A no-holds-barred look into the grand and grizzly world of Ultimate Fighting. Writer and photographer Robin Postell gets in the ring.
By Robin Postell
“Why do you like this shit?” asks a thin executive in an overcoat. We’ve boarded the posh elevator together just after he’s spotted me talking to fighters out in the lobby.
“I’m not a team player,” I shrug.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asks. “You like watching people beat the hell out of each other?”
“It’s not like that,” I counter. “It’s a competition. They know what they’re getting into.”
“I don’t get it,” he insists arrogantly, gripping his briefcase with defiance. “You got a boyfriend here. Is that it?”
“I’m not a fucking groupie,” I snarl. “I’m a photojournalist.”
“Why’s a girl like you like to watch men beat each other up?” he asks again, apparently expecting me to have tall hair, tight jeans, and a cut-off T-shirt with Hulk Hogan silk-screened across my tits.
“When I was little, my teachers would write in the comment area, ‘Robin does not get along well with others. She is not a team player.’ I kind of like this one-on-one thing. It’s primal. It symbolizes the human experience. They get in the ring, they face a challenge. Whether they’re afraid or not, they’re willing to risk it all to test their skills. There’s a certain appeal to that. Have you ever sued anyone for beating the shit out of you?”
“Well, no, but yes, I have that right,” he debated. “And I’m proud that as an American I have the right to protect my personal rights in a civilized way.”
“Pussy,” I say, as he exits the elevator.
The Ultimate Ultimate Fighting Championship is scheduled to begin on Saturday night at 8 p.m. sharp. It’s Thursday. I’ve been hanging out in Denver for a couple of days. Always best to arrive early and get a handle on what’s going on. You can’t really comprehend what goes down inside the Octagon if you don’t know what going down outside the Octagon.
This is a good gig for me. Since UFC V, I’ve been traveling around covering each event, doing interviews with fighters and organizers, attending the press conferences, going to strip clubs and disco joints with some of the frisky competitors, and smoking dope while raping and pillaging the mini-bar.
Couvoissier seems like a good beverage even early in the day for some reason. I shave my legs and sip from my flask of cognac until somebody comes by and whisks me away for a nice dose of debauchery or dining, equipped with my Nikon, recorder, and lipstick.
All in a day’s work…
The estimate is that 3.3 million people will view the live event worldwide this weekend on pay-per-view cable. That’s what Bob Meyrowitz, th debonair CEO of the New York-based Semaphore Entertainment Group who produces the UFC event says in the press conference this morning. He’s the Mack Daddy in this world.
You can hear hearts pumping, fists clenching, pectoral muscles flexing and pens scribbling across contracts. Negotiations never stop. Surreptitious conferences in hotel suites are the norm up until the last person boards the last plane out of Denver.
Fighters are more pumped than ever because this is the gig that can take them out of the red and straight into the black, in more ways than one. This isn’t just any Ultimate Fighting Championship. All the champs from the previous seven tournaments are back to defend their titles or redeem lost ones. No rookies. The money, which is up from $50,000 to $150,000 is good dough for these fighters, all of whom have been whisked out of obscurity by the outrageous and sudden popularity of this new breed of sporting entertainment.
That kind of money can buy babies and babes new shoes and keep the wife happy for a few more months while they train for the next big one. Not to mention the rep that goes along with a UFC title. The whole world has the hots for these no-holds-barred competitions. Broadcast live on pay-per-view in 17 different countries and has fighters from every corner of the globe banging on the UFC doors. At every fight, there are ure to be a couple of hopefuls in their grooming, ass-kkcking stage. Pick me, pick me, like big-chested blonds on the casting couch, these fighters do their own kind of fucking their way to the top. Look slick, tough, take no shit and smile for the cameras.
From the start you know the fighters are different than the average schmo. A little something extra is required to muster up the level of aggression to attack another human being without any rules.
Many people would rather broil in silence than duke it out. But these men are able to access, at will that reservoir of antagonistic passion which for most is stumbled upon by accident.
Although the numbers say the UFC is working, politicians say it is not. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona ran all over the country with a UFC tape showing any tight-ass politician who would sit still long enough how horrible the event was. Ban it, they all stamped their feet and bobbed their heads righteously. “It’s not good for the kids,” was the uniform conservative mantra.
“We’re at our two-year anniversary,” said Campbell McLaren, Executive Producer of Semaphore Entertainment Group. McLaren is sitting in the hotel lobby on one of the overstuffed sofas, chilling. “And lo and behold we haven’t ruined Western Civilization yet!”
McLaren liked this game, too. He is becoming a wealthy man and keeps a smile on his face. The UFC is a phenomenon and he’s been on the bandwagon from the word go. This means McLaren’s hot shit.
“We’re getting blamed for everything,” says McLaren. “One tabloid television show featured a woman saying, ‘If this keeps going on there will be people killing people in the streets.’ Oh, yea, we’re to blame for that. I’ve got news for you lady. It’s already happening and it was happening before the UFC.”Campbell McLaren in an interview
I tell him it must be some kind of male backlash against the feminist movement and he shakes his head at me. The Couvoissier is talking.
Try as officials may, nothing is going to stop this potential bloodbath from taking place. Numbers will skyrocket. Homes all over America, all over the world, will be watching.
Rarely is so much raw tension gathered in one place…
Rarely is so much raw tension gathered in one place. The hotel houses the 14 fighters and all their trainers, managers, supporters, event organizers, press, and fans; group writing with anticipation. Remaining neutral is the best course of action for me. There’s so much ego and virility in this place I’m not about to exhibit favor for any camp. I have to love and root for them all and keep that poker face which is nearly impossible in an environment as charged as that of the UFC.
They are likable fellows, other than one intemperate black sheep who goes by “Tank. “ His real name is David Abbott, who used to teach high school history and have two parents who were both educators. But if you don’t know this about him, you’d think “Tank” was what was tattooed on his ass when he popped out of the womb.
The increasingly notorious Tank Abbott wants to slit my throat for trashing him in my last article. He is the classic arch-nemesis ad everybody, even the people who despise him, have a soft spot in their murderous hearts for him. UFC organizers dig him and treat him like their dangerous, angry pet –putting him up in separate hotels so he won’t piss off any of the other fighters and get into bloody brawls in the elevators – which he did at the previous fight with another tough UFC fighter, Pat Smith, a Denver kickboxer who battered his opponent in UFC II in what will endure as one of the most brutal beatings ever filmed.
Tank has that certain je ne sais quois, that both opens doors and slams them in his face.
Saturday. Fight night.
Who is going to become the next big head-honcho ass-kicker o the world? Everybody has kept a low profile today, hanging out in their rooms, maybe doing a little shopping. Nothing too strenuous. No training. Risking an injury at this point is not an option.
The fighters have abstained from sex, booze, and partying for long enough. When this is said and done, they’re all gonna throw down at the after-fight cocktail party and get down in their rooms until the sun comes up.
The defending UFC champ, Marco “King of the Streets” Ruas is a Brazilian tough guy. In Portuguese, “ruas” translates to “streets,” which is fitting for this 6’2”, 235-lb who grew up in the mean ones of Rio de Janeiro.
“Brazilian men are vainer than American women,” his manager Frederico Lapenda says.
Not versed in English, only Portuguese, he can come off mysterious. There’s no way to tell who he really is in this environment. A fish out of water here, Marco belongs to Brazil. American is dry and cool, like plastic. To a man who plays on the beach, swims in the ocean, and runs up tropical mountains daily, the U.S. is a big, garish air-conditioned nightmare.
People buzz around him because he is the king. But there’s still competition this time. He’s not the only the champ on the premises.
There’s Oleg “The Russian Bear” Taktarov, who won UFC VI. That was the event where Ruas first made an appearance, not as a fighter, but one in the grooming and courting stages.
Taktarov can take more punishment than any of his competitors; abuse absorption is his trademark, and a hallmark of Russian fighters. Known for his lethal leg locks, this Judo champ from the former U.S.S.R. is a stubborn, vodka-steamed force of stoicism. He evidently feels no pain and his knowledge of leg locks gives him an advantage.
There is Dan “The Beast” Severn, who looks like he wants tat big gaudy title belt pretty damn bad. A family man from Coldwater, Michigan, holds titles all over the world for his wrestling talent – including the UFC V title belt. He’s been sparring with six-foot steel poles trying to toughen up and become a better striker, separating himself from his family for weeks. A grappler, he knows the chances of ending up in a match against Marco Ruas, a striker under the fighting style dubbed “vale tudo,” for “anything goes,” are high.
Not to mention mean ole Tank Abbott, who has been training in Utah for the past two months getting adjusted to the mile-high altitude. Everybody knows Tank’s not a disciplined fighter, he’s an aggressive brawler – with a lot of dark heart. And sometimes, that’s all it takes.
Disaster strikes the day of the event…
There is a power issue. The event must be moved to a smaller arena, the Mammoth Events Center.
The event is moved to a smaller arena, the Mammoth Events Center, because local lawdogs were on the rag about this vicious event going down in their fair city. Privately-owned, Mammoth barely seats 3,000. This means many people lose their tickets and they’re lined up outside howling like wolves.
The show must go on in not cliche in this scenario
The show must go on is not a cliché in this scenario.
The first match places Tank Abbott, the “pitfighter” from Huntington Beach, California, against freestyle martial artist Steve Jennum, a police officer who surprised everybody and took home the belt in UFC III.
“I want to hurt people without going to jail,” Tank says.
“I want to hurt people without going to jail.”David “Tank” Abbott
Tank’s training regimen, he says, begins around 5 p.m. with a bottle of Stoli’s. “Then,” Tank extols, “I go to a bar and go up to some guy who thinks he’s tough, talk him into the idea that he can beat me up, then I spring the trap on him.”
In typical Tank fashion, he does whatever it takes to win. This time, he uses his opponent’s head as a ramming post against the black chain link fence of the Octagon ring. A bubbled impression of Jennum’s head remains in the fence after referee “Big John” McCarthy pulls Tank off the rattled cop. This took only one minute and 14 seconds to accomplish, placing the bombastic Tank in the semi-finals .
But as the good forces have it, Dan “The Beast” Severn takes 6’8”, 300-pound Paul “The Polar Bear” Varelans down in their quarter match in just 1:01 minutes, placing Tank in the Octagon with The Beast in the semis.
Dan gives Tank what-for, slapping him on his skull, kneeing him in the head and ribs, and elbowing him in the back of his neck. Severn remains on top of the belly-down Tank for an agonizing 15 minutes, bitch-slapping him continually. Tank actually rises in Phoenix fashion from the ashes of his ass-whipping and waits on the 18-minute time limit to end the match.
Slathering ringside, shaking so hard I can barely keep my Nikon steady, I’m thinking how much fun can one girl have, for Christ’s sake? The black sheep is finally getting what’s coming to him. The match goes to a draw. Tank, badassmotherfucker that he is, wouldn’t give up if his opponent was lacerating his leg with a rusty chainsaw.
And it comes down to the three judges, who are a new addition to the UFC format due to an increase in draws, unanimously give the match to Severn. Tank’s not happy and stalks out of the Octagon with his devoted entourage of shiny, black-leathered, tobogganed thugs and pretty girls behind him.
Meanwhile, Marco Ruas and Oleg Taktarov advance to the semis after defeating their quarter-final opponents respectively. I begin to get nervous. This always happens. My mouth gets dry and I can’t load the film in my camera because the pressure’s on. My hair gets caught in the automatic winder of my Nikon and I panic. Competitor photographers who crouch next to me giggle maniacally at my woes, especially the Japanese guys who would rather due that help me out. Finally a civilian untangles me and I’m back on the front lines.
Taktarov and Ruas are opposites; the cold Russian and the hot-blooded Brazilian. But both are talented and fiercely dedicated to this win. Ruas’ entourage huddles in his corner, gripping the fence as they yell instructions in Portuguese.
Taktarov fixes his ice blue eyes on Ruas and waits for the perfect moment to pull him down to the mat. This match is supposed to be a good one, but turns out to be a pisser. For the first half of the fight it looks like Ruas has the advantage, delivering more total strikes. They both look equally aggressive. Taktarov’s knee gives out twice and Ruas waits politely for him to push the wandering bones and tendons back into place. A less dignified fighter would have shot in immediately and won the match then and there.
This match goes to a draw, too, and the judges choose Taktarov, who falls to his knees in an uncharacteristic show of emotion. Ruas’ face collapses. The decision is at best ambiguous. There is enough reasonable doubt to warrant a rematch in a future tournament. Difficult though it was for Ruas’ and his team not to pout, they remain proud.
I sidle up next to them and offer my condolences.
The finals, finally
The Russian Bear and The Beast square off in the final match. This will be a long one because they’re both good. I’m getting bored now. The long fights take their toll, so I wander around, get a diet Coke, talk shit with people in the audience, even sign some autographs just because they see me at the fights and I’m famous by association. These fans are dedicated, deep down in their guts and hearts. They all hate the judges. They think the UFC is changing – not a good thing to these guys sitting proudly in their ringside seats.
“Who’s gonna win it?” I ask one who’s wearing a brand-new UFC T-shirt. Merchandise is popping off with each fighter.
“Severn’s got it,” he says. “They outghta bring that wrestling bear in to fight the winner.”
“Say what?” I ask.
“”The wrestling bear from Georgia,” he repeats. “You know, haven’t you heard about the big 700-pound bear that dude down there’s got?”
I tell him I’ll look into it. Next story, I think.
He forgets about me and digs in his backpack for a cellphone.
I already know that Severn’s going to take the cake and I try not to yawn. Taktarov’s good but Severn’s just got that look tonight. Tonight is The Beast’s night.
After 30 minutes and a three-minute overtime of rolling around, avoiding leg logs and chokes and strikes, the judges give it to Severn.
The Beast raises his arms into his trademark victory “V” and opens his mouth so wide you can see the ridges on the roof of his mouth.
Time for the cocktail party.
I think about the wrestling bears.
The possibilities are endless.