(In the lobby of the MGM Grand, going mostly unnoticed.)
I’m not going to lie to you, Potato Nation. There isn’t a whole lot of enthusiasm for this weekend’s UFC 98 event here in Las Vegas. Maybe that’s not quite right. Maybe it’s that there’s just not much awareness. As great a presence as the UFC always has in Sin City, this week the reaction to the upcoming event from locals and tourists seems lukewarm at best. But that doesn’t mean that MMA culture in general isn’t a pervasive force all around us.
(Totally not a ripoff of the Tapout design. Totally.)
A couple days ago I took a trip to Xtreme Couture hoping to see some of the gym’s renowned superstars in action. I got there just in time to see Gina Carano finishing up and Ray Sefo giving a verbal beatdown to Dream “Super Hulk” participant Jan Nortje and one other apparently unmotivated fighter. I won’t go into exactly what was said, but let’s just say that when Sefo feels like you aren’t working hard enough he isn’t shy about expressing it. At length. And at considerable volume.
After that, it was on to Wanderlei Silva’s gym for what we were promised would be a sparring session open to the public. Sounds like fun, right? I took a cab over and had a detailed conversation with the driver about where the gym was located. He didn’t believe me when I gave him directions, so he called a friend of his who is an amateur fighter in town. After all, who lives in Vegas and doesn’t know at least one fighter? Fortunately the friend was familiar with Wanderlei’s place and informed us that it costs $150 a month to train there. This completely blew the cabbie’s mind, but at least we got to the right place eventually. It was only when we pulled up that I noticed this.
Turns out Wanderlei decided to give an open training session instead, which means a lot of wasted time for yours truly. So I did what anyone would do. I wandered the strip in search of cheap drinks and cheap stories.
The most obvious story in town this week is the general lack of enthusiasm for UFC 98. Back when B.J. Penn and Georges St. Pierre were fighting you could hardly go ten feet on the strip without encountering a loyal, passionately nationalistic fan of one of the fighters. This week you’d hardly know there was a fight in town.
I did spot one guy sporting a Lyoto Machida t-shirt – the first I’ve ever seen in real life. It was a plain design featuring a UFC logo on the front and a simple “Lyoto Machida” text in black letters on the back. When I asked the guy where he managed to find such a rare piece of merchandise he admitted that he’d made it himself. This, apparently, is what you have to do to be a visible Machida supporter these days.
Over at the MGM Grand Machida is the betting favorite at -180. People may not be generally pumped about seeing him fight, but at least they respect his skills. Or, as one fight fan I talked to yesterday put it, "I just can’t stand Rashad."
And yet, from bartenders to cab drivers to people on the street, few seem to even be aware that there’s a fight in town this weekend. Maybe it’s the anticipation of the Memorial Day weekend rush in a tourist hotspot, or maybe it’s pure indifference, but UFC 98 doesn’t seem to have to lit a spark with Las Vegas. At least, not yet. Maybe a good weigh-in shoving contest could get the job done later today. Looking at you, Serra and Hughes.