can’t hear them but you can hear the newest Pitbull club song being played by the DJ. This is potentially one of the downfalls of the live event if you enjoy Joe, Goldberg, Mauro, Pat, or Frank. Its ok grab another beer and you will begin to appreciate the music more than the normal voices on the TV.
Ok so no commentary is one difference of a live event but what are some of the others? One of my favorite things about a live event is the arena environment. The crowd is 100 times louder than it sounds on TV. You can literally feel the excitement, and sometimes disappointment, from those around you. If you have ever wondered why someone commentating may say something like, “The crowd is ready to erupt”, go to an event and you will immediately feel it. It is like going to a surprise party and someone tells you the guest of honor is here. You get quiet and wait for that big moment to yell “SURPRISE!” Now imagine what that moment would feel like with thousands of other people, and the moment you are waiting for to yell “Surprise” for is a fighter in danger of being finished. This happens several times during the night.
Another unique aspect about a live event is you can hear the reaction to what they show on TV. When they showed Barnett arriving at the arena, the crowd boo’d pretty loud. The crowd also reacts when “famous people” are shown on the big screen. They show one or two recognizable individuals, you will likely find this is a trigger and start thinking “Huh, wonder who else is here?” You then start to scan the crowd to find out who is there. A scan of the attendance on Saturday night would have yelled, MC Hammer, Nate Marquardt, Tim Kennedy, Cody McKenzie, Ronda Rousey, Tyron Woodley, Luke Rockholdt, Mark Munoz, Chris Weidman, Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, Nate Diaz and Cain Velazquez….
This brings me to the next difference of being their live, it is a place to see or be seen. It brings out athletes, TV/Movie stars, other fighters, and just stars in general. It also brings people who think they are stars who want to be recognized. They can usually be spotted by their outrageous attire. Let’s just say that some people wear things that should never be worn in public, but there are also several people you would like to thank for the outfits. Just one tip for both sexes; If you continually have to pull it up or down to cover a body part up, it is likely too small so don’t get mad when people stare or laugh.
Another aspect of Zuffa events, that is different from other major sports, is that other fighters attend events and interact with the crowd. They sign autographs, take pictures, or will just simply acknowledge you with a hello. Very rarely would you go to an NFL or NBA game and see another player from the same league at the event. I can almost guarantee you will have at least one run in with a popular fighter at an event. Just ask Josh about his run in with Pettis last year in Vegas.
There are a few other items I find to be a benefit of a live event:
- You get to see all aspects of the event. You can see everything that happens not just what the camera shows, including more of the ring card girls. For example: On Saturday several fighters did things like push ups or run around the cage before or after their fight. Watching the replay they didn’t show any of this.
- You can see the emotion of the fighters and those around them. You can see their character when they are walking to and from the cage. You can see how their corner is reacting during the fight, and frequently hear them giving instructions. On TV Mike Kyle was visibly upset in the cage after his loss and even walking out of the cage, but once he got near the fans he totally flipped a switch and started talking to and high fiving fans. They didn’t show this on TV.
- You can make new friends. It is amazing how being at an event can create a bond between people who have never met before. You will likely find yourself talking to those around you and usually having great conversation throughout the night
I have talked about a lot of the positives and one potential negative so far but there are other potential negatives that one could consider a downfall of a live event.
- The view. Yes the view is much better on TV than it is live. They actually show the TV feed in the arena on several large screens. When you are blocked by a cage post, or if you are too far away when the ground game comes into play you will likely watch the screens anyway.
- The crowd. Yes I raved about the environment and crowd, but there is always a bad apple in the bunch. There is going to be that fan that is too loud, too drunk, or too vulgar for your liking. There was a guy sitting behind me who basically made noises all night and I am not sure if he ever said an actual word. The best advice I can give for someone attending a live fight: Half the crowd likes MMA, the other half likes violence and you will need to be able to deal with both. I should note that I don’t think I have ever seen a fight in the crowd at an event though.
- Time Commitment. If you want to watch every fight live, you are going to spend 5-6 hours at the arena. On Saturday the first fight started about 4:30PM and the last fight ended a bit after 9:00PM, and this was only a 9 fight card most are 12 to 13. If a lot of the fights end early, there will be downtime between fights where you have nothing but those around you and the music to occupy your time. If the televised fights end early, they will often replay the prelim fights to fill up TV time, you already watched these fights live.
- Cost. It is not cheap to attend the events. If it is a PPV a cheap ticket is probably going to be $75-$125. If it is a “free” card on cable TV a cheap ticket is probably $50-$75. Problem is there are usually not many “cheap” tickets and the next tier of ticket is a nice little jump in price. Then there are other items you have to factor in such as parking and over priced concessions.
Ok enough being a Debi Downer. If you enjoy other sporting events live the bottom line is you probably should attend at least one event promoted by Zuffa in your life. Their production is top-notch and having been to several events put on by other promotions, there is no doubt that a Zuffa event is the gold standard in MMA. For your first time I would suggest that you go to a card where you are interested in a specific fight or fighter. This will hopefully make your experience better and make you want to return. At this point, even if I don’t have any vested interest in a fight card, I would prefer to watch it live instead of on TV. If you decide to go and don’t like it, at least you can say you tried but I have a feeling you might be hooked!