UFC’s first event in Oklahoma City has come and gone. The event lasted, if you count the under-est of undercards, from about 4:30 P.M. to 11. It was one hell of a marathon stretch of watching people get brutalized and beaten up. And it was a fascinating way to spend a Sunday night.
I’ve been a UFC moderate for the better part of my sports-watching life. I boxed as a kid, and besides that, I have a huge appreciation for the highest level of competition of any sport. It’s alluring to me no matter what the competition is.
UFC-Oklahoma City was an interesting experience to say the least. Here are my thoughts on my night by the ring:
The UFC knows how to put on one hell of a show. That was my first impression. And second, third, and fourth.
It’s the lights, it’s what happens between the fights, it’s the glitz and the glamor. You can’t forget for one second just how much money is pumping throughout the entire event.
UFC FIGHT NIGHT OKC!!! This is going to be awesome! pic.twitter.com/6KdaNH4aQ9
— Sam Mayes (@AllmericanMayes) June 25, 2017
Speaking of cash: even in the cheap seats, fans were dressed in their gaudiest imitation of what you’d see out on the Vegas strip. The guys wore rhinestone-affixed jeans paired with Affliction shirts, and the women alongside them often left little to the imagination. It got even more lurid as my eyes travelled downward to the 100 sections of Chesapeake Energy Arena.
UFC in Oklahoma City was a resounding success, and many people should be proud of that. The organizers, Chesapeake Arena staff, and especially the 7,605 fans who showed out.
In the Press Row
— Sam Mayes (@AllmericanMayes) June 25, 2017
In order to entertain the crowd during the undercard, you’ve got to throw them some meat. UFC accomplishes that by throwing out newcomers — guys who have only fought for crowds of 200, not 2000. They fight with emotion (as anyone would) and, more often than not, the fight ends in a knockout. Mistakes are made. And the crowd always loves it. The fighters are running on adrenaline, emotion, and not much else.
I watched all of this from press row, and I heard every word yelled from an equally emotional crowd that flanked me. To be frank — and I won’t dwell on this — the racial animus was real. The language I heard on Sunday night can not be repeated here. It was that bad.
But for the most part, fans were simply emotional and amped up, which is much, much better than the alternative. It made for a great experience and it definitely added to the atmosphere. The venom that came from the crowd supplemented the fighting happening in the ring.
What fascinated me was that all of the raw emotion and open hostility exhibited in the ring was returned twofold by the crowd. It wasn’t always articulated in the most articulate (or intelligent, for that matter) way, the fiery pride that is the sport’s signature is still there.
A Sad Homecoming
I have a lot of love for Johny Hendricks. As a peer of mine at Oklahoma State, I loved his fire and his relentless competitive spirit.
The entrance was spectacular. It was Hendricks’ first fight in Oklahoma, and he was feeling the love from the crowd. “Orange Power!” and “Go Pokes!” cries were all around. It was nice to see an event like this being leveraged to extend the OSU brand.
Unfortunately, that was the high point of Hendricks’ night. After he missed weight (how in the hell does that even happen?!), I was pretty concerned about how he’d match up with Tom Boetstch. It wasn’t pretty.
He was absolutely outclassed by Boetsch, who essentially kickboxed Hendricks into oblivion. It pains me to say the Johny looked lazy and unprepared — probably a big reason reason why he missed weight.
The sadness I saw in Hendricks’ eyes as he walked out was palpable. It pulled at me. Rigg looked miserable in the ring as Boetsch was having his way. I have to hope that this is the end for Hendricks if he was as mentally disengaged as I perceived.
And that’s what has stuck with me since Sunday night: MMA is a brutal, unforgiving sport. I don’t necessarily feel for the 22 year-old in the ring getting his bell rung. But when a 38 year-old like BJ Penn is practically begging to be put out to pasture, it’s tough to watch. Don’t even start to think about the long-term injuries these fighters will have deal with if you want to enjoy the fight at all.
I just wanted to ask some of these fighters, “why are you still there?”
It could be dumb, foolish pride. It could be the need to continue their livelihood, for their own sake or their family’s. It could be that it’s the only thing they’ve ever felt comfortable doing. More often than not, it’s a combination of the three.
Whatever the case is, I can’t help but think these things whenever I watch, and they were all the more apparent in person. It’s not as if I’m going to to stop watching, but the next fight I attend (on Friday, actually) will be watched with a shifted perspective compared to my experience on Sunday.