(LargeMidget, Karmaatemycat, and Joe.)
Better late than never, right? Here’s the first installment of Jeff Watts‘s UFC 128/TUF 14 tryout saga. Thanks to everyone who helped make it possible, and stay tuned for more…
After waiting several weeks and training hard I left my humble abode with intentions to make the most out of an amazing experience. I remember driving to Milwaukee, WI, just thinking that no matter what happened, haters were going to hate and my real supporters were going to be there when the dust settled, and I was right. So I got a last minute flight to Newark, NJ, and arrived at my destination at 12am on Saturday, March 19th. I spent the remaining part of the night in the airport with other members of the gym. We checked into the hotel at 7am and spent the majority of Saturday morning sleeping.
Saturday March 19th
I woke up early afternoon and did what I had to do to get ready for the day. The Marriot in Newark had some really cool people working there; they gave the guys and I a quiet place to do some sparring and pad work. After working out I got a text message; I can’t remember who it came from but they essentially told me that LargeMidget had an extra ticket to UFC 128. I wasted no time getting his contact information and contacting him. He told me that he and his friend Joe were three hours out and had an extra ticket I could have, so I got some food in me and headed downtown.
I arrived to the Prudential Center about an hour earlier than I had to. It was insane outside; the stadium square was packed elbow to elbow and a who’s who of the MMA universe was there. It was something to see. They really did their best to accommodate the fans. Chuck Liddell, Stephen Bonnar, and Donald Cerrone were only a few of the faces out and about. I decided to sit back for a bit and see how this all played out because it all fascinates me — the fans and the sport. It’s like #WIN. I waited for the crowd to die down to see who was still going to be chill with the fans and maybe get an autograph. It wasn’t much longer and the entire crowd began to to shuffle into the building and find their seating. Meanwhile I still didn’t have my ticket which was fine by me because I was able to see that Donald Cerrone is one of the most fan-dedicated fighters out there. The dude was in the cold in a Cowboy Hat and a thin-ass jacket signing autographs all the way to the last person. He signed one for me, Karmaatemycat. It was a pretty unique experience to see another fighter as supportive to his fans as they are to him.
Shortly after, Cerrone went in from the barren wasteland of cold that was Newark, NJ. LargeMidget and I had the opportunity to play an extensive game of ‘eye spy’ and phone tag which finally led us to connecting on the west side of the arena. I remember when we walked through the hallways on our way to get to our seats Brandon Vera and Dominick Cruz where hanging out in the hallways while Clay Guida was being interviewed. I yelled over to Brandon Vera that I thought he was a beast and told him that I was in town for the tryouts and about my situation. He told me that no matter what happened that I should persist in getting a tryout and show I wasn’t leaving without a chance. While walking around I found some Boost Mobile girls taking pictures with Virtual Shogun Rua and Jon Jones. Once we made it to our seats we were able to see most of the undercard go down.
Benavidez and Loveland were referred to as Harry Potter vs Frodo Baggins at a certain point in the matchup. I remember seeing Kurt Pellegrino walking out to the cage and hearing everyone cheer for him. I was aware then that it was not likely to be a night I would soon forget. From the punch that Erik Koch threw that knocked out Raphael Assuncao, to the match that saw Ricardo Almeida out-pointed by Mike Pyle all the way to a match where we saw Edson Barboza spinning Heel kick Anthony Njokuani in the dome, the undercard did not disappoint.
During intermission, Joe and LargeMidget needed to grab a smoke break and we wanted to do a bit of wandering to see if we could get closer for the main card. Well to our surprise we were incredibly successful in our venture for closer seating. During the entrance part of the Schuab vs Cro Cop fight I remember thinking Mirko had a chance until I saw them standing next to one another. Man was I wrong. Brendon’s size just neutralized anything Mirko could do, and then when the time came he was able to slay the MMA legend with ease. It was like he was a dog who had just taken a shit on the carpet and had to be punished.
I forgot to mention how in this match we found out how passionate our resident LargeMidget was about his MMA. Jersey certainly does love their own, and that was more than evident from the moment Dan Miller stepped out onto the arena floor. Even though Miller lost to Marquardt, he put on a solid show in the cage and really showed up to fight on such short notice. Now when I said Jersey loved its own I meant it. The experience of listening to “Bad Moon Rising” by CCR and the crowd was so intoxicating and I was absorbed by the experience completely. The walk-out music certainly has power over emotions — and it ran deep in Newark, NJ. At UFC 128 it was indeed a bright day for Jim Miller.
There isn’t a lot I can compare to the sound that the people in that arena made when Miller forced the referee to stop the fight from strikes. Faber/Wineland lived up to the hype and proved once again that the lower weight classes are the upper echelon of MMA.
One thing stood out over all other things when Jon Jones made his way out to the cage for me that night. It stood abundantly clear as the pack leader to every fact that had ever been stated by every MMA nerd and every nut-hugger, the debate was over and the verdict was in. The MMA Universe had accepted Jon Jones as their champion and the New Face of MMA, before he had even gotten into the cage. There couldn’t have been but a handful of people cheering on Shogun Rua not to mention that the rest of the arena was booing so loudly I was pretty sure I’d found the long hypothesized brown noise.
LargeMidget was very openly against Jones winning, and as a die hard fan of MMA (and obviously Shogun Rua), his loyalty and adversity in the face of obvious disaster is commendable. At one point of the fight he’s screaming at the tops of his lungs “Fuck You Jon Jones, Fuck you!” I couldn’t help but laugh and pat him on the back and just think how this guy was fucking dedicated; he stood firmly committed to being a Shogun Rua fan in the face of extreme adversity, and I think that’s awesome. A short time later I was hit in the back of the head with a water bottle while sitting there doing nothing. I was innocent of any wrong doing.
We had made three friends who I think were also travelers from a different part of the arena. Couple of guys, one from in-state two from out of state. They were very chill, and seemed interested in handling my water bottle situation. We all watched three rounds of Jon Jones solidifying himself in UFC history as the youngest UFC Champion ever. I remember we left the arena just before everyone else started fanning out. I had decided I’d take a bus to my hotel and they were heading home. We had a random lady holding some cookies snap a photo of us with LargeMidget’s cell phone. We soon said our goodbyes and parted ways as I made my way down three or four city blocks and got on a bus.
My experience at UFC 128 was amazing. I wanted to Thank LargeMidget (Jeff) and Joe for a kickass time, and the chance to hang out and see some now classic — and all great — fights.