(Doug "ReX13" Richardson [right] spends time with a wheelchair-bound guest at the expo. If we put a smile on that poor, rotund man’s face, then the whole trip was worth it.)
As the Boeing 757 descends in to Boston Logan Airport, I look out the window and contemplate the path that’s led me here. One year ago, I was just another guy on one of the world’s most popular MMA blogs. Now, I’ve ducked out of work for a couple of days to attend the UFC’s Boston Fan Expo as a guest of my favorite website. I’m not just a fan; I’m taking what I hope to be another step toward actually working as a writer. Somewhere down there, Ben Goldstein is carrying around an exhibitor pass that has my name on it. I claim my baggage, which is split evenly between electronics and clothing, and hustle out to catch a taxi. A Ugandan cabbie asks for my destination, and speeds away toward the Hynes Convention Center. I pepper him with questions (because that’s what I do when I meet people) but he’s not in the mood to talk, so I settle back for the short ride and get my first look at Boston. Mostly, I get a good view of the results of the Big Dig, Boston’s massive twenty-five year freeway improvement project that has six lane highways routed under the Boston Harbor. Once we leave the turnpike, however, the views of the Harbor and the Charles River are incredible. Everything is vibrant, people and dogs are everywhere, and there isn’t a cloud in the sky.
We find my hotel, and I spend very little time settling in. It’s Thursday, and I’ve gotten it in my head that I’m needed. I walk to the Hynes Center, and mange to locate Ben after a few texts and a phone call. We shake hands, and walk back to booth 2017. There, Ben shows me the signage he’s already erected, and the swag he’s brought to entice the hordes that will descend upon us tomorrow. On one side is the punch machine, a simple carnival game that most of us have seen plenty of times. Ben hits the start button, and rips a nice right hook at the bag. "You take boxing classes, right?" I ask. "Yeah," Ben says, "Muay Thai." I help him with a few last minute touches, including checking on a table rental for the booth, but most of the work is done. Ben checks his watch, and announces that there’s really nothing left to do here: "Wanna go get a drink?"
Finding a place to get a drink in Boston is apparently easier than falling out of a party bus. We walk out of the Hynes, and Ben points to the first bar he sees, directly across the street. "Whiskey’s," he says, “that looks good.” We go inside and sit at the bar, and have a couple of beers and shoot the breeze. I point out that this particular bar, which touts its barbeque and “chowdah”, is playing loops of bubblegum pop: Lady Gaga, Katy Perry…I saw Britney damn Spears. “Awesome pick,” I say, “you’ve brought us to the only gay barbeque joint on the east coast.” This is the first questionable choice of venue for Goldstein, but it won’t be the last. (For the record, it wasn’t actually a gay bar, so there.) Ben also tells the story of why CagePotato is without two of its heavy-hitters: Chad “C Money” Dundas is at a wedding, while Mike “GusBuster” Russell is Canadian and afraid Brock Lesnar will track him down if he steps foot in ‘Merica. Eventually, we decide to head to Champions Sports Bar, for the completely official CP Fan Expo meet and greet. I leave behind my beloved Oakley shades at the bar, but I won’t realize that until it’s much, much too late.
We find Champions without resorting to GPS, which makes me kind of proud; I’m just a hick from a small town in North Carolina, and navigating large metropolitan areas is intimidating to me. Not long after we sit down at this new bar, we are joined by Matty Sumida. Matty is a writer and producer for Break Media, and he’s here to film the shenanigans that are to ensue. Not long after, we’re joined by Chris Morse, more commonly known as Viva Hate, and his fiancé Noune (if you curious about the pronunciation, it’s “kris es gurl frend”), then more friends. Ben and I are both wiped out, having both gotten up early to travel, and we leave early. The rest of the crew stays behind, eating and drinking and presumably making fun of the size of our vaginas.
I manage to find my way back to my room, and stop off at a 7-11 for an energy drink (a Monster, because RockStar won’t pay me nothin’) and a big bottle of water. I get to my room, shower, and crash out, and I forgot to drink that big bottle of water.
Friday comes, and I’m ready to go early. I’m only slightly hungover (should have drunk that water), but a headache powder and a Monster will fix that. I walk to the Hynes again, finding a shorter path and arriving only slightly sweaty. I forget my camera completely, so Friday will not be documented as well as I’d like. I take no small amount of pleasure in walking past the crowds waiting to be let in to the exhibition halls, flashing my pass at the security guards and taking the escalator two steps at a time. Ben, Chris, and Matty are all there before me, and we bullshit and attend to the last minute details, waiting for the fans. Here’s where CagePotato and Ben lucked out: both Chris and I are genuinely interested in spreading the good CP word and working the booth, even if none of us are sure exactly what that entails. We have no gameplan whatsoever. When the fans begin to stream in, we all just sort of blindly (and shamelessly) promote the site. Ben has brought an armload of t shirts, boxes of keychain bottle openers, and fat stacks of CagePotato business cards. When people walk by, we challenge them to hit our punch machine. Record setters receive t shirts, high scorers get a bottle opener, and everyone within a five yard radius gets a card. True to form, I insult as many people as possible, because I’m an asshole and I think I’m funny. This leads to some interesting exchanges, including this one:
Me, to female booth guest: “See this bag?” (gesturing to the punch machine) “This is that guy that banged you and didn’t call you back.”
Voice from the crowd: “That’s my wife.”
Somehow, I manage to pass the hours without getting Boston Hey-Buddy’d and the crowd around our booth swells. We’re popular — at least, with the crowd. Some of the other exhibitors are not so fond of us. Next to our punch machine, a muscular man by the name of Sammie Black is hawking what appear to be jump ropes. They are not actually jump ropes, though. They are actually a pair of flails: short lengths of rope with a small weight at the end, attached to handles. It looks like he’s jumping rope, until I see a video of people sitting in a chair, twirling these ridiculous pieces of fitness equipment as if they’re actually accomplishing something. Sammie is a rope jumping fool—he can go for hours—but he’s not actually jumping anything. He’s jumping in place and swinging these pieces of cords around in circles, and he’s doing this while wearing (I shit you not) the tightest outfit in the building. The only body hair visible on Mr Black are his eyebrows, and he can hop in place for hours at a stretch while he frowns at us and listens to his music, which was heavy on techno. He also really loves the LMFAO/Little John masterpiece “Shots”—it was in heavy rotation on his playlist. I have no idea why he thought that his half-assed jump ropes were an important piece of equipment, or why he thought he’d sell them here, where people really want to A) Get Chuck Liddell’s autograph B) Get a hotdog or C) Punch the bejesus out of the CP punch machine. We’re doing him a bit of service, really, bringing tons of foot traffic past his booth, but most everyone that stops in front of his table are trying to look over, through, or around the crowd surrounding the Potato Nation Outpost.
Across from The Amazing Hopping Sammie Black is a small booth stuffed full of clothing racks. The sign above announces Rio Wear, selling “dance and active wear for women and children” (no, i cannot make this shit up). Hidden amongst the spandex leotards and sequined tops is a woman who I come to think of as “the Brazilian lady”, possibly only because her sign has “Rio” on it. She seems in good enough spirits Friday morning, but her expressions become harder and harder as the day wears on without a single sale. Seriously, people aren’t even walking into her booth to look through her racks crammed with clothing, none of which appear to be fight related. Why she is here, I have no idea. By lunch time, she is openly glowering at us. Who do we think we are, having fun and drawing a large crowd to the 2000 aisle? By 2 o’clock, she appears to be chewing her own face, and she and Sammie Black actually appear to bond over their common hatred of CagePotato.
Event staffers have words with Ben, asking that he keep traffic moving. They are essentially telling us that we are too popular, and that the crowds need to find somewhere else to hang out, and to hell with the idea that they paid to get in and can go wherever they damn well please. We try to manage the mass of humanity, moving them away from our neighbors’ booths and trying to keep lanes open for through traffic. The crowds disperse, but begin to gather again within moments. We wound up reconfiguring the booth, pushing the punch machine back into the interview area to create precious space. Through it all, there is the click of someone resetting the punching bag, the hearty thump as someone lands a blow, the loud voices of those who have scored either extremely well, or extremely poor.
When the day finally ends, we’re all beat down. We’ve entertained the masses, but none of us have really been taking it easy. I’m drenched in sweat, and I have the sneaking suspicion that the odor I’ve detected is me, and not Amy Winehouse’s asshole, as I’d originally thought. We’ve all been invited to two parties that evening: the Tokyo5/UFC Magazine get-together at Whiskey Park, and the Ranger Up throwdown at Tequila Rain. Ben suggests we go party at Whiskey Park, since we’ll all be hanging out with Ranger Up Saturday night to watch the fights. I hoof it back to my room, guzzle a gallon of water, and shower. We all meet up at Whiskey Park around ten. Outside, the bouncers are all wearing jackets, ties, and earpieces, and I briefly worry that I won’t meet the dress standards to get in. When I tell them that, yes, I am on the list (and yes, I dropped names like Hunter Jones at the door), they slip a paper “VIP” bracelet on my wrist and open the door for me. (Suckers. Bitches don’t know I’m nobody special.) I walk into the room set aside for this exclusive shindig, and immediately go blind. The bar is darker than a trunkload of assholes, and the music is deafening. I order a beer, and find my people in a loose circle in the middle of the room once my eyes adjust. Ben is talking to Seth Kelly, editor of UFC Magazine, and he kindly introduces me. Seth shakes my hand and then disappears into the gloom. Matty and I scream at one another, attempting to carry on a conversation that becomes a joke:
“WHAT DID YOU THINK OF INCEPTION?” he roars. “DID THE TOP FALL OVER?”
“I THINK IT WAS ALL A DREAM,” I scream.
“THAT WAS A GOOD MOVIE,” he yells.
“YES, I REALLY ENJOYED IT,” I thunder.
We all have one drink, and leave within fifteen minutes. Chris, the local, assures us that we can find a cozy bar just around the corner, so we shuffle off in hopes of finding beers that don’t go for ten bucks each. We should have known something was up when Noune wanted to stop and purchase some comfortable shoes on the way.
Potato Nation, Viva Hate is an asshole: we walked what I am pretty sure is twelve and a half miles to another bar, passing 312 other bars on the way. This new bar was more comfortable and low key, but we were disappointed to find that they would not be able to serve us a round of Irish car bombs. “Beer and wine only,” the bartender tells us. Ben begs off early, saying he was having really bad menstrual cramps and he just wanted to take a bath and put some cucumber slices on his eyes. We bid him farewell (Noune slipped him some Pamprin—sweet girl that Chris landed), and hung out for a bit before turning in ourselves. I walked back to my hotel, guzzled three liters of water, took an ibuprofen (never take acetaminophen while drinking, kids), and slept.
Saturday morning came, and I made the trek again to the Hynes, this time with my giant camera like a proper tourist. We assembled again at the booth, and prepared for the day. It would be much like the first, except turned up to eleven. Every UFC fan with two nickels to rub together made the trip to the Expo, and seemingly every last one of them stopped by our booth for some period of time. Time flew by, and we chatted and chided every fan in voice range (and Chris and I have a pretty good range). The Amazing Hopping Sammie Black hopped in place, and the Brazilian lady mean mugged us whenever she thought we weren’t looking.
Fighters stopped by for interviews, or to shoot the shit, or to try their hands (or feet) at the punch machine. We talked to “Doomsday” Howard and Ariel Helwani. We hung out with Bruce Buffer and Pat Barry. Ryan Couture stopped by. Ben did interviews for CP, and was interviewed himself by Black Belt Magazine and the Boston Herald. The Potato Nation Outpost was photographed for newspapers and filmed for the local news. Through it all, the fans came and went. They laughed, they shared stories, a few even asked about MRuss. (No one asked about you, Dundas. Sorry, I guess you suck.) We handed out cards and bottle openers to anyone that walked by, including some people who weren’t paying attention to what others slipped into their bags. All in all, we did the damn thang. We entertained. We interacted. We interviewed. We networked and glad-handed, insulted and flirted, we high fived and catcalled the day away. And even as other booths began to pack up and get the hell out, still the fans kept coming. By Saturday afternoon, the heaviest hitters were visiting just to see who had scored what on our punch machine. And that poor, poor bag took a beating until even we had cleaned up and packed away everything else. Ben literally had to unplug the machine to get kids off of it.
We’d just spent something like sixteen hours putting the CagePotato brand out in the faces of every fan at the Expo, at one of the most anticipated events of the year. We were all tired, but dammit, we’d done a good job. It was time for the fights. We said our goodbyes to Chris, who had tickets to the event, and I think we were all sad to lose him. Sure, he’s a jerkface that makes you walk a half marathon to get to a hole in the wall bar, but man, that bar had some good beer choices. Ben, Matty, and I agreed to meet up at Jillian’s for the Ranger Up viewing party. Again, I went back to the hotel for a shower and change of clothes, exchanging my CP Hall of Fame shirt for a Ranger Up Memorial. Matty and I met up at his hotel, and took a cab over to Ipswitch Street. Both of us had the same thought: Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! (I blame Sammie Black.) Unfortunately, we were dismayed to learn that car bombs are verboten in Boston, apparently because they cause riots. We tried to work around this, but our bartender wasn’t interested in helping us out, so we just started drinking whatever we could think of. Ben joined us soon after, and luckily had brought his testicles along, as he joined us for Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! (dammit, that song just gets in your head, you know?)
Eventually, Ben and I went together to introduce ourselves to Kelly Crigger, the writer/active duty lieutenant colonel who had invited us. Crigger is a big, solid guy, and he looks like a gruff kind of character, but he couldn’t have been nicer. Crigger recognized us both (!), and welcomed us, saying, “You should have been partying with us last night.” Apparently, while we were all over at Whiskey Park, every cool fighter we wanted to chill with was going wild with Ranger Up. He reeled off a list of fighters, and told us a story about Forrest Griffin bouncing outside the club with a Nacho Libre mask on. Ben and I could only look at one another and shake our heads. Once again, Ben had led us astray (this is why I hate Ben Goldstein, you guys). We settled in to watch the fights, and I imagine our viewing experience was a lot like yours. We were duly impressed with Joe Lauzon’s ass whupping performance against Gabe Ruediger. We (okay, just me) agonized over Florian’s loss to Gray “Jake Shieldzzzz” Maynard. We shook our heads and wondered what the fuck happened to BJ Penn. And of course, we cheered Randy Couture, along with every MMA fan in Boston, the US, and the world. It was an amazing night, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. We capped our evening off with tequila shots with Crigger, and then said our goodbyes.
It was some hard shit, y’all. I’ve “talked” to Ben and Chris for months, but this was different. I’d like to think that I made some friends that weekend. For that matter, Matt Sumida is an awesome dude that seems to think about things the same way I do, and that’s some unusual shit. You can do shots and give bro hugs all you want, but parting is some sweet motherfucking sorrow, and I sincerely mean it when I say that this weekend was a lifetime highlight. We came, we saw, we fucking conquered the UFC Fan Expo. I doubt I’ll get another chance to do this anytime soon. Realistically, I’m just a guy with a day job that likes MMA and has some modicum of writing talent (yeah, yeah, save your wiseass comments – I’m no Cormac McCarthy, I got it). If the UFC goes to London next, or Ontario, chances are I won’t make it. Yeah, I can score a visa (unlike some people, right Mike?), but I only have so much vacation time to burn. So listen up, Potato Nation: next time, it’s your turn. Someone will have to step up. Someone will have to tend that booth with the fellas. Someone will have to work random strangers like a carnie at a rigged game of Ring Toss. Who’s it gonna be? Because let me tell you, it won’t be easy. Chris and I set the bar pretty high, if I do say so myself. You got to get out there, and tell those UFC fans who we are, because (shockingly) they don’t all know yet. You got to get in their face and say, “Did your momma dress you like that? Did she teach you how to throw a punch, too?” You got to get out there and hand out cards and t shirts, and scream yourselves hoarse, saying, “War Potato, bitches!” And when the show comes to your town, and you have a chance to help out, don’t you dare let it pass you by.
Don’t you dare.
ReX Richardson, 28 August 2010
The 2010 Boston UFC Fan Expo By the Numbers
Number of shots imbibed: 23
Number of times we heard that fucking song: 143 (easily)
People who said they were “always on CagePotato”: 286
Of those, number who wanted to meet Fowlkes: 274
Number of condoms purchased (that I know of): 0
Number of hookers spotted: 1 (probably)
Fighter lookalikes spotted: 18
Fighter lookalikes photographed: 1 (my bad)
Number of knockouts at UFC 118: 0
Number of knockouts working the Fan Expo : 13
Number of superfans working: 2
Number of friends and fans made: Over 9000